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by Peter Knegt
October 19, 2011 2:32 AM
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Previewing the Gotham Award Nominations: Which Films Will Make The Cut Tomorrow?

Potential Gotham nominee "Drive."
On Thursday, the nominations for the 21st Annual Gotham Independent Film Awards will act as the first major moment of the 2011-12 awards season, with nominations being announced for seven competitive categories.

What should we expect? Well, the nominations could give us some insight into what lies ahead -- but don't expect to see excessive Oscar crossover. On average, a couple of films that are nominated for Gotham's top prize -- best feature -- also end up getting a best picture nomination. Last year, it was a record three in "Black Swan," "The Kids Are All Right" and "Winter's Bone;" back in 2007 and 2008, no films overlapped.

Keep in mind that the nominations are produced by a handful of small committees, a process that encourages quirky and unexpected additions and makes predicting the nominations next to impossible. Ditto Gotham's rather vague submission criteria, which notes the following:

-Filmmaking with a point of view.
IFP believes that filmmaking is a subjective art form. Each Gotham Independent Film Award™ will be given to individual films or performers in films where the vision of an individual director, producer, writer or writer/director is abundantly evident, and where the film cannot be classically defined as a “work for hire.”

-Feature-length (defined as over 60 minutes).

-Films made with an economy of means.

-Films must be American.
The film must be directed and/or produced by a US born or based filmmaker.

-Screening availability by the Nominating Committee.
The film must be submitted on DVD by the deadline or made available for screening by nominating committee. (Not applicable to the Festival Genius Audience Award)

-Independent Distribution.
Films must be scheduled for a theatrical or digital platform or Pay TV release during calendar year 2011 (Midnight January 1 – 11:59 pm December 31). See special criteria for cable and digital platforms below.

-Theatrical release.
The release can be through a specialty division of a studio, an independent distributor, or via self-distribution. The film must be screened for paid admission in a commercial motion picture theatre in New York City and/or Los Angeles County. It must run for at least seven consecutive days. The film must be advertised and marketed during the New York and/or Los Angeles County run in a manner considered normal and customary to the industry. The film must be publicly exhibited by means of 16mm, 35mm or 70mm film, or in a digital format, delivered to the screen by an image and sound file format suitable for exhibition in existing commercial cinema sites.

Now place these rules against "The Tree of Life" (too expensive at $32 million?), "We Need To Talk About Kevin" (American-set and American co-produced, but directed by a Scot) and "Midnight in Paris" (France-set and Spain co-produced, but directed by an American). Do any even qualify? Some, like the wholly British productions "Shame" and "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and studio releases "Young Adult" and "The Ides of March," we can probably count out for sure.

And then there's the "breakthrough" categories (actor and filmmaker), which has been confusing in the past: Greta Gerwig was considered a "breakthrough performance" last year for "Greenberg," despite being well known in the independent film world. Ben Foster was named for "The Messenger" in 2009, even though he'd had many notable previous roles.

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 16 films:

• Jonathan Levine's "50/50"
• Mike Mills' "Beginners"
• Maryam Keshavarz's "Circumstance"
• Alexander Payne's "The Descendants"
• Nicolas Winding Refn's "Drive"
• Miranda July's "The Future"
• Cary Fukunaga's "Jane Eyre"
• Drake Doremus' "Like Crazy"
• Sean Durkin's "Martha Marcy May Marlene"
• Kelly Reichardt's "Meek's Cutoff"
• Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris"
• Dee Rees' "Pariah"
• Oren Moverman's "Rampart"
• Jeff Nichols' "Take Shelter"
• Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life"
• Lynne Ramsay's "We Need To Talk About Kevin"

Also remember these films come Independent Spirit Award time, as they should also make up the bulk of nominees there (save "Midnight" and "Tree," which have budgets that exceed Spirit Award rules).

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"Martha Marcy May Marlene." Fox Searchlight.

It's been a fantastic year for American independent film -- though perhaps more than previous years, not the most Oscar-friendly one.

Of the 16 noted, only three have significant chances at a best picture nomination come Oscar time ("Descendants," "Midnight in Paris" and "Tree of Life"). Sundance hits like "Martha Marcy May Marlene," "Pariah" and "Take Shelter" might prove a little too independently minded for Academy tastes (especially given the multitude of heavyweight studio options), which is why awards like the Gothams and Spirits are more important than ever this year.

Just for fun, indieWIRE took a stab at predicting tomorrow's nominations (though we didn't attempt the "best film not playing at a theater near you" category, if only because that one's twice as impossible to figure out as the rest). Check back with us Thursday morning for the actual nominees.

Best Feature:
Predicted five:
The Descendants
Drive
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Take Shelter
The Tree of Life

But watch out for:
Midnight in Paris
We Need To Talk About Kevin
Like Crazy
Pariah
Win Win
Rampart
Jane Eyre
Beginners

Best Documentary:
Predicted five:
Buck
The Interrupters
Into The Abyss
Page One: A Year Inside The New York Times
Tabloid

But watch out for:
Hell and Back Again
Bill Cunningham New York
If A Tree Falls
We Were Here
Beats, Rhymes & Life

Best Cast Ensemble:
The predicted five:
50/50
Drive
Jane Eyre
Midnight in Paris
Win Win

But watch out for:
Rampart
Pariah
The Descendants
Meek's Cutoff
Martha Marcy May Marlene

Best Breakthrough Director:
The predicted five:
Mike Cahill, Another Earth
Sean Durkin, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Evan Glodell, Bellflower
Maryam Keshavarz, Circumstance
Dee Rees, Pariah

But watch out for:
Drake Doremus, Like Crazy (though its his second feature)
Vera Farmiga, Higher Ground
Rashaad Ernesto Green, Gun Hill Road

Best Breakthrough Performance:
The predicted five:
Jessica Chastain, Take Shelter (or The Tree of Life?)
Ezra Miller, We Need To Talk About Kevin
Adepero Oduye, Pariah
Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Shailenne Woodley, The Descendants

But watch out for:
Felicity Jones, Like Crazy
Brit Marling, Another Earth
Hunter McCracken, The Tree of Life
Hamish Linklater, The Future
Nikohl Boosheri, Circumstance

Peter Knegt is indieWIRE's Associate Editor. Follow him on Twitter and on his blog.

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5 Comments

  • Jim | October 20, 2011 3:23 AMReply

    What I hate about all of these so called "indpendent" film awards is that they annoit films that aren't "independent" in any way (well, maybe "spirit). Where are the awards for true indpendent films that are self-distributed by filmmakers outside the norm who embrace regional filmmaking and eschew the indie-wood yuppificated social values of films like "The Descendents?" The same thing is happening to the festival circuit; has anyone else noticed that the developing trend of festivals all showing the same 10 or so film that already have distribution anyway, while shutting out again true independent filmmakers working outisde the indiewood mainstream/studio financed world? True independent film will not re-emerge in this country until this closed system is circumvented either through a more open form of digital self-distribution or more ways for regional "true" indie filmmakers to "market" their work to audiences who will take a chance on seeing something "new" made by an outsider to the indiewood system.

  • Denise | October 19, 2011 12:53 PMReply

    I see that you left out THE FIRST GRADER which was an Amazing film that came in second place to The King's Speech at last year's Toronto Film Festival. The male actor, Oliver Litondo was absolutely brilliant in it. Wish more people knew about it because it really was moving and inspirational. Even Whoopi loved it... check out what she had to say about it on The View: http://youtu.be/pXXGW-kDTO8

  • Dean | October 19, 2011 6:49 AMReply

    that's why the gotham award have no clout - ao scott mocked them last year - why would ifp split from the spirit awards? - can't be by their choice, and now they're trying to make the gotham awards into an important award but they're so confused and vague and just want to have it both ways - have the nerve to put a budget cap on the eligibility! - take a stand and you'll get more respect as an award show - until then you'll get about as much respect as the critics choice awards

  • tmack | October 19, 2011 6:08 AMReply

    I really wish that indie films planning to open in a limited number of theatres would consider offering their film online at outlets like Amazon or whatever so that people who don't live in Chicago, New York, or L.A. could see them. I doubt if Take Shelter will ever open in Nashville. It took The Road and Queen months to find a its way to a screen here because usually all the screens are devoted to animated and PG-13 movies. We have one arthouse theatre in Nashville, the Belcourt, to whom we can thank for showing Tree of Life and the Black Power Mixtapes. Take Shelter, they say, is a multiplex film. Melancholia--forget it. But at least you can get it on demand or on Amazon. Otherwise, cinephiles are forced to consider perhaps an unethical act to see these films (or drive to Chicago).

    Another comment I'd like to make deals with the political aspect of these awards, the lobbying and campaigning done behind the scenes. I am a avid fan of the film Drive and define it as a spectacular product of a very creative, visionary director. Anyone, anyone who read an early draft of that script would not have imagined the film they see on the screen. I find it suspicious that almost as soon as that film opened, there appeared online a extreme backlash to the film decrying elements--like the violence--that have been common features in most action/superhero films for the past 20 years. There was even a ridiculous lawsuit accusing the director of anti-semitism, further tainting the film. Lastly, one week after that film opened, the screener was released online as a torrent. And even before Melancholia opened, a torrent appeared online. I believe there was deliberate sabotage afoot and I hope someone with an inside connection checks it out and writes about it.

  • anonymous | October 19, 2011 3:56 AMReply

    how is it that our idiot brother isn't one to watch for any nominations?