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For Your Consideration: Previewing The Independent Spirit Award Nominations, Which Could Look a Lot Like The Oscars

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire November 12, 2013 at 9:22AM

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.
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"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."

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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Sony Pictures Classics "Blue Jasmine"

Best Lead Female

Prediction: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Julie Delpy (Before Midnight), Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha), Brie Larson (Short Term 12), Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

Spoilers: Lake Bell (In a World...), Kathryn Hahn (Afternoon Delight), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Enough Said), Rooney Mara (Ain't Them Bodies Saints), Amy Seimetz (Upstream Color), Robin Weigert (Concussion), Shailenne Woodley (The Spectacular Now)

Even if "Blue Jasmine" misses out for best feature, it's very difficult to see Cate Blanchett not getting nominated in this category (and probably winning). But who will join her? Will the Spirits embrace "August: Osage County" enough to nominate Meryl Streep (who has never been nominated for a Spirit Award!)? If they do, it seems like there will thankfully still be room for a remarkable trio of female performances unlikely to make Oscar's cut: Julie Delpy ("Before Midnight"), Greta Gerwig ("Frances Ha") and Brie Larson ("Short Term 12"). And you never know. Streep is probably the most likely to be replaced by a trademark out-of-nowhere choice (like Linda Cardellini last year for "Return" or Lauren Ambrose the year before for "Think of Me"). Or by the 7 very worthy women listed in the "spoilers" section here.

"Dallas Buyers Club."

Best Lead Male

Prediction: Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Chiewtel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis), Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club), Robert Redford (All Is Lost)

Spoilers: Casey Affleck (Ain't Them Bodies Saints), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Don Jon),  Ethan Hawke (Before Midnight), Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station), Daniel Radcliffe (Kill Your Darlings), Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now), Isaiah Washington (Blue Caprice)

Certainly the most competitive of all the acting categories, the race for best lead male looks more like the Oscar race than any others. In fact, aside from Tom Hanks in "Captain Phillips" our predictions match up for both awards. But this doesn't mean this will end up being the case. Two years back, George Clooney was snubbed here for "The Descendants" before getting an Oscar nom. Which perhaps bodes well for Oscar Isaac ("Inside Llewyn Davis"), Miles Teller ("The Spectacular Now"), Michael B. Jordan ("Fruitvale Station"), Isaiah Washington ("Blue Caprice") and Casey Affleck ("Ain't Them Bodies Saints"). But we're gonna stay safe in our predictions, suggesting Isaac joins the likely quartet of Oscar nominees.

Best Supporting Female and Best Supporting Male

Female Prediction: Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), Scarlett Johannson (Don Jon), Margo Martindale (August: Osage County), Lupita N'Yongo (12 Years a Slave), Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station),
Female Spoilers: Melonie Diaz (Fruitvale Station), Jennifer Garner (Dallas Buyers Club), Allison Janney (The Way, Way Back), Catherine Keener (Enough Said), Sarah Paulson (12 Years a Slave), Mickey Sumner (Frances Ha), Juno Temple (Afternoon Delight)

Male Prediction: Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave), Ben Foster (Ain't Them Bodies Saints), James Franco (Spring Breakers), James Gandolfini (Enough Said), Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
Male Spoilers: Bradley Cooper (The Place Beyond The Pines), Andrew Dice Clay (Blue Jasmine), Dane DeHaan (Kill Your Darlings), Ryan Gosling (The Place Beyond The Pines), Matthew McConaughey (Mud), Sam Rockwell (The Way Way Back), Keith Stanfield (Short Term 12)

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”) two years ago? Or Sam Rockwell ("Seven Psychopaths") over Robert DeNiro ("Silver Linings Playbook") last year? With that in mind, continue to take these suggestions cautiously. Just because Michael Fassbender, Jared Leto, Octavia Spencer and Lupita N'Yongo seem Oscar bound doesn't mean the Spirits won't snub them. Though we're pretty sure that even if the do make the cut, they'll be joined by too incredibly fun (but not so Oscar friendly) performances: Scarlett Johannson in "Don Jon" and James Franco in "Spring Breakers."

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Best Director and Best First Feature

Director Prediction: JC Chandor (All Is Lost), Joel & Ethan Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis), David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints), Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), Alexander Payne (Nebraska)
Director Spoilers: Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine), Derek Cianfrance (The Place Beyond The Pines), Destin Cretton (Short Term 12), Nicole Holofcener (Enough Said), Harmony Kroine (Spring Breakers), Richard Linklater (Before Midnight), Jeff Nichols (Mud), Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club)

First Feature Prediction: Afternoon Delight (Jill Soloway), Don Jon (Joseph Gordon Levitt), Fruitvale Station (Ryan Coogler), In a World (Lake Bell), Kill Your Darlings (John Krokidas)
First Feature Spoilers: Blue Caprice (Alexander Moors), Concussion (Stacie Passon), Escape From Tomorrow (Randy Moore), Sun Don't Shine (Amy Seimetz)

One of the most interesting races to watch is the one that has no Oscar equivalent: Best first feature. 2013 was an exceptional year for first time filmmakers. Yes, Ryan Coogler's work on "Fruitvale Station" is the clear frontrunner, but he could be joined by an impressive lineup of other new filmmakers: Jill Soloway ("Afternoon Delight"), John Krokidas ("Kill Your Darlings"), Alexander Moors ("Blue Caprice"), Lake Belll ("In a World"), Stacie Passon ("Concussion") and yes, Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("Don Jon").

As for the best director race, this seems like Steve McQueen's to lose. Which if Coogler wins as well, would make for a big first: Both winners would be black filmmakers.

Wadjda "Wadjda"

Best Foreign Film

Prediction: Blue is the Warmest Color, Gloria, The Past, Philomena, Wadjda
Spoilers: Broken Circle Breakdown, Child's Pose, The Grandmaster, The Great Beauty, The Hunt, In The House, I'm So Excited, The Rocket

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, "Once," "An Education" and "The King’s Speech” are recent winners, though last year "A Separation" and "Amour" won here the last two years just like they did at the Oscars.

This year, the only English language film that seems like it has a real shot is Stephen Frears' "Philomena," which might square off against the impressive international likes of "Blue is the Warmest Color," "Broken Circle Breakdown," "Gloria," "The Hunt," "The Past" and "Wadjda." And we bet that even though it's ineligible for the Oscars, "Blue Is The Warmest Color" will be taking home a consolation prize in this category.


Radius-TWC "20 Feet From Stardom"

Best Documentary

Prediction: The Act of Killing, After Tiller, Cutie and the Boxer, The Square, Twenty Feet From Stardom
Spoilers: American Promise, The Armstrong Lie, Blackfish, Call Me Kuchu, God Loves Uganda, Inequality For All, Let The Fire Burn, Leviathan, Our Nixon, Running From Crazy, Tim's Vermeer, The Unknown Known, Valentine Road

As the recent IDA Award and Cinema Eye Honors nominations helped made clear, another thing 2013 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.

Last year Kirby Dick's "The Invisible War" won while Oscar winner "Searching For Sugar Man" was nowhere in sight. The year before, Steve James’ “The Interrupters” won, helping make up for an Oscar snub. The list of possibilities is literally dozens of films long, though it would be surprising if at least one or two of our five predicted films -- "The Act of Killing," "After Tiller," "Cutie and the Boxer," "The Square" and "Twenty Feet From Stardom" -- didn't make it.

Peter Knegt is Indiewire's Senior Writer and awards columnist. Follow him on Twitter.

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This article is related to: Awards Season Roundup, Spirit Awards, Spirit Awards, Blue Jasmine, 12 Years a Slave, Short Term 12, Fruitvale Station, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis, Frances Ha, Before Midnight , For Your Consideration