Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke in "Before Midnight"
Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke in "Before Midnight"

And then there's the "breakthrough" categories (actor and filmmaker), which has been confusing in the past: Melanie Lynskey was considered a "breakthrough performance" for "Hello I Must Be Going," despite being well known in the independent film world since 1993's "Heavenly Creatures." Similar things happened with Greta Gerwig and Ben Foster in the last few years. Though the additions of the "best actor" and "best actress" categories this year should probably go quite a ways in solving that problem (those categories should be very interesting to watch, especially given so many major Oscar contenders are eligible).

That said, there's no shortage of possibilities this year in any category. Roughly, it seems like the best feature race could boil down to any of the following films, baring any of them don't end up qualifying:

  • "12 Years a Slave"
  • "Afternoon Delight"
  • "Ain't Them Bodies Saints"
  • "All Is Lost"
  • "August: Osage County"
  • "Before Midnight"
  • "Blue Jasmine"
  • "Computer Chess"
  • "Concussion"
  • "Dallas Buyers Club"
  • "Don Jon"
  • "The East"
  • "Enough Said"
  • "Escape From Tomorrow"
  • "Frances Ha"
  • "Fruitvale Station"
  • "Gimme The Loot"
  • "In a World"
  • "Inside Llewyn Davis"
  • "Kill Your Darlings"
  • "Lee Daniels' The Butler"
  • "Mother of George"
  • "Mud"
  • "Nebraska"
  • "The Place Beyond The Pines"
  • "Prince Avalanche"
  • "Short Term 12"
  • "The Spectacular Now"
  • "Spring Breakers"
  • "To The Wonder"
  • "Upstream Color"
  • "The Way, Way Back"

Also, remember these films come Independent Spirit Award time, as they should also make up the bulk of nominees there (save "Lee Daniels' The Butler" which definitely has a budget that exceeds Spirit Award rules, while "12 Years a Slave" and "August: Osage County" seem to just make the cut at $20 million).

It's been a fantastic year for American independent film -- and perhaps a fairly Oscar friendly one as well.

12 Years A Slave

Of the 20 noted, a few have significant chances at a best picture nomination come Oscar time "12 Years a Slave" for sure, and perhaps "Nebraska," "Inside Llewyn Davis," "Dallas Buyers Club," "Blue Jasmine," "August: Osage County," and "Lee Daniels' The Butler" as well. Other favorites like "Frances Ha," "Ain't Them Bodies Saints," "Fruitvale Station" and "Short Term 12" might prove a little too independently minded for Academy tastes (especially given the multitude of heavyweight studio options not being mentioned here), but that is why awards like the Gothams and Spirits are important. And the Gothams in particular tend to go their own way, with a snub for a likely best picture Oscar nominee not just out of the question but often times the norm.

Just for fun, Indiewire took a stab at predicting Thursday's nominations. You can find those predictions on the next page. Check back with us Thursday morning for the actual nominees.