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For Your Consideration: The 10 Biggest Surprises of the 2015 Spirit Awards Nominations

For Your Consideration: The 10 Biggest Surprises of the 2015 Spirit Awards Nominations


It would probably be more surprising if there weren’t some shockers among the Spirit Award nominations, which annually seem to offer many unexpected inclusions and omissions. Even so, this year is exceptional in that regard, particularly after a few years that heavily correlated with the eventual Oscar nominations.

Check out 10 big surprises below. A full list of nominations is available here.

Not Much Room for “Room”

It wasn’t entirely clear whether Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room” would be eligible at the Spirits, given that it’s a Irish/Canadian co-production with an Irish director. It turned out that it was, but didn’t grab nearly the amount of attention most expected would result. The film — which has seemed like a safe bet for many major Oscar nominations — was shut out of both the best feature and best director categories, with “Anomalisa,” “Beasts of No Nation,” “Carol,” “Spotlight” and “Tangerine” getting nods in both categories instead. “Room” did manage three other nominations, for best editing, best first screenplay and best female lead (Brie Larson). However, Larson’s castmates Joan Allen and Jacob Tremblay also missed out on nominations in favor of a few very unexpected inclusions (more on that later).

Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara Both Take the Lead

As will be the case with most awards announcements this season, a big question looming over the Spirit Awards was which categories Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara would be placed in for Todd Haynes’ “Carol,” and if the category confusion might lead to one or both of them being snubbed. The answer this morning? Both in lead and both nominated. Spirit Award voters loved “Carol,” and perhaps made that clear by handing two of its highly coveted best female lead slots (that category was by far the most competitive this year) to the film. Now on to the next question: Can either of them win?

Lily Tomlin and Blythe Danner Both Miss Out

One of the downfalls to Blanchett and Mara’s nomination pairing was that it didn’t leave room for two veteran actresses at the top of their games. After both being nominated for Gotham Awards a few weeks ago, Lily Tomlin and Blythe Danner were sadly left out for “Grandma” and “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” respectively. It made us wish the best female lead category had an expanded nomination list, and lessens hopes that either of them could manage Oscar nominations (which would be Tomlin’s first in 40 years and Danner’s first ever).

Micro-budget “Tangerine” Makes It to the Big League

It wasn’t clear what m happen to Sean Baker’s “Tangerine” given its reported $100,000 budget made it eligible for the John Cassavetes Award (for films made under $500,000). But Spirit voters decided their love for “Tangerine” was strong enough to place it alongside films with budgets 10 to 200 times greater and nominated it for best feature and best director, alongside well-deserved notices for its actresses Kitana “Kiki” Rodriguez and Mya Taylor for best female lead and best supporting female. No small feat for two first time actresses now (deservedly) competing against the likes of Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Cynthia Nixon.

English-Language Films Get Snubbed In the Foreign Field

This category is always interesting in that it often honors both
foreign-language films and English-language films made outside the
United States. This year, the English-language films that seemed like they had a real
shot included “Brooklyn,” “Ex-Machina,” “Youth,” “45 Years,” “Suffragette”
and perhaps even British documentary “Amy.” But in the end every single one of them got snubbed in favor of Hungary’s “Son of Saul,” France’s
“Mustang” and “Girlhood,” Sweden’s “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting On Existence” and Colombia’s “Embrace of the Serpent.” Look for “Son of Saul” and “Mustang” to battle it out for the win.

Kodous Seihon and Abraham Attah Beat Out Hollywood Names

A timely look at the
life-and-death struggle of refugees, Jonas Carpignano’s directorial debut “Mediterranea” has been a steady force on the festival circuit since it debuted in Cannes. But few expected it to factor in at the Spirit Awards, much less a high-profile nomination for Kodous Seihon’s lead performance. Seihon notably beat out potential nominees like Ben Stiller (“When We’re Young”), John Cusack (“Love & Mercy”), Peter Sarsgaard (“Experimenter”) and Bryan Cranston (“Trumbo”), as did young Abraham Attah — a somewhat more expected presence for his tremendous turn in “Beasts of No Nation.” What’s more is that both Seihon and Attah were making their screen debuts in their respective films.

Jennifer Jason Leigh Gets Nominated For Voice Work

Jennifer Jason Leigh has been speculated as a major force in this year’s awards season for some time — except it was for her as-yet-unseen turn in Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight,” not her heartbreaking voiceover performance in Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s “Anomalisa.” But the latter was how she received her first notice of the season, the first time the Spirits have ever nominated a voice performer in the acting categories.

Supporting Actors Surprise, Too

Jennifer Jason Leigh was hardly the biggest surprise of the supporting acting categories. Three performances from films few have even heard of managed to make it in too: Richard Jenkins for S. Craig Zahler‘s “Bone Tomahawk” (which also got a screenplay nod), Marin Ireland for Noah Buschel‘s “Glass Chin,” and Robin Bartlett for Rania Attieh and
Daniel Garcia’s “H.” What’s more is that this trio got in over the Oscar-favored likes of Joan Allen and Jacob Tremblay (“Room”), Elizabeth Banks (“Love & Mercy) and the entire supporting cast of “Spotlight.” Does that mean we should be adding Jenkins, Zahler and Ireland to Oscar prediction lists? Probably not, but here’s to the Spirits for thinking (way) outside the awards season box.

The “Spotlight” Acting Team Gets Shut Out of Competition

The film’s entire cast was announced as the winner of the Robert Altman Award (along with the film’s casting director) and will not go home empty-handed at the Spirits. But it remained a somewhat surprising choice in that it disqualified the actors from the competitive categories, where Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo in particular could have been heavily favored to win.

Is This the End of the Oscar Crossover?

The past two Spirit Award ceremonies saw both best feature winners (“12 Years a Slave” and “Birdman”) and seven of eight acting winners (every Spirit winner save Michael Keaton) go on to win Oscars the next day. That kind of correlation is extremely unlikely this year, simply based on the nominees. The slates for both best male lead and best supporting female refreshingly look like they’ll be entirely made up of non-Oscar nominees (though Jennifer Jason Leigh could get nominated for that other movie she’s in this year), which would be the first time since 2007 that this has happened.

As for potential winners, it’s quite possible “Spotlight” could nail it at both ceremonies, while Brie Larson is most likely to succeed when it comes to winning an Oscar and a Spirit Award back-to-back come February. However, neither are sure things and this could be the first year in almost a decade when no Spirit Award winner gets an Oscar as well. And we wouldn’t be not complaining — awards season should definitely spread the love more than it has been lately.

Peter Knegt is Indiewire’s Contributing Editor and awards columnist. Follow him on Twitter.

Check out Indiewire’s latest chart of Oscar predictions here.

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