Kate Jarvis and Michael Fassbender both won accolades for their performances
By Tim Masters
Entertainment correspondent, BBC News
Andrea Arnold's gritty drama Fish Tank has won four awards at the London Film Critics' Circle Awards, including British film of the year.
The story centres on a girl on an Essex estate whose life is dramatically altered by her mother's new boyfriend.
Quentin Tarantino was honoured for his outstanding contribution to cinema.
Christoph Waltz was named actor of the year for his role in Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, while Mo'Nique won best actress for Precious.
Colin Firth on his part in the awards season
Oscar nominees Colin Firth and Carey Mulligan took the British actor and actress of the year awards for their respective roles in A Single Man and An Education.
Mulligan, who is Oscar-nominated for the same role, admitted she had no dress or speech arranged for ceremony on 7 March.
"It's so crazy to be in the same category as Meryl Streep - it's bizarre," she said.
Cannes prize winner A Prophet beat Avatar to take the prize for film of the year.
In a tearful acceptance speech in French, A Prophet's director Jacques Audiard said: "I'm going to call up James Cameron and when he picks up the phone, he's going to hear my devilish voice saying 'Loser! Loser!'"
Chairman of the judges Jason Solomons said: "It's hugely significant that the London critics awarded Film of the Year to the French film, A Prophet.
"This is a victory for world cinema and shows a refreshing open-mindedness to judge all film on an equal footing, from giant Hollywood blockbusters to classy European prison movies."
Swedish vampire story Let the Right One In won foreign language film of the year.
Andrea Arnold is starting work on her next project, Wuthering Heights
Kathryn Bigelow was named director of the year for the Iraq bomb disposal thriller The Hurt Locker, which is up for nine Oscars against ex-husband James Cameron's Avatar.
The Critics' Circle awards, hosted by Jason Isaacs at London's Landmark Hotel, were held in support of the NSPCC.
As well as best British film, Fish Tank also earned accolades for British director of the year, for Andrea Arnold, and British actor in a supporting role, for Michael Fassbender.
Newcomer Katie Jarvis, who plays the lead role of 15-year-old Mia, received the award for young British performer of the year.
Jarvis, who was not at the ceremony, was cast after she was spotted by talent scout having a row with her boyfriend at a railway station.
Arnold won an Oscar in 2004 for her short film Wasp and a Bafta for her 2006 debut feature Red Road. Fish Tank took the jury prize at Cannes in 2009.
Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds has eight Oscar nominations
The screenwriter of the year prize went to Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci and Toni Roche for political satire In the Loop.
Duncan Jones won the breakthrough British film-maker award for his sci-fi drama Moon.
Quentin Tarantino was given the Dilys Powell award for excellence in cinema for his work as a director, screenwriter, producer and actor.
Tarantino, who picked up the award in person, said: "Hands down - this is the middle of my career.
"I like the idea of giving the award to someone where you think their best work might still be in front of them as an encouragement."
Judge Solomons said: "Quentin is the most passionate, daring and exciting director in America and is always engaged with the evolution of cinema."
To mark the 30th year of the awards, Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam war film Apocalypse Now was named best film of the last 30 years.
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