With the recent announcement of the Gotham Award nominations, it only seems appropriate for this week’s column to take on the granddaddy of independent film awards: Film Independent’s Spirit Awards. With nominations to be announced November 27, the awards promise to (as always) be a surprising and at times unexpected representation of the year in American independent film.
One thing that can be expected: This year’s event promises to be much less Oscar friendly than last year’s Spirits, which was dominated by Oscar crossover thanks to "The Artist." The year before was similar situation, when four of the Spirits' best feature nominees also got Oscar nods for best picture (Oscar winner "The King's Speech" wasn't eligible in that category, but won the Spirits' foreign film award).
It should make this year quite refreshing by comparison, since it gives opportunity to honor many deserving indies a little too outside the mainstream for Academy tastes. So let’s break it down with respect to some of the Spirits’ major categories to see where things might be headed. When considering what is seemingly left out, keep in mind the awards’ eligibility rules.
For example, both "The Master" and "Silver Linings Playbook" have budgets that exceed $20 million, placing them outside the awards’ limitations. "Magic Mike" was released by a studio, despite only costing $7 million to make. Meanwhile, "Amour," "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," "Ginger and Rosa," "Holy Motors," "Rust and Bone," "Seven Psychopaths" and "Take This Waltz" are not American productions, thus excluding them from all categories except “foreign film,” where one would suspect a lot of them will pop up.
There’s also the tricky thing of films that haven’t been theatrically released showing up, thanks to their festival screenings. “Frances Ha” would be a film to watch out for if that ends up being the case in their regard (with Greta Gerwig a surefire best actress nominee, one would think). So that all said, here’s some best guesses.
Prediction: Bernie, Middle of Nowhere, Moonrise Kingdom, The Sessions, Your Sister's Sister
Spoilers: Arbitrage, Compliance, Damsels in Distress, End of Watch, Hitchcock, Keep The Lights On, The Loneliest Planet, Smashed
Benh Zeitlin's "Beasts of the Southern Wild" may or may not be competing in the remarkably packed best first feature category instead (the awards have an inconsistent history with this), which would make way for Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" to be the arguable favorite (and Anderson film has never even been nominated in this category before, let alone won).
"Kingdom" comes with main competition from "Hitchcock," Ben Lewin's "The Sessions," Richard Linklater's "Bernie," Ava DuVernay's "Middle of Nowhere," Lynn Shelton's "Your Sister's Sister," Craig Zobel's "Compliance" and Whit Stilman's "Damsels in Distress." It could truly be any combination of these. And while "Kingdom" has a (very) outside shot at a best picture Oscar nomination, this could very well be only the second time in 10 years that no Spirit Award nominee in this category crossed over.
Best Lead Female
Prediction: Ann Dowd (Compliance), Melanie Lynskey (Hello I Must Be Going), Helen Mirren (Hitchcock), Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Smashed)
Spoilers: Emily Blunt (Your Sister's Sister), Emayatzy Corinealdi (Middle of Nowhere), Greta Gerwig (Damsels in Distress), Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks), Melissa Leo (Francine)
Quvenzhané Wallis for the win! The young lead of "Beasts of the Southern Wild" might be a long shot for an Oscar win (though she still seems like a likely nominee), the Spirit Award is very likely her prize to lose. Though she does has some impressive, eclectic competition in the likes of Ann Dowd ("Compliance"), Emily Blunt ("Your Sister's Sister"), Melanie Lynskey ("Hello I Must Be Going"), Emayatzy Corinealdi ("Middle of Nowhere"), Mary Elizabeth Winstead ("Smashed") and Helen Mirren ("Hitchcock").
You'd think a combination of those actresses would make up the nominees, but you never know how this category will work out. Last year Lauren Ambrose ("Think of Me") and Rachael Harris ("Natural Selection") came out nowhere to nab nominations over favorites like Glenn Close ("Albert Nobbs") and Felicity Jones (“Like Crazy”). And as previously noted, if Greta Gerwig's performance in "Frances Ha" is eligible, watch out for her.
Best Lead Male
Prediction: Jack Black (Bernie), Richard Gere (Arbitrage), John Hawkes (The Sessions), Anthony Hopkins (Hitchcock), Matthew McConaughey (Killer Joe)
Spoilers: Mike Birbiglia (Sleepwalk With Me), Mark Duplass (Your Sister's Sister), Jake Gyllenhaal (End of Watch), Frank Langella (Robot and Frank), Logan Lerman (The Perks of Being a Wallflower)
Certainly the most competitive of all the acting categories, the race for best lead male is a doozy that could offer an awesomely mixed bag of actors. Jack Black, Richard Gere, John Hawkes and Matthew McConaughey (twice over, though as noted, "Magic Mike" isn't eligible) gave what some would consider career performances this year; it’s hard to imagine any of them being snubbed. And then there's Anthony Hopkins, whose performance in "Hitchcock" is still sight unseen but seems like a pretty safe bet all things considered (but hey, last year they snubbed George Clooney here for "The Descendants," so you never know).
That doesn't leave much room for newcomers like Mike Birbiglia and Logan Lerman, or Jake Gyllenhaal and Frank Langella, who also gave what many considered their best performances in years for "End of Watch" and "Robot and Frank," respectively.
As for the winner, it seems like John Hawkes is the one to beat. This would notably also be his third nomination in a row after "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and "Winter's Bone" (which he won for). John Hawkes, the new king of the Spirit Awards.
Best Supporting Female and Best Supporting Male
Female Prediction: Lauren Ambrose (Sleepwalk With Me), Rosemarie DeWitt (Your Sister's Sister), Helen Hunt (The Sessions), Frances McDormand (Moonrise Kingdom), Lorraine Toussaint (Middle of Nowhere)
Female Spoilers: Gina Gherson (Killer Joe), Shirley MacLaine (Bernie), Susan Sarandon (Arbitrage), Octavia Spencer (Smashed), Juno Temple (Killer Joe)
Male Prediction: Dwight Henry (Beasts of the Southern Wild), William H. Macy (The Sessions), Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Michael Pena (End of Watch), Bruce Willis (Moonrise Kingdom)
Male Spoilers: Emile Hirsch (Killer Joe), Bill Murray (Moonrise Kingdom), Edward Norton (Moonrise Kingdom), Nick Offerman (Smashed), Nate Parker (Arbitrage)
The Spirits tend to get even more wildly unpredictable when it comes to the supporting categories. Who predicted Ashley Bell (“The Last Exorcism”) and Daphne Rubin-Vega (“Jack Goes Boating”) over Mila Kunis (“Black Swan”) and Dianne Weist (“Rabbit Hole”) two years ago? Or John C. Reilly for "Cedar Rapids" last year? With that in mind, continue to take these suggestions cautiously.
But it seems pretty likely that both of John Hawkes' "Sessions" co-stars — Helen Hunt and William H. Macy — make it in here (and both could very well win), while it's a bit of a question mark how many (and which ones) make it from the huge cast of "Moonrise Kingdom," though it seems like consensus is that Bruce Willis and Frances McDormand were best in show.
Who knows beyond that… Michael Pena for "End of Watch"? Rosemarie DeWitt for "Your Sister's Sister"? Dwight Henry for "Beasts"? Whatever the mix, expect a diversity of performances in true Spirit Award-spirit… even if Macy and Hunt can pretty much start writing their acceptance speeches now.
Best Director and Best First Feature:
Director Prediction: Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom), Ava DuVernay (Middle of Nowhere), Ben Lewin (The Sessions). Richard Linklater (Bernie), Lynn Shelton (Your Sister's Sister)
Director Spoilers: Sacha Gervasi (Hitchcock), Julia Loktev (The Loneliest Planet), Ira Sachs (Keep The Lights On), Whit Stilman (Damsels in Distress), Craig Zobel (Compliance)
First Feature Prediction: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin), Not Fade Away (David Chase), The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky), Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevorrow), Sleepwalk With Me (Mike Birbiglia)
First Feature Spoilers: Francine (Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky), Robot and Frank (Jake Schreier), Sound of My Voice (Zal Batmanglij)
One of the most interesting races to watch is the one that has no Oscar equivalent: Best first feature. 2012 was an exceptional year for first time filmmakers. Yes, Benh Zeitlin's work on "Beasts" is the clear frontrunner, but he could be joined by an impressve lineup of other new filmmakers, many of them coming to film from a different medium: David Chase ("Not Fade Away"), Stephen Chbosky ("Perks of Being a Wallflower"), and Mike Birbiglia ("Sleepwalk With Me").
As for the best director race, Wes Anderson is probably a sure bet for a nod, though a refreshing mix of filmmakers (imagine if the Oscars ever nominate two women — one of them African-American — in their version of this category) should be joining him.
Best Foreign Film
Prediction: Amour, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Holy Motors, Rust and Bone, Take This Waltz
Spoilers: Ginger and Rosa, The Intouchables, Kill List, A Royal Affair, Seven Psychopaths, Sister
This category is always quite interesting in that it often honors both foreign-language films and English-language films made outside the United States. As a result, "The King’s Speech” beat “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” and “Of Gods and Men” two years ago, though last year "A Separation" won here just like it did at the Oscars.
This year, the English language likes of "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," "Ginger and Rosa," "Seven Psychopaths" and "Take This Waltz" square off against mostly French competitions (what a year for French language cinema): "Amour," "Holy Motors," "The Intouchables" and "Rust and Bone" could all represent the French language.
Prediction: How To Survive a Plague, The House I Live In, The Invisible War, The Queen of Versailles, Searching For Sugar Man
Spoilers: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Bully, The Central Park Five, Detropia, Head Games, Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present, Only The Young, The Revisionaries, Room 237, Samsara, West of Memphis
As the recent IDA Award nominations helped made clear, another thing 2012 has going for it is an extraordinary output of documentary filmmaking. How the Spirit Awards end up choosing to represent that is probably the toughest call of all; historically, they have very much gone their own way in this category.
Steve James’ “The Interrupters” won last year, helping make up for an Oscar snub. James is in the mix again this year with "Head Games," but there's a lot of competition in "The House I Live In," "How To Survive a Plague," "The Invisible War," "Samsara," "Searching For Sugar Man" and "The Queen of Versailles." And what makes this perhaps the most interesting of all categories to watch is largely because of much it probably won’t look anything like it’s Oscar counterpart.