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Previewing the Gotham Award Nominations: Which Films Will Make The Cut Thursday?

Previewing the Gotham Award Nominations: Which Films Will Make The Cut Thursday?

On Thursday, the nominations for the 22nd Annual Gotham Independent Film Awards will act as the first major moment of the 2012-13 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 both “The Descendants” and “The Tree of Life,” while the year before a record three crossed over: “Black Swan,” “The Kids Are All Right” and “Winter’s Bone.” Mind you, 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.
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 70 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 2012 (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 “Silver Linings Playbook” (too expensive at $26 million? Though, mind you, last year the $32 million budgeted “Tree of Life” made the cut), “The Master” (even more expensive at $35 million, though again, see “Tree of Life”), “The Sessions” (American co-produced and set, it’s directed by Aussie Ben Lewin) and “Promised Land” (an indie to be sure, but will the maybe-not-done film submit screeners in time? The fact that the film’s star and screenwriter Matt Damon is getting honored at the ceremony suggests it is a possibility.)

Do they even qualify? Maybe. Though some, like British production “Anna Karenina,” Spanish production “The Impossible,” and studio releases like “Argo” and “Looper,” 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” 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 20 films, baring any of them don’t end up qualifying:

• Nicolas Jarecki’s “Arbitrage” (FILM PAGE)
• Benh Zeitlin’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (FILM PAGE)
• Richard Linklater’s “Bernie” (FILM PAGE)
• Craig Zobel’s “Compliance” (FILM PAGE)
• Whit Stilman’s “Damsels in Distress” (FILM PAGE)
• Ira Sachs’ “Keep The Lights On” (FILM PAGE)
• Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” (FILM PAGE)
• Ava DuVernay’s “Middle of Nowhere” (FILM PAGE)
• Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom” (FILM PAGE)
• David Chase’s “Not Fade Away” (FILM PAGE)
• Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” (FILM PAGE)
• Gus Van Sant’s “Promised Land” (FILM PAGE)
• Jake Schreier’s “Robot and Frank” (FILM PAGE)
• Colin Trevorrow’s “Safety Not Guaranteed” (FILM PAGE)
• Ben Lewin’s “The Sessions” (FILM PAGE)
• Mike Birbiglia’s “Sleepwalk With Me” (FILM PAGE)
• James Ponsoldt’s “Smashed” (FILM PAGE)
• Zal Batmanglij’s “Sound of My Voice” (FILM PAGE)
• Lynn Shelton’s “Your Sister’s Sister” (FILM PAGE)

Also, remember these films come Independent Spirit Award time, as they should also make up the bulk of nominees there (save “The Master” and “Silver Linings” which definitely have budgets that exceed Spirit Award rules).

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

Of the 20 noted, a few have significant chances at a best picture nomination come Oscar time (“Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “The Master,” “Silver Linings,” and perhaps “Hitchcock,” “Promised Land,” though we haven’t seen them yet). Sundance favorites like “Compliance,” “Middle of Nowhere,” and “Sleepwalk With Me 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.

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 ten times as impossible to figure out as the rest). You can find those predictions on the next page. Check back with us Thursday morning for the actual nominees.

Best Feature:
Predicted five:
Beasts of the Southern Wild (FILM PAGE)
The Master (FILM PAGE)
Moonrise Kingdom (FILM PAGE)
The Sessions (FILM PAGE)
Silver Linings Playbook (FILM PAGE)

But watch out for:
Bernie (FILM PAGE)
Compliance (FILM PAGE)
Damsels in Distress (FILM PAGE)
Hitchcock (FILM PAGE)
Sleepwalk With Me (FILM PAGE)

Best Documentary:
Predicted five:
The Central Park Five (FILM PAGE)
Detropia (FILM PAGE)
The House I Live In (FILM PAGE)

How To Survive a Plague (FILM PAGE)
The Invisible War (FILM PAGE)

But watch out for:
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (FILM PAGE)
The Queen of Versailles (FILM PAGE)
Tchoupitoulas (FILM PAGE)
West of Memphis (FILM PAGE)

Best Cast Ensemble:
The predicted five:
Moonrise Kingdom
Smashed (FILM PAGE)
Silver Linings Playbook

But watch out for:
Damsels in Distress
The Master
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (FILM PAGE)
The Sessions
Your Sister’s Sister (FILM PAGE)

Best Breakthrough Director:
The predicted five:
Mike Birbigilia, Sleepwalk With Me
Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Ana DuVernay, Middle of Nowhere (FILM PAGE)

Ben Lewin, The Sessions
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

But watch out for:
David Chase, Not Fade Away (his first film, but hardly a breakthrough) (FILM PAGE)
Sacha Gervasi, Hitchcock (his first narrative feature, but has done docs) 
Nicolas Jarecki, Arbitrage (his first narrative feature, but has done docs) (FILM PAGE)
Jake Schreier, Robot and Frank (FILM PAGE)
Colin Trevorrow, Safety Not Guaranteed (FILM PAGE)

Best Breakthrough Performance:
The predicted five:
Emayatzy Corinealdi, Middle of Nowhere 
John Magaro, Not Fade Away
Nate Parker, Arbitrage
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Smashed

But watch out for:
Jared Gilman, Moonrise Kingdom
Kara Hayward, Moonrise Kingdom
Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Thure Lindhardt, Keep The Lights On (FILM PAGE)
Dreama Walker, Compliance

Peter Knegt is Indiewire’s Senior Editor and awards analyst. Follow him on Twitter and on his blog.

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