Open-mindedness creates eclectic nominations list

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This year’s British Independent Film Awards highlight bold and original work across a strikingly wide range of genres, subjects and budgets.

The contest for best film pitches a regal period drama against a teen comicbook pic, a comedy about suicide bombers, a microbudget monster movie and a Hollywood-backed slice of dystopian literary sci-fi.

Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech,” which leads the nominations with eight, vies for the BIFA pic throne against Matthew Vaughn’s “Kick-Ass,” “Four Lions” by Chris Morris, “Monsters” by Gareth Edwards and Mark Romanek’s “Never Let Me Go.”

These are films which give a distinctive authorial twist to traditional genres, allied to innovative production techniques and financing. The strength of the list is underlined by the quality of several other heavily nominated movies which didn’t make the top five.

Mike Leigh’s “Another Year,” Nigel Cole’s “Made In Dagenham” and Rowan Joffe’s “Brighton Rock” got four nominations apiece. The experimental documentary “The Arbor” by artist Clio Barnard took six nods after winning two prizes at the London Film Festival.

Chris Morris is the only director from the best film list not to be nominated for best director, where he’s supplanted by Leigh. Morris, Edwards, Barnard and Joffe are all in the running for best debut director, along with Debs Gardner Paterson for “Africa United.”

The six nominations for “Never Let Me Go,” including screenplay and three acting nods, is a boost for the film after its mixed reception at Toronto and the London fest, where it seemed to slip behind rival Brit pics “King’s Speech,” “Another Year” and “Dagenham” in the transatlantic kudos stakes.

But the BIFAs pride themselves on marching to their own beat. That means Lesley Manville in “Another Year” is nominated for supporting actress, even though she’s being pushed in the actress category for the Oscars.

The BIFA nominations are voted by 70 industry insiders, with the winners picked by a jury of 13 leading professionals and creative talents. Its choices reflect the tastes of the London film elite more closely than the BAFTAs, which represent a broader constituency and have a strong American influence.

“Monsters,” with six nods, is perhaps the most intriguing of the BIFA frontrunners. Edwards delivers cutting-edge vfx on a shoestring and in doing so sets new standards for low-budget genre filmmaking. That’s reflected in the film’s nomination for best achievement in production, alongside “The Arbor,” “In Our Name,” “Skeletons” and “Streetdance 3D.”

“Monsters” and “Streetdance 3D” were both produced and financed by Vertigo Films, marking a breakthrough year for the commercially minded production outfit, which enjoyed its biggest ever hit with “Streetdance.”

This year’s BIFAs also represent a bittersweet swan song for the U.K. Film Council, with 31 nominations across 10 features that received backing from the government-funded agency, which was axed this summer.

The BIFAs also spotlight the achievement of guerilla filmmakers working with little or no industry support. Contenders this year for the Raindance Award include Ashley Horner’s highly sexed romance “Brilliantlove,” Thomas Ikimi’s Brooklyn-set thriller “Legacy,” Iraq/U.K. co-pro “Son of Babylon,” “Treacle Junior” by Jamie Thraves (which also got an acting nod for Aidan Gillen) and stop-motion animation “Jackboots on Whitehall.”

Beefed up at BIFA
Noteworthy multiple nominees for the British Independent Film Awards

‘The King’s Speech’
Eight nominations: film, director (Tom Hooper), script (David Seidler), actor (Colin Firth), supporting actress (Helena Bonham Carter), supporting actor (Guy Pearce and Geoffrey Rush), technical achievement (production designer Eve Stewart)

Hooper’s 2009 film “The Damned United” didn’t register among awards selectors, but “King’s Speech” is a much more personal project. His Anglo-Australian parentage reflects the culture clash at the heart of the movie, and it pays off with beautifully crafted, crowd-pleasing drama.

‘Monsters’
Six nominations: film, director (Gareth Edwards), debut director, actor (Scoot McNairy), production achievement, technical achievement (Edwards for visual effects).
Visual effects expert Edwards improvised his microbudget alien invasion pic, an allegory of the war on terror, with his two actors on the road in Mexico. He then used all his vfx know-how to add scale, monsters and military hardware. The result is not only a technical tour de force but a surprisingly emotional and poetic piece of storytelling.

‘The Arbor’
Six nominations: Debut director (Clio Barnard), actress (Manjinder Virk), most promising newcomer (Virk), production achievement, technical achievement (Tim Barker for sound), documentary.
Video artist Barnard made her feature debut with an experimental, expressive doc about working-class playwright Andrea Dunbar, who died at 29. Her surviving family speaks, but their words are lip-synced by actors, a technique that allows Barnard to achieve a profound emotional power.

‘Four Lions’
Five nominations: film, debut director (Chris Morris), script (Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain, Simon Blackwell, Morris), actor (Riz Ahmed), supporting actor (Kayvan Novak).
Morris is a Swiftian TV satirist who uses comedy to create genuine discomfort. His debut feature plays suicide bombing as deadly farce, depicting a gang of wannabe British jihadis as hapless buffoons and the security services as worse.

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