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She may remain an outsider when the bigger awards have their say, but it's turning into a pretty good, and pretty unusual, awards season for Scarlett Johansson. She got a surprise Best Actress nod at the Gotham Awards for her delicious comic turn in "Don Jon," while her acclaimed voice work in "Her" has sparked talk of her becoming the first actor to score an Oscar nomination for an invisible performance. And they're digging her across the pond, too: for her remarkable work as a seductive alien in Jonathan Glazer's "Under the Skin," the actress has cracked the Best Actress lineup at the British Independent Film Awards.
The actress is one of the few Hollywood invaders in this year's BIFA lineup: as usual, Britain's equivalent of the Spirit Awards serves a mix of internationally familiar names and talent emerging from the fringes of the UK film industry. It's certainly the only awards ceremony where you'll see a darkly divisive genre film like "Under the Skin" sharing space on the list with a gentle crowdpleaser like "Philomena" -- they're not without their blind spots, but the BIFAs certainly give a far more complete picture of British cinema than the Oscar-aping BAFTAs.
I don't expect we'll see much BAFTA recognition, for example, for the two British indies that dominate this year's nomination list. David Mackenzie's tough, stylish prison drama "Starred Up," which greatly impressed me at last month's London Film Festival, leads the field with eight nominations, including citations for three of its actor -- notably 23-year-old breakout star Jack O'Connell. Currently filming Angelina Jolie's "Unbroken," he's set for big things, and is the freshest name in a Best Actor lineup made up of more familiar names: Tom Hardy, Jim Broadbent, James McAvoy and Steve Coogan.
Just behind "Starred Up," with seven nods, is Clio Barnard's "The Selfish Giant." Arguably the year's most celebrated British film, this devastating social-realist drama of a teenage scavenger learning practical and moral responsibility in the harsh climes of Northern England has been collecting critical hosannas since its debut at Cannes; I think it's the one to beat for the top prize. Its astonishing young lead, Conner Chapman, is worthy of a Best Actor slot; instead, he's a shoo-in for the Most Promising Newcomer award, where he'll compete jointly with co-star Shaun Thomas.
Britain's submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Sean Ellis' Philippines-set thriller "Metro Manila," is something of a surprise nominee for Best Film, while the category is rounded out by two more middlebrow, older-skewing nominees: Stephen Frears' "Philomena" and Roger Michell's silver-haired romantic comedy "Le Week-end."
Some might say that suggests a certain lack of adventurousness on the part of the nominating committee, but they split the difference with the Best Director category, where Frears and Michell are swapped out for two far edgier choices: Glazer and Jon S. Baird, director of the rollicking Irvine Welsh adaptation "Filth," which also scored a deserved Best Actor bid for James McAvoy's wild against-type turn as a bipolar, coked-up Edinburgh cop. "Under the Skin," meanwhile, landed two other nods in the Technical Achievement category -- where, unusually, two films received notice for their casting directors. (I'm not sure I'd call casting a technical craft, but it's interesting to see this acknowledgement in the same year that AMPAS granted casting directors their own branch.)
In most years, there's at least one BIFA nominee that goes on to make a significant mark on the US awards circuit: "Slumdog Millionaire" and "The King's Speech" both swept the BIFAs in their respective years, for example. Last year, it was a more isolated event, with Rufus Norris' little-seen "Broken" snagging the top prize, while this year, only "Philomena" looks likely to figure into the Oscar race -- for Judi Dench's performance in the title role, at least.
I had wondered if Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave" would feature, but it was evidently deemed insufficiently British for BIFA consideration. More surprisingly, it wasn't among the nominees for Best International Independent Film, where "Blue Jasmine," "Blue is the Warmest Color" and "Frances Ha" are among the nominees.
Check out the full list on the next page.
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