I've always followed the London Critics' Circle Awards with interest, and will be doing so even more than usual this year... not least because, as a new Circle member, I'll be voting in them for the first time.

Essentially the UK answer to the most prestigious US critics' awards, they're executed on a larger scale, with nominees in both general and British-only categories, and a full-scale awards-night bash. They can be relied upon to mix the expected favorites with a few cheeky wild cards: David Fincher and Apichatpong Weerasethakul rubbed shoulders in last's year's Best Director category, for example, while "A Prophet" beat "The Hurt Locker" to their top prize two years ago.

Though always interesting to monitor, their influence on the overall awards-season picture has hitherto been curbed by geographical distance as well as a late calendar date -- in February, where they tend to occur only days apart from the BAFTAs. (Earlier this year, for example, an upset Best Actress victory for Annette Bening got Oscar-watchers briefly excited about a potential tilt in the British vote, but it was too late to have much impact.)

Now, however, the Circle is keen to be more prominent in the awards season, and is making moves to that effect my moving back a whole month in the calendar: next year's awards will take place on January 19, 2011. Meanwhile, some welcome changes have been made to the list of categories in which they vote: a Best Documentary award has finally been added, while the largely redundant Best British Director (which almost invariably matched up with Best British Film) category has fallen away. Finally, their supporting actor categories, previously limited to British thesps, will now be open to all nationalities.

Good news all round; I'll bring you news of the awards, this time from the inside, later in the season. Here's the press release:

LONDON CRITICS’ CIRCLE FILM AWARDS MOVE TO JANUARY FOR 2012 CEREMONY

With thanks to principal sponsor Virgin Atlantic & generous partners Moët & Chandon, Sky 3D, Audi & Chilli UK

London – Thursday 6 October 2011

Britain’s leading film critics have today announced that their 32nd awards ceremony will be held on 19 January 2012, bringing the annual event earlier in the awards calendar than in previous years. The awards will be held at BFI Southbank, hosted by broadcaster and Chairman of The Critics' Circle Film Section Jason Solomons, and are expected to attract a host of well-known British and international film talent.

Since its first edition in 1980, these awards have become one of the most anticipated and glamorous ceremonies in the annual film calendar. In recent years guests and award winners have included Quentin Tarantino, Carey Mulligan, Sienna Miller, Martin Scorsese, Daniel Craig, James McAvoy, Vanessa Redgrave, Sir Michael Caine, Kevin Spacey, Emma Thompson, Marion Cotillard, Lord Attenborough, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant, Ralph Fiennes, Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett and Albert Finney. Last year’s ceremony was no exception and drew a star-studded red carpet with guests including Colin Firth, Aaron Sorkin, Sam Taylor-Wood, Rosamund Pike, Mike Leigh and Dilys Powell Award recipient, Kristin Scott Thomas.

Next year’s competition is set to draw an equally stellar line up. Winners of awards for Film of the Year, Director of the Year, Actor / Actress of the Year will all be voted for by the UK’s leading film critics. Last awards show saw international hits The Social Network and The Fighter scoop awards alongside a wealth of British films including The King’s Speech, Another Year and Neds.

The Critics’ Circle Film Section will be voting the following categories:
Film of the Year
The Attenborough Award: British Film of the Year
Foreign Language Film of the Year
Documentary of the Year
Director of the Year
The Virgin Atlantic Award for Breakthrough British Film-Maker
The Sky 3D Award for Technical Achievement
Actor of the Year
Actress of the Year
British Actor of the Year
The Moët Award for British Actress of the Year
Supporting Actor of the Year
Supporting Actress of the Year
Screenwriter of the Year
Young British Performer of the Year
Dilys Powell Award for Excellence in Film

Chairman of The Critics’ Circle Film Section, Jason Solomons, comments:

"This date shift will further underline the distinctive choices of winners and nominees that make The London Critics' Circle Film Awards stand out from the crowd, highlighting certain films, performances and achievements that may be overlooked by other awards events.

I am also delighted to be joining with BFI Southbank's legendary venue for a second year, cementing our awards' position at the very heart of British film culture, heritage and industry. We would like to thank Virgin Atlantic for joining as headline sponsor, illustrating their support for the best and newest in film."

This year's edition of the Critics' Circle Film Awards will again be in aid of their charity partner, the BFI National Archive, to help with the preservation and restoration of British film, in particular Hitchcock's nine silent features, as part of the BFI's landmark 'Rescue the Hitchcock 9’ campaign.