Strap in, because it’s all downhill from here. Or uphill. Either way, the road to the Dolby Theater is now officially open as Film Independent’s Spirit Awards have unveiled their nominations for this year (they call it 2014 even though it’s for 2013’s movies because they’ll hand out the hardware in March—yes, it’s a bit confusing). But it should be noted: the Spirit Awards has a budget barrier which keeps bigger movies out and obviously their mandate excludes studio pictures, so don’t consider this a definitive augur for Oscars.
Anyway, this year voters spread out the love for the most part, with almost every hot indie movie of the past twelve months getting some kind of recognition in one category or another. And while “12 Years a Slave” led the field with seven nominations, plenty more films (“Blue Jasmine,” “Short Term 12” and “Fruitvale Station“) got three nods each, with more getting a couple of nominations to take home. Still, there were some snubs and surprises to be had as well, and we’ll quickly break them down here.
Six Nominees in Best Male Lead
Consider it an indication that this year is going to be a tightly fought battle to the final five at the Oscars, the Indie Spirits wound up with six nominees in their own Best Male Lead category. Both the expected veterans (Robert Redford and Bruce Dern) and rising comers (Michael B. Jordan, Oscar Isaac, Matthew McConaughey, Chiwetel Ejiofor) all managed to get a place at a table. But we’ll see which of these guys gets bounced when the Academy weighs in (and remember, they’ll be up against folks from “American Hustle” and “The Wolf Of Wall Street” too).
Opening in tiny limited release with barely a ripple, it seems John Sayles‘ latest “Go For Sisters” connected with the right people in the right places. The film’s supporting actress Yolonda Ross managed to scoot into contention alongside folks like Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave“), June Squibb (“Nebraska“) and Sally Hawkins (“Blue Jasmine“). Not bad, and now it looks like we should probably track down that film.
Again, huh? “Crystal Fairy” was a quirky Sundance entry with Michael Cera journeying to find a magical high, and when it hit theaters, critics and audiences shrugged and that was that. But most agreed Gaby Hoffman‘s performance as the titular character was a memorable and brave turn (read: she got naked), though we’re still surprised it has stuck in the memory enough to earn a nomination. There was certainly lots of competition in the field (keeping reading) and winding up in the company of Cate Blanchett and Julie Delpy is no easy feat.
For the past couple of months there has been a quiet, persistent campaign for this to happen and well, it looks like Keith Stanfield is having his moment. As the troubled, hip-hop loving teen in “Short Term 12” who fears moving on to life on the outside, he has a great arc in the movie and gives a splendid turn. Clearly voters were affected, and in a tough crowd, he’s broken through to take some shine in a movie that is shaping up to be an underdog contender.
“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints“
Perhaps the biggest shocker was not one single nomination for the lyrical love story “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” starring Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck. The winner of two awards at Sundance created instant buzz for writer/director David Lowery (who was snapped up by moviemakers for multiple projects in the months that followed the film’s debut in Utah), but it seems his doomed story of two lovers marching toward their inevitable fate didn’t resonate. And that’s a shame as both Mara and Affleck put in some beautiful work (not to mention a great supporting turn from Ben Foster), Lowery puts himself on notice as a director, and Bradford Young declares himself one to watch with his gorgeous work behind the camera.
“Prince Avalanche“/”Drinking Buddies“
Two filmmakers who cut their teeth in the indie world, and who had slightly starry projects to good reviews and a receptive audience in 2013 found themselves out in the cold today: David Gordon Green and Joe Swanberg. And it’s curious that “Prince Avalanche” and “Drinking Buddies” didn’t fare better among voters. Certainly Green and Swanberg’s pictures hew right to the sort of intimate, creative, honest, truthful filmmaking the Spirit Awards are supposed to celebrate, right? And it’s not like they were lacking in star power either, with both filmmakers utilizing bigger names to help tell smaller scale tales. These are rather interesting omissions and anyone looking for fuel that these awards have sold out, they’ll be pointing to this.
“Mother Of George“
Speaking of which… we’re a bit surprised there wasn’t any shout outs for Andrew Donsumnu‘s “Mother Of George.” Bradford Young also shot this film, earning a trophy at Sundance for his trouble and like the other movies on this list, the picture was greeted with warm reviews and appreciation from critics. It might not have been a box office breakout, but it certainly showed careful directorial authority and two fine performances from Danai Gurira and Isaach De Bankolé. And at the very least, if the cruddy ’80s VHS aesthetic of “Computer Chess” can get a Best Cinematography nomination, Young deserved some kind of recognition for his work in either of the movies he lensed this year.
Okay, “Frances Ha” did get nominated for Best Picture and Editing but … that’s it? Of any movie that evoked down and dirty, run and gun filmmaking this year, Noah Baumbach‘s film certainly brought that spirit. His lively movie only works because of the terrific turn by Greta Gerwig who anchors the movie that she also co-wrote, putting together a portrait of that moment between youth and adulthood so many face, with real insight and hilarity. That “Frances Ha” didn’t get nominated for its most impressive elements—Best Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Director—makes us wonder if voters actually understood the movie at all.
“Inside Llewyn Davis“
In a similar spirit, while their film was nominated for Best Feature, Best Actor and Best Director, the Coen brothers missed out on directing and screenplay nominations, again—two pretty crucial parts of the film’s success. Don’t ask us how voting works, because we’re still mystified each year.
Do you think anyone got snubbed? Any movie’s you were surprised to get recognition? Let us know below.