MOVIES | 2009 British Television Advertising Awards: F*#!ed up…in a good way


Not three weeks ago was I on the phone with Assurant, trying to convince them that geloplegia—the chronic neurological condition that occasionally causes my upper-body muscles to go weak when I laugh—affected me very rarely. “In fact,” I said, “I can hardly remember the last time it happened.” And then there I was tonight, my head nodding limply as a sock puppet got drunk on champagne.

Many of the winners of the 2009 British Television Advertising Awards—soon due for the annual series of screenings at the Walker Art Center—are funny, but the collection isn’t all laughs. My friend Nalini, whose family has attended the Walker screenings for many years, concluded that an unusually large number of this year’s winners are “fucked up.” That is, they’re compelling short films about fucked-up subjects like gun violence, drug abuse, and fatal car accidents. If you drive to the Walker, you’ll probably wear your seat belt on the way home.

In my review of last year’s batch, I mused on the aptness of such baldly commercial films being a holiday tradition for many local families. Watching this year’s winners, I realized that it’s apt in another way: the presentation is a wonderful tribute to the power of the human imagination. The holidays are an important time to respect traditions, but it’s also nice that at least one local holiday tradition comprises an annual efflorescence of originality.

2009 british television advertising awards, screening december 4-january 2 at the walker art center. for tickets ($10) and information, see

The makers of these ads, with the dogs of recession nipping at their heels, use every one of the many tools at their disposal to grab viewers’ attention. Some are visually striking (skyscrapers built of giant cards, collapsing in slow motion), some are funny (a trusty car lasts a man through a series of girlfriends, shown in rapid succession), some are shocking (now I’ve seen a prolapsed intestine), and a few use star power (one even features a voiceover by a Minnesota celebrity). Many are almost completely unrelated to the products they’re selling—as a rule of thumb, if you have no idea what the commercial is about, it’s probably a car commercial. The best, though, lead you straight down a garden path to the chosen product. In particular, one low-tech but very witty ad probably helped fill quite a few seats in the opera house.

The numerous “fucked up” ads are indeed intense, and they don’t always sit comfortably among the more fanciful films. Studies are decidedly mixed on the effectiveness of the Puritanical “scare ’em straight” approach, but if these ads don’t do it, nothing will—at least, nothing under a couple of minutes that might reasonably be broadcast on the public airwaves. The collection is unrated, but families considering bringing children to the Walker screening should be aware that some of the material here is in the realm of PG-13, if not R.

Scary stuff aside, 2009’s British Television Advertising Award winners make for grand entertainment. The collection is perfect for people who think the Super Bowl broadcast would be better without any football…but who aren’t averse to a little rugby.

This event is featured in the Daily Planet’s complete guide to holiday theater. Throughout the holiday season, the guide will be updated with links to new Daily Planet reviews—so you know who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.