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Back & Forth: Kohn and Knegt Square Off On The Gothams, The Spirits and Where Oscar Might Head

Back & Forth: Kohn and Knegt Square Off On The Gothams, The Spirits and Where Oscar Might Head

After a big week of awards announcements and awards shows, indieWIRE‘s Eric Kohn and Peter Knegt chatted via instant messenger for some quick reflection about what just happened, and where things might be headed…

Peter Knegt: So literally within a 24 hour period, we saw both the Gotham Awards handed out and the Spirit Award nominations announced. It’s more or less been the official kick off of awards season, and a huge week for celebrating the year’s indie and specialty films.

Eric Kohn: Not to mention the unexpected arrival of double-headed Oscar host James Hathaway. Or maybe we should call them Jathaway. At any rate, what’s up with that?

PK: I like “Jan Francaway.” But I know… It was the kind of announcement where I second guessed whether I was awake or not. It’s a bold and pretty random move… I get what they’re trying to do and all – pander to a younger, hipper audience, shake things up, etc – but it’s risky. And not just for the Academy. Franco and Hathaway have little to gain and lots to lose by taking something like this on, as far as I’m concerned. But at least it’s not a boring a decision. And it does have me very curious.

EK: It’s about as unconventional as the indie award ceremonies, which suggests the Academy wants to steal some of the underdog magic that these specialty events offer for a hipper crowd. It probably won’t work, of course, since it’s already pretty obvious that the Oscars won’t have anything to do with the majority of the movies in play for the indie awards.

PK: I’m not too sure about that. I mean, the Spirit Award nominations actually heavily rewarded a couple films that seem like good bets to show up come Oscar time. “127 Hours,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “Rabbit Hole,” “Black Swan”… And big Gotham winner (and 7-time Spirit nominee) “Winter’s Bone” has definitely been boosted these past couple days. I personally don’t think a best picture nomination is totally out of the question for that film.

EK: Right, but if it does get nominated, it will wind up in one of those oddball extra spots, like “District 9” did last year. Speaking of the Gothams, though: While the “Winter’s Bone” win took nobody by surprise, popular favorite Lena Dunham got snubbed twice — for best breakthrough director and the ensemble performance of “Tiny Furniture” — which makes her Spirit nomination less of a surefire bet to win. “Furniture” lost ensemble to “Winter’s Bone,” which isn’t so odd since that movie has an easy time beating out most competition. Who’s going to prevent Dunham from victory at the Spirits? Certainly not “The Last Exorcism” in the Best First Feature category. And she’s pretty much a lock for Best First Screenplay.

PK: True. But that clearly brings up the huge spectrum of films that awards like the Indie Spirits represent. Comparing “127 Hours” with, say “Tiny Furniture,” is kind of ridiculous in terms of the scale of production. But you’re right, Lena Dunham’s loss last night was a huge surprise. And it’s films like her’s these award shows should try and reward when they can as they clearly aren’t going to pop up at the Oscars.

EK: I hear you on the big-time Spirit nominees. But they will all suffer from major shrinkage in the heat of the Oscar season. “127 Hours” is essentially a one-man show that a lot of people have written off as a stunt. “Black Swan” has already been consigned to the “weird” category, which will work wonders for Portman but otherwise leave it in the dust. And “Kids” is just pleasant enough to go totally ignored. So maybe the Spirits actually tell us which Oscar contenders have already lost the race.

PK: Not the “best female lead” category, at the very least. Save for Greta Gerwig, that could actually be the Academy’s lineup.

EK: Those are all sharp performances, including Gerwig’s, which deserves its moment to shine if indeed it winds up getting shut out of the Oscars. There’s a strangely large amount of love for “Greenberg” at the Spirits this year. I’m a fan, but a movie with such an unlikable, unrefined lead couldn’t possibly make it beyond the specialty scene, where the Greenberg character has a close affinity to the worst stereotypes about self-serious, “depressing” indie film. I guess I’m saying that the Spirit nominations appear to be conforming to an agenda that projects preconceived notions about the indie world, and I’m not sure it sends the right message.

PK: I agree. Perhaps even more so, because I actually was not much of a fan of the film for those very reasons. It also irked me that it got a best feature nomination over films like “Blue Valentine” and “Rabbit Hole,” both of which were far more deserving as far as I’m concerned, and could have used a boost to push them further in awards season.

A scene from Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan”

EK: I’d rather see “Black Swan” take the Spirits than “Greenberg.” Something dark but less familiar. Encourage innovation!

PK: Yeah, I can’t see how it would be possible for “Greenberg” to win anyway. It looks like “Black Swan” vs. “Winter’s Bone” race, as far as I’m concerned.

EK: Which would be a good thing for everyone. Of course, there are a few outliers that the critics groups could help nudge along — “Life During Wartime,” which had one measly Gotham nomination and two Spirit noms, deserves more recognition. It’s Solondz doing what he does best, but with a surprising amount of warmth, something his haters never expected he could do. And if any of critics groups are listening: Remember how much you guys loved “Dogtooth”?

PK: I’m a little nervous about the critics awards, frankly. There are a lot of films – and performances – I’m hoping they remember how much they loved. I’m all for “Dogtooth” getting some foreign language award love (it’s definitely one of my personal favorites of the year), and would also be really excited if Tilda Swinton got a notice or two for “I Am Love,” or if “Another Year” got a few best picture prizes, or if some groups made a case for “The Ghost Writer,” which seems like it might end up being criminally neglected during awards season. But more often than not there’s a bandwagon effect with these awards, and it seems to me that bandwagon is gonna be called “The Social Network” this year. I wouldn’t be surprised if it more or less sweeps the critics prizes. Not that it doesn’t deserve a couple, I’d just like it if they spread it out a big more. Last year this definitely wasn’t the case. “The Hurt Locker” basically won everything.

EK: You’re probably right, and I’m glad you brought up “The Social Network,” since I recentlyspewed venom against the possibility of a potential “King’s Speech” victory at the Oscars in favor wins for “TSN” and Fincher in particular. I’m cool with “TSN” dominating the critics awards, but only as a consolation prize if the Oscars end up ignoring it. Which means I won’t know what to think about the critics awards until after the Oscars. Since that’s sort of a confusing line of thought and not really constructive for any of us, I just hope “TSN” doesn’t destroy the chances for any of the little guys to get one last chance in the spotlight before Big Bad Hollywood pushes them out of the picture. Not that I hate Hollywood, but if “The King’s Speech” ruins everything…I will be royally disappointed. (OK, that’s the last time I’m making a pun about that movie.) Look, I realize it isn’t quite Hollywood movie, since The Weinstein Company is releasing it, but it’s certainly a lot more “Hollywood” than some of the more interesting alternatives. Which is what makes it such an easy option for voters.

PK: No, I totally agree. And I fear that “The King’s Speech'”s victory seems inevitable, at least at this point. It’s such a typical middle-of-the-road crowdpleaser that the Academy has historically been all about. “The Social Network,” as far as I’m concerned, is the only film that could beat it. If I had to guess right this second, I’d say “Kings Speech” takes picture, David Fincher takes director. But then I guess on another hand, if every critics group does give their award to “The Social Network,” that could be a dealbreaker. And recent best picture winners like “No Country For Old Men” and “The Hurt Locker” – both of which more or less swept critics prizes – have shown the Academy can think outside of its own box from time to time.

EK: The Academy should think outside its own box. But I’m mainly anticipating Jathaway — er, Franco and Hathaway — getting stuck in it.

PK: We shall see…

Eric Kohn is indieWIRE’s lead film critic. Follow him on Twitter and on his blog. And check out his recent awards column on the Gotham Awards.

Peter Knegt is indieWIRE’s Associate Editor. Follow him on Twitter and on his blog. And check out his recent awards column on the 10 biggest surprises of the Spirit Awards.

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