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Standard Muddles Awards, Odeon Tinkers Venues

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The great original point about the Whatsonstage.com Awards is that the voters are the public. They nominate the long list, the short list, they vote for the winners. Nominees are invited to the awards party in early December and the public comes to the awards show in the New Year.  
Obviously everyone else thinks this is a good idea. Latest to convert is the Evening Standard, who yesterday announced that their awards (to be announced "at a star-studded gala dinner" on 20 November) will include a Best Night Out award to be voted for online by Standard readers.

The Standard, though, has itself decided the twelve nominations, and has further complicated matters by including this year's One Man, Two Guvnors, which will surely feature in several other categories; if it doesn't win Best Comedy, I'm a Dutchman, said prominent theatre critic Michael van den Covenee.

Otherwise, the Best Night Out list comprises the usual suspects -- Les Miserables, Wicked and Chicago -- with straight play hits Jerusalem and The Pitmen Painters, plus Shrek and The Railway Children and -- very strangely -- Batman Live and Office Party.

The inclusion of Crazy For You is an extension of the Standard's conservatism when it comes to musical theatre and a chance to garland another crowd-pleaser at the expense of honouring more adventurous new musical comedy work in Betty Blue Eyes and Lend Me A Tenor. Matilda's certain to be Best Musical. 

As I've said before, the Standard is missing a trick here. Instead of following us at Whatsonstage.com, with long lists and expanding categories, and now the popular vote, they should cling to what is, or at least was, special about the Standard awards: their authoritative arbitrariness. That's what once gave the Standard awards prestige and glamour.

Now it's all a terrible muddle, and all decided far too early in the year, with a slew of November/December openings -- Michael Sheen's Hamlet, Juno and the Paycock at the National, The Lion in Winter, Neil LaBute at the Almeida, Lenny Henry in The Comedy of Errors, Eddie Redmayne's Richard II, The Ladykillers and Joe Penhall's new play at the Royal Court -- presumably not making the cut.

When it comes to the next round of film awards, I'll be very surprised if Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy doesn't clean up. It's a wonderfully sustained atmospheric rendition of John Le Carre's novel, with one or two tweaks, and a brilliant blank performance by Gary Oldman at its slow beating heart.

You realise, watching the film, that we have an entirely new generation of middle-aged character actors in our movies now. Not Just Colin Firth, who's superb as one of the "Circle" of intelligence agents, but also Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones, Simon McBurney and Mark Strong; all of them, of course, graduates of our ever frutiful theatre culture. And Tom Hardy is outstanding as a low level agent who gets too caught up in a personal affair.

Kathy Burke plays the retired office stalwart whom Beryl Reid played in the Alec Guinness television version, and makes something quite different of the role, though I'm not sure the line about being seriously underserviced in the sexual pleasure department is strictly appropriate, or in period. Great to see Linda Marlowe, too, in a tiny role towards the end, dogs yapping at her heels in an espionage "safe house" near the Oval.

I saw the film at my new local refurbished Swiss Cottage Odeon, starting with the bland aperitif of Woody Allen's hugely disappointing Midnight In Paris, in which Tom Hiddlestone plays an incongruously pleasant Scott Fitzgerald.

The film's a tourist's love letter to Paris in which Owen Wilson, struggling on the brink of a boring marriage to his American fiancee, and trying to write a novel, is whisked back first to Paris in the 1920s (only Adrien Brody's Salvador Dali makes these scenes less than utterly excruciating) and then to the Moulin Rouge in La Belle Epoque: hello Degas, hi there little man Lautrec...

The conclusion is that a previous era was always preferable to the present one, so we must learn to make do, and if that means leaving America to live in Europe, so be it. I thought Woody Allen had revived his career a little with Vicky Cristina Barcelona, but this is just sad sap hooey, written and directed without energy or wit, ploughing at every turn straight into self-pitying sentimentality.

And who the hell is Owen Wilson? He's even less of a Woody clone than was Kenneth Branagh. And as for Michael Sheen as a pompous intellectual: he does a sort of speaking clock guide to Versailles as if programmed by a dumb tourist guide; speaking of which, up pops Carla Bruni as just such a character, straining not to form any facial expressions that might spoil her Botox.
Anyway, point is, they've done up my Odeon in five new cinemas, one of them an Imax, two of them "premiere," with a swanky new bar and toilets. Midnight in Paris was in a "premiere" small venue and all ticket prices £12.50, which is ridiculous. This is one way of making audiences for Woody Allen films, already dwindling, even smaller. 


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