This weekend isn't just about the Oscars, for the record. Saturday night, as is traditional, sees the warm-up for the big show with the 2012 Spirit Awards, Film Independent's antidote to the Academy Awards, intended to honor the best of independent cinema. With recent winners of the top prize including "Juno," "The Wrestler," "Precious" and "Black Swan," they've provided the opportunity for films that are perhaps a little too dark, small or offbeat to win Best Picture from the Academy the chance to grab some gold.
This year, things may be a little different, with oscar front-runner "The Artist" nominated in multiple categories, so we could end up seeing the two ceremonies mirroring each other more closely than ever. But will that actually be the case? True to their name, the Independent Spirits have been known to go their own way. We've run down our predictions below, and stay tuned for our final Oscar guesses later on as well.
Barring a real shock, this should be between the two Best Picture Oscar-nominated films in the running — "The Artist" and "The Descendants." The former's obviously had the narrative on its side of late, and only a fool would bet against it completely, but the Spirit Awards are big Alexander Payne fans — both "Sideways" and "Election" won the top prize — and "The Descendants" feels more like their speed. Not to mention that Fox Searchlight have won five out of the last ten years.
Should Win: "Beginners"
Will Win: "The Descendants"
Mike Mills – "Beginners"
Nicolas Winding Refn – "Drive"
Jeff Nichols – "Take Shelter"
Michel Hazanavicius – "The Artist"
Alexander Payne – "The Descendants"
Again, Payne and Michel Hazanavicius, as the two Oscar nominees, have an advantage here, but we'd also put Nicolas Winding Refn close in the running too; "Drive" is very much a director's film, arguably more so than the other two. Any of the three could win here, but we're going to stick with Mr. Payne here.
Should Win: Nicolas Winding Refn
Will Win: Alexander Payne
Best First Feature
"In The Family"
"Martha Marcy May Marlene"
Historically speaking, this category tends to be won by the best known film in the running, the victory for 2005's "Sweet Land" being the most obvious exception. As such, one can probably rule out the under-the-radar "Natural Selection" and "In The Family." "Another Earth" has something of a chance, but has proven divisive, so this is really a two-horse race, and while either "Margin Call" or "Martha Marcy May Marlene" has the right stuff, we suspect it's the latter that'll win out.
Should Win: "Martha Marcy May Marlene"
Will Win: "Martha Marcy May Marlene"
Best Male Lead
Demian Bichir – "A Better Life"
Jean Dujardin – "The Artist"
Ryan Gosling – "Drive"
Woody Harrelson – "Rampart"
Michael Shannon – "Take Shelter"
With George Clooney surprisingly missing out, this is very open: virtually anyone could take this, although Harrelson's chance are fairly slim. We're going to lean towards Oscar front-runner Dujardin here; when they can honor an Oscar nominee, they generally do. But that means that Demian Bichir is certainly in the mix too.
Should Win: Michael Shannon
Will Win: Jean Dujardin
Best Female Lead
Lauren Ambrose – "Think Of Me"
Rachel Harris – "Natural Selection"
Adepero Oduye – "Pariah"
Elizabeth Olsen – "Martha Marcy May Marlene"
Michelle Williams – "My Week With Marilyn"
Again, the Spirit Awards have tended to give the Actress prize to whoever among the group has an Oscar nomination, and with Michelle Williams being a frequent nominee, but never having won, the stats point towards her. That being said, the film isn't really their bag (as shown by a general lack of nominations), and we wonder if Elizabeth Olsen could come in and steal it?
Should Win: Adepero Oduye
Will Win: Elizabeth Olsen
Best Supporting Male
Albert Brooks – "Drive"
John Hawkes – "Martha Marcy May Marlene"
Christopher Plummer – "Beginners"
John C. Reilly – "Cedar Rapids"
Corey Stoll – "Midnight In Paris"
Christopher Plummer actually has a more competitive field here than he's had at most ceremonies, with all bar perhaps Reilly posing a real threat. Hawkes won the category last year, which might rule him out, but Brooks or Stoll could surprise, particularly the former. Plummer's the safe bet, though.
Should Win: Albert Brooks
Will Win: Christopher Plummer
Best Supporting Female
Jessica Chastain – "Take Shelter"
Angelica Huston – "50/50"
Janet McTeer – "Albert Nobbs"
Harmony Santana – "Gun Hill Road"
Shailene Woodley – "The Descendants"
Two Oscar nominees here, although Chastain is up for "Take Shelter" rather than "The Tree of Life." That being said, we don't see McTeer as a serious threat: Shailene Woodley likely has a better chance. But we imagine this is going to Chastain, as much as a recognition for her work elsewhere as anything else.
Should Win: Jessica Chastain
Will Win: Jessica Chastain
John Cassavettes Award
Given for a film with a budget of less than $500,000, this tends to lean towards relatively widely seen festival favorites like "The Station Agent," "Mean Creek" and "Humpday," although more obscure options, like last year's winner, "Daddy Longlegs," are possible. So in theory, this could be anyone's, but we think the ecstatic reviews for "Pariah" will push it over the edge.
Should Win: "Circumstance"
Will Win: "Pariah"
"An African Election"
"Bill Cunningham New York"
"The Redemption of General Butt Naked"
"We Were Here"
A far better shortlist than the Oscars' in the same category, Steve James' outstanding "The Interrupters" is the clear front-runner here. That being said, "Bill Cunningham New York" could end up surprising many here.
Should Win: "The Interrupters"
Will Win: "The Interrupters"
Best International Film
"The Kid With The Bike"
Thanks to the inclusion of English-language fare, and the not-submitted-by-France "The Kid With A Bike," "A Separation" has a tougher battle than it's faced at similar ceremonies, and we can certainly see a world in which any of the five walk away with the prize. The Iranian film is probably just about the front-runner, but don't be surprised if "Melancholia" or "Shame" win out.
Should Win: "The Kid With The Bike"
Will Win: "A Separation"
Joel Hodge – "Bellflower"
Benjamin Kasulke – "The Off Hours"
Darius Khondji – "Midnight In Paris"
Guillaume Schiffman "The Artist"
Jeffrey Waldron – "The Dynamiter"
In a wildly mixed category, this feels like the only one that "The Artist" has truly locked up, with only "Midnight In Paris" as potential competition, but even that may not have enough support to truly be a threat.
Should Win: Joel Hodge
Will Win: Guillaume Schiffman
Joseph Cedar – "Footnote"
Michel Hazanivicius – "The Artist"
Tom McCarthy – "Win Win"
Mike Mills – "Beginners"
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon & Jim Rash – "The Descendants"
A tricky one to call. Unless "The Artist" sweeps, we doubt that Hazanavicius is in the lead, but on the other hand, we're not convinced that "The Descendants" has it in the bag either, with both McCarthy and Mills being well-liked figures in the community. We're going to lean towards the latter, but it could probably be any of the five.
Should Win: Tom McCarthy
Will Win: Mike Mills
Best First Screenplay
Mike Cahill & Brit Marling – "Another Earth"
J.C. Chandor – "Margin Call"
Patrick DeWitt – "Terri"
Phil Johnston – "Cedar Rapids"
Will Reiser – "50/50"
Another strong category, with several writers who made a real splash, we've got to lean towards J.C. Chandor, who has an Oscar nod – five out of the last six years saw this prize go to an eventual Oscar winner, with Lena Dunham the outlier last year. That being said, Will Reiser's autobiographical cancer tale has done well through most of the season, so don't be entirely surprised if that wins out.
Should Win: Patrick DeWitt
Will Win: J.C. Chandor
Truer Than Fiction Award
"Where Soldiers Come From"
"Hell and Back Again"
Given to the director of an outstanding nonfiction film, we have to confess we've only seen one film on the list, but we'd be happy to see it go to that one — "Bombay Beach." That being said, Oscar nominee "Hell And Back Again" probably has this sewn up.
Should Win: "Bombay Beach"
Will Win: "Hell And Back Again"
Someone To Watch
Simon Arthur – "Silver Tongues"
Mark Jackson – "Without"
Nicholas Ozeki – "Marnitas"
Again, we've only seen the one, but that one — Mark Jackson's excellent "Without," is more than deserving. Hopefully, if he does win, it'll help the film finally gain some kind of distribution.
Should Win: Mark Jackson
Will Win: Mark Jackson
Piaget Producers Award
Chad Burris – "Mosquito Y Mari"
Sophia Lynn – "Take Shelter"
Josh Bond – "Martha Marcy May Marlene"
Given to a single producer who made a splash in the previous year, this is most likely a two-horse race between the better-known entries, and we're inclined to lean towards Mr. Bond, given our feeling that 'Martha Marcy' will do well at the awards this year.
Should Win: Josh Bond
Will Win: Josh Bond