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For Your Consideration: Gauging a Crowded and Female-Friendly Spirit Award Field

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire November 3, 2010 at 2:35AM

With the recent announcements of the Gotham Award nominations and the British Independent Film Award nominations, it only seems appropriate for this week's column to take on the grand daddy of independent film awards: The Film Independent's Spirit Awards. With nominations to be announced November 30 - just under a month from now - the awards promise to (as always) - be a surprising and at times unexpected representation of the year in American independent film.
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With the recent announcements of the Gotham Award nominations and the British Independent Film Award nominations, it only seems appropriate for this week's column to take on the grand daddy of independent film awards: The Film Independent's Spirit Awards. With nominations to be announced November 30 - just under a month from now - 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 though. This year's event promises to be much more crowded and much less predictable than last year's Spirits, which turned out to more or less become the "Precious" show. In large part due to "The Hurt Locker"'s ineligibility (it was nominated the year prior), "Precious" ended up taking home five major awards including best feature, best director, best first screenplay and acting honors for Gabourey Sidibe and Mo'Nique. There were certainly other films that factored into the mix - including "Crazy Heart," "A Serious Man," "A Single Man," "Sin Nombre," "The Messenger" and "(500) Days of Summer" - but in general it seemed like a much less congested year than usual. From the outset, it was hard to imagine anything other than "Precious" taking the top prize heading at the ceremony.

This year, this is unlikely to become the case. Sure, Debra Granik's "Winter's Bone" (which, like "Precious" won Sundance's top prize) certainly seems like this year's indie darling, but what about Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan," Derek Cianfrance's "Blue Valentine," Lisa Cholodenko's "The Kids Are All Right," John Cameron Mitchell's "Rabbit Hole," and Sofia Coppola's "Somewhere"? All seem likely to eligible for the Spirits, and all have their fair share of supporters. Not to mention Jay and Mark Duplass's "Cyrus," Aaron Schneider's "Get Low," Nicole Holofener's "Please Give," Lena Dunham’s "Tiny Furniture," and maybe even Matt Reeves' "Let Me In" (which factored into the Gotham nominations, but straggles a limitation with a reported $20 million - exactly the budget cutoff). That's a whole lot of indie going on, suggesting a "Winter's" sweep might be a very unreasonable assumption when the awards head back to the beach in February. Not to say it won't be a major presence at the awards, and deservedly so. It's just that it's going to have a lot of competition. Perhaps more competition than the Spirits have seen in many years.

So let's break it down with respect to a few of the Spirits' major categories to see where things might be headed. Keep in mind the awards' eligibility rules when considering what is seemingly left out. For example, "127 Hours" is budgeted at $30 million, while "Fair Game" is reportedly budgeted at $22 million, placing them both just outside the limitations of a budget under $20 million. Meanwhile, while "Animal Kingdom," "Another Year," "Biutiful," "I Am Love," "The King's Speech" and "Made in Dagenham" are all not American productions, thus excluding them from all categories except "foreign film," where one would suspect a lot of them will pop up. There's also the tricky thing of films that haven't been theatrically released showing up thanks to their festival screenings ("The Hurt Locker" did this in 2008, for example). Mike Mills' "Beginners," Gregg Araki's "Kaboom," Aaron Katz's "Cold Weather," and especially Kelly Reichardt's "Meek's Cutoff" would be the films to watch out for if that ends up being the case in their regard. So that all said, here's a best guess (and check out the predictions in chart form here):


Best Feature

Prediction: Black Swan, Blue Valentine, The Kids Are All Right, Rabbit Hole, Winter's Bone
Spoilers: Cyrus, Life During Wartime, Please Give, Somewhere

The most amazing thing about what seem like the strongest contenders in this category? Women. While studio films continue to struggle in their "attempt" to bring female representation to equal measure, whether in front or behind the camera, the independent film world is doing a very respectable job at doing just that. Following last year's alleged "year of the woman" that came via Kathryn Bigelow's Academy Award win, 2010 is honestly giving 2009 a run for its money - at least when it comes to indies. The nine films listed below each offer a female lead or co-lead ("Cyrus" being the only questionable example, with Marisa Tomei arguably a co-lead), and four of the nine are actually directed by women... almost making for an even split. What's more is just the variety of strong or at least incredibly interesting characters these films offer actresses (see the next category). In the end, whether its the imploding ballerina or the lesbian mothers or the Ozark teen on a mission that takes this prize is impossible to say. But whoever wins should feel proud of the year of work their Independent Spirit Award is representing.

A scene from Darren Aronofsky’s "Black Swan"

Best Lead Female

Prediction: Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right), Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole), Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone), Natalie Portman (Black Swan), Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine)
Spoilers: Halle Berry (Frankie & Alice), Lena Dunham (Tiny Furniture), Catherine Keener (Please Give), Zoe Kazan (The Exploding Girl), Julianne Moore (The Kids Are All Right), Gwenyth Paltrow (Country Strong), Hilary Swank (Conviction), Kerry Washington (Night Catches Us)

Save for "Another Year"'s Lesley Manville, "Made in Dagenham"'s Sally Hawkins, and "Secretariat"'s Diane Lane, all the major Oscar contenders seem eligible here, which makes for a intensely crowded field that stands as a testament to what was noted with regard to the previous category. Though the Spirits love to throw in contenders nobody saw coming (see Maria Bello for "Downloading Nancy" last year), it seems like it would be pretty unfortunate to deny a spot to the more expected field there already is. "The Kids Are All Right"'s Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, "Rabbit Hole"'s Nicole Kidman, "Winter's Bone"'s Jennifer Lawrence, "Black Swan"'s Natalie Portman and "Blue Valentine"'s Michelle Williams seem like the six to beat, though of course there's only five slots. The above suggestion that Moore is the one to go is a safe and uninventive call, and it could very likely go another way. Either way, though, the Saturday afternoon before Oscar is going to feel a lot like the Oscars themselves when this category comes around.


Best Lead Male

Prediction: Aaron Eckhart (Rabbit Hole), James Franco (Howl), Stephen Dorff (Somewhere), Robert Duvall (Get Low), Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine)
Spoilers: Casey Affleck (The Killer Inside Me), Ronald Bronstein (Daddy Long Legs), Michael Douglas (Solitary Man), James Gandolfini (Welcome To The Rileys), Kevin Kline (The Extra Man), John C. Reilly (Cyrus), Ben Stiller (Greenberg)

Comparatively weak relative to its female counterpart but still offering some fine work, the lead male category could see a pretty awesomely mixed bag of actors. From bonafide Oscar contenders, like "Blue Valentine"'s Ryan Gosling, "Get Low"'s Robert Duvall and "Rabbit Hole"'s Aaron Eckhart, to worthy underdogs, like "Somewhere"'s Stephen Dorff, "Howl"'s James Franco, and "Solitary Man"'s Michael Douglas, to performances that the Spirits were created to honor, such as Casey Affleck in "The Killer Inside Me" or Ronald Bronstein in "Daddy Long Legs" or John C. Reilly in "Cyrus." Of course there's always the potential for an Adam Scott in "The Vicious Kind"-type nomination (which last year occurred over favorites like "The Messenger"'s Ben Foster and "A Serious Man"'s Michael Stuhlbarg), so who knows how these nominations may pan out. Though a Gosling vs. Duvall showdown (both previous winners in this category, for 1998's "The Apostle" and 2006's "Half Nelson," respectively), seems like a good bet for the ceremony itself.

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Best Supporting Female and Best Supporting Male

Female Prediction: Dale Dickey (Winter's Bone), Elle Fanning (Somewhere), Barbara Hershey (Black Swan), Sissy Spacek (Get Low), Dianne Wiest (Rabbit Hole)
Female Spoilers: Greta Gerwig (Greenberg), Rebecca Hall (Please Give), Mila Kunis (Black Swan), Melissa Leo (Welcome To The Rileys), Kristen Stewart (Welcome To The Rileys), Marisa Tomei (Cyrus), Kerry Washington (Mother & Child), Mia Wasikowska (The Kids Are All Right)

Male Prediction: Chris Cooper (The Company Men), John Hawkes (Winter's Bone), Bill Murray (Get Low), John Ortiz (Jack Goes Boating), Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right)
Male Spoilers: Vincent Cassel (Black Swan), Jonah Hill (Cyrus), Josh Hutcherson (The Kids Are All Right), Samuel L. Jackson (Mother & Child), Alex Karpovsky (Tiny Furniture), Paul Reubens (Life During Wartime), Sam Rockwell (Conviction), Michael Shannon (The Runaways), Miles Teller (Rabbit Hole)

The Spirits tend to get even more wildly unpredictable when it comes to the supporting categories (who predicted Dina Korzun in "Cold Souls" and Natalie Press in "Fifty Dead Men Walking" over "Crazy Heart"'s Maggie Gyllenhaal and "A Single Man"'s Julianne Moore" last year?), so continue to take these suggestions cautiously. But it's hard to imagine the "Winter's Bone" supporting duo of Dale Dickey and John Hawkes being left out of these categories, or the many outstanding supporting performances from films like "Rabbit Hole" (Dianne Wiest, and maybe Miles Teller as well), "Black Swan" (Barbara Hershey, and perhaps Mila Kunis or Vincent Cassel), "Cyrus" (Jonah Hill and/or Marisa Tomei), "Get Low" (Bill Murray and/or Sissy Spacek), and "The Kids Are All Right" (Mark Ruffalo and/or his biological children Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson). Whatever happens, expect a diversity of performances in true Spirit Award-spirit, and a much less predictable outcome of winners (last year Woody Harrelson and especially Mo'Nique were essentially assured their trophies).

Director Lisa Cholodenko (middle) on the set of "The Kids Are All Right" with stars Annette Benning and Julianne Moore. Image courtesy of Focus Features

Best Director and Best First Feature:

Director Prediction: Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are All Right), Sofia Coppola (Somewhere), Debra Granik (Winter's Bone), John Cameron Mitchell (Rabbit Hole)
Director Spoilers: Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine), Jay & Mark Duplass (Cyrus), Nicole Holofcener (Please Give), Todd Solondz (Life During Wartime)

First Feature Prediction: The Company Men (John Wells), The Dry Land (Ryan Piers Williams), Get Low (Aaron Schneider), Night Catches Us (Tanya Hamilton), Solitary Man (Brian Koppelman and David Levien),
First Feature Spoilers: Happythankyoumoreplease (Josh Radnor), Holy Rollers (Kevin Asch), I Love You Phillip Morris (Glenn Ficarra and John Requa), Jack Goes Boating (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), Sympathy For Delicious (Mark Ruffalo)

While best director seems poised to offer us a downright legendary lineup that could include Darren Aronofsky, John Cameron Mitchell, Sofia Coppola and Lisa Cholodenko, one category where there doesn't seem to be a remarkable set of options is best first feature, which last year had high-profile films like "Crazy Heart," "The Messenger," "Paranormal Activity" and "A Single Man" battling it out for the win (which ended up going to "Heart"). Films like "Blue Valentine" and "Welcome To The Rileys" certainly seem like first features to many, but directors Derek Cianfrance and Jake Scott both just took their time following up their actual first features (1998's "Brother Tied" for Cianfrance, 1999's "Plunkett & Macleane" for Scott). And Gotham Award "breakthrough director" nominee Lena Dunham actually made the feature "Creative Nonfiction" before "Tiny Furniture," so one suspects she won't be eligible here (but that film is a shoo-in for the John Cassavetes Award for low budget filmmaking, which this column isn't going to attempt to predict out of the sheer vastness of possibilities there). So that leaves Ryan Piers Williams's "The Dry Land," Aaron Schneider's "Get Low" and Tanya Hamilton's "Night Catches Us" among a worthy bunch of options that should have this category feeling much more indie spirit than Oscar, which is exactly how it should feel.


Best Foreign Film

Prediction: Animal Kingdom, Another Year, I Am Love, Incendies, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Spoilers: Alamar, Biutiful, Carlos, Certified Copy, Dogtooth, Four Lions, If I Want To Whistle, I Whistle, The Illusionist, The King's Speech, Of Gods and Men, Outside The Law, Poetry, Le Quattro Volte, A Screaming Man, Tuesday After Christmas

This category is always quite interesting in that it often honors both a foreign-language films, and English language films made outside the United States. Last year, for example, that saw "A Prophet" and "Mother" up against "An Education," and in previous years has seen the likes of "Once," "The Lives of Others," "Y Tu Mama Tambien" and "Dancer In The Dark" all take home the prize. This year seems like a particularly English language friendly year, with "Another Year," "Animal Kingdom," "Four Lions," "The King's Speech," "Made in Dagenham" and "Monsters" all in the mix. Rarely have two English langauge films made the cut but it seems reasonable to suggest 2010 might be an exception - perhaps with Australia's "Kingdom" and the UK's "Year" (which would mark the first time the Spirits have honored Mike Leigh since 1996's "Secrets & Lies"). As for the foreign-language films, one never knows what ends up being eligible, but it will be curious to see if Cannes winner "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" ends up making it. It could prove a challenging film even for Spirit voters, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul has never been mentioned here in the past. Vouching for "I Am Love" (a certainty, one would think...) and "Incendies" are more reasonable suggestions, but let's include "Boonmee" in the mix with them anyway. This is also an opportunity for films ineligible for Oscar's prize to get noticed, like the aforementioned "I Am Love" or other very possible examples like "Alamar," "Carlos," "Certified Copy" or "Tuesday After Christmas" (all of which could have just as easily made a list of predictions).


Best Documentary

Prediction: 12th & Delaware, Exit Through The Gift Shop, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, The Oath, Restrepo
Spoilers: Boxing Gym, Catfish, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Client 9, Cool It, A Film Unfinished, GasLand, Inside Job, Sweetgrass, The Tillman Story, Waiting For 'Superman' (and many, many more)

As last week's column made clear, another thing 2010 has cinematically 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 as historically they have very much gone their own way in this category and favorites like "Inside Job" and "Waiting For 'Superman'" might not be the sure things they seem to be at the Oscars. One thing that's likely is that one annual current will meet another as the likes of Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady ("12th & Delaware"), Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg ("Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work"), Laura Poitras ("The Oath"), Ondi Timoner ("Cool It") and Ilisa Barbash (half of the directing team for "Sweetgrass) could all potentially receive nominations, continuing to exemplify the relatively female-friendly world of independent filmmaking. As for the winner, one wonders if voters will be able to resist checking Banksy's name, just to see what happens if he wins.

For Your Consideration is a weekly column by indieWIRE's Associate Editor and awards guru, Peter Knegt. Follow him on Twitter and check out his weekly Oscar prediction chart

Previous editions of this column:
For Your Consideration: Could a Documentary Be Nominated For Best Picture?
For Your Consideration: Assessing Those Gotham Award Nominations
For Your Consideration: 10 Underdog Actors
For Your Consideration: 10 Underdog Actresses
For Your Consideration: Save For "Love" Snub, Foreign Language Submissions Uncontroversial
For Your Consideration: Post-Toronto Oscar Predictions
For Your Consideration: Updating Oscar Contenders In The Eye of The Storm
For Your Consideration: 10 Things The Fall Fests Should Say About Awards Season
For Your Consideration: Assessing Oscar In The Calm Before The Storm

This article is related to: Features, Spirit Awards





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