"12 Years a Slave"
"12 Years a Slave"

With the recent announcements of both the Gotham Award nominations and those of the British Independent Film Awards, 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 26th, 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 more Oscar friendly than last year’s Spirits. Sure, there'll be no sign of "Gravity" at the Spirits, but "12 Years a Slave," "All Is Lost," "August: Osage County," "Blue Jasmine," "Dallas Buyers Club," "Fruitvale Station" "Inside Llewyn Davis" and "Nebraska" are seemingly all eligible to double dip.

While last year's Spirits did see Oscar-nominated "Silver Linings Playbook" take top honors (much to the chagrin of many who thought that seemed unfair), the vast majority of the nominees did not crossover with Oscar (only 4 of 20 acting nominees and 2 of the best feature nominees). This year could be closer to 2011, when four of the Spirits' best feature nominees also got Oscar nods for best picture and the best actress category crossed over entirely with the Academy (Oscar winner "The King's Speech" wasn't eligible in that category, but won the Spirits' foreign film award).

READ MORE: 2014 Oscar Predictions

This could be an unfortunate scenario in the sense that it gives less opportunity for the Spirits' honor many deserving indies a little too outside the mainstream for Academy tastes. But the nominations haven't come out yet, so we don't know that for sure. Just for fun, 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 "Lee Daniels' The Butler" has a budget that exceeds $20 million, which would place it outside the awards’ limitations (though with Harvey behind it you never know -- "Silver Linings Playbook" had a budget of $21 million). "American Hustle" is being released by a studio (Sony), so don't expect a David O. Russell repeat. Meanwhile, "Blue is the Warmest Color," "The Great Beauty," "Gloria," "The Hunt," "The Past," "Philomena" and "Wadjda" are not American productions, thus excluding them from all categories except “foreign film,” where one would suspect a lot of them will pop up. So that all said, here’s some best guesses.

Oscar Isaac in "Inside Llewyn Davis."
Oscar Isaac in "Inside Llewyn Davis."

Best Feature

Prediction: 12 Years a Slave, Before Midnight, Frances Ha, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska
Spoilers: Ain't Them Bodies Saints, All Is Lost, August: Osage County, Blue Jasmine, Computer Chess, Dallas Buyers Club, Enough Said, Fruitvale Station, In a World, Mud, The Place Beyond The Pines, Short Term 12, The Spectacular Now, Spring Breakers, Upstream Color

What an extraordinarily crowded field. Any of the 20 films listed above would be a reasonable suggestion for a nomination in the Spirit's top category most other years, but this year it's gonna be pretty tough for the little guys when they're competing against the likes of Woody Allen, Joel & Ethan Coen, Steve McQueen, Alexander Payne and Richard Linklater. Our bet is even Allen doesn't make the cut (he actually never has, despite recent Oscar-favored films like "Vicky Christina Barcelona" and "Midnight in Paris" both being eligible), leaving room for Noah Baumbach's "Frances Ha" to move up. But even then we've left out David Lowery's "Ain't Them Bodies Saints," Nicole Holofcener's "Enough Said," Jeff Nichols' "Mud," Destin Cretton's "Short Term 12" and Ryan Coogler's "Fruitvale Station," among others (though "Station" will likely be nominated for best first feature instead). So there's definitely a whole lot of room for surprise.

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