With the recent announcements of both the Gotham Awards nominations and those of the British Independent Film Awards,
it only seems appropriate for this week’s column to take on the
granddaddy of independent film awards: Film Independent’s Spirit Awards, which are celebrating their 30th anniversary this year.
With nominations to be announced on November 25, 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: This year’s event promises to be considerably Oscar friendly. Sure, there’ll be no sign of “Interstellar” or “Unbroken” at the Spirits, but “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “Foxcatcher,” “A Most Violent Year,” “Nightcrawler,” “Still Alice,” “Whiplash” and “Wild” are seemingly all eligible to double dip. It will take a lot to replicate the historic crossover we saw at the Spirits last year, when “12 Years a Slave” won both Best Feature at the Spirits and Best Picture at the Oscars, and the exact same quartet of actors — Cate Blanchett, Matthew McConaughey, Lupita Nyong’o and Jared Leto — took home prizes at both ceremonies. Though that said, Julianne Moore, Michael Keaton, Patricia Arquette and JK Simmons are all currently looking like frontrunners in their respective acting categories — and all of them are eligible for the Spirit Awards.
A repeat of an Oscars/Spirits crossover that substantial would be unfortunate; it gives
less opportunity for the Spirits to honor deserving indies a little too outside the
mainstream for Academy tastes. But the nominations haven’t come out yet, so we don’t know that for sure. Just for fun, let’s break it down with respect to
some of the Spirits’ major categories to see where things might be
headed. When considering what is seemingly left out, keep in mind the
awards’ eligibility rules.
For example, “Selma” — directed by 2013 Spirit Award winner Ava DuVernay — is being released by a studio, so don’t expect it here. “Under The Skin,” “The Imitation Game,” “The Theory of Everything,” “Force Majeure,” “Ida,” “Mommy,” “Pride” and “Mr. Turner” are not American productions, thus potentially excluding them
from all categories except “foreign film” (though remember “The Artist” made it a few years back — and won — so one or two of them may sneak in). Films that have budgets that exceed $20 million place it outside the awards’
limitations. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” has a budget of $25 million, for example (though you never know — “Silver Linings Playbook” had a budget of $21 million and it was a big winner here) So that all said, here’s some best guesses.
Prediction: “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “Foxcatcher,” “Love is Strange,” “Whiplash”
Spoilers: “Begin Again,” “Blue Ruin,” “Listen Up Phillip,” “A Most Violent Year,” “The Skeleton Twins”
What an extraordinarily crowded field. Any of the 10 films listed above would be a reasonable suggestion for a nomination in the Spirits’ top category most other years, but this year nothing should be assumed besides “Birdman” and “Boyhood” making the cut. The pair widely seen as locks in the best picture Oscar race, and one can be pretty certain this race will be between them. What’s less certain is what joins them as nominees. Remember that the nominations are decided on by committees, not the entire voting membership, and thus the nominations often end up edgier than the actual winners (which are voted on by everyone). Last year, “Frances Ha” got in over “Blue Jasmine” and “Dallas Buyers Club.” Which could bode well for “Blue Ruin,” “Love is Strange,” “The Skeleton Twins” and “Whiplash” — all films with some passionate fans. We’d wager Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash” is the safest bet to make the cut of that trio, though watch out for Ira Sachs’ “Love is Strange.” They nominated Sachs’ “Keep The Lights On” in this category two years ago, and that film had a much lower profile than “Strange.”
Best Lead Female
Prediction: Keira Knightley (“Begin Again”), Julianne Moore (“Still Alice”), Jenny Slate (“Obvious Child”), Kristen Wiig (“The Skeleton Twins”), Reese Witherspoon (“Wild”)
Spoilers: Desiree Akhavan (“Appropriate Behavior”), Jessica Chastain (“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby”), , Gugu Mbatha-Raw (“Beyond The Lights”), Hilary Swank (“The Homesman”), Tilda Swinton (“Only Lovers Left Alive”)
Though she remains Oscar-free, Julianne Moore won a Spirit Award in this category back in 2002 for “Far From Heaven.” She hasn’t been nominated since (getting wrongfully snubbed for both “The Kids Are All Right” and “A Single Man”), but it seems like a pretty safe bet that that’s about to change. Her performance as a woman with early onset Alzheimer’s in “Still Alice” has had folks talking since its Toronto premiere, and it’s hard to imagine a scenario (at least at this point) where Moore doesn’t win both a Spirit Award and an Oscar come February. Her main competition for both is likely to be “Wild” star Reese Witherspoon (who has only been nominated once at the Spirits — for “Election), though who else makes the cut seems much less predictable, at least at the Spirits. There’s almost always an out-of-nowhere choice in this category. Think Gaby Hoffmann last year in “Crystal Fairy,” Linda Cardellini in 2012 for “Return” or
Lauren Ambrose in 2011 for “Think of Me.” Who this year’s example of that could be is beyond us (that’s what makes it so fun), but they’ll have to top Jenny Slate (“Obvious Child”), Kristen Wiig (“The Skeleton Twins”)and Keira Knightely (“Begin Again”), among others.
Best Lead Male
Prediction: Steve Carell (“Foxcatcher”), Jake Gyllenhaal (“Nightcrawler”), Oscar Isaac (“A Most Violent Year”), Michael Keaton (“Birdman”), Miles Teller (“Whiplash”)
Spoilers: Ellar Coltrane (“Boyhood”), Bill Hader (“The Skeleton Twins”), John Lithgow (“Love is Strange”), Alfred Molina (“Love is Strange”), Bill Murray (“St. Vincent”)
Certainly the most competitive of all the acting categories, this race will see performances that would normally seem like absolute locks miss the cut. Eleven men seem like genuine possibilities here, with Michael Keaton (“Birdman”) and Steve Carell (“Foxcatcher”) the only two that would be major shockers if they weren’t nominated. Will Benedict Cumberbatch be eligible for “The Imitation Game”? Will Oscar Isaac get his second straight nomination here, potentially leading to his second straight snub with the Academy? And what about the breakout performances Miles Teller, Ellar Coltrane and Bill Hader offered this year? All three are unlikely to get Oscar nominations, but some love here would be some nice consolation. Whatever the case, it certainly seems like the discrepancy between the amount of male and female roles was present in Indiewood as much as it was in Hollywood this year. Whereas it was tough to even come up with 10 contenders in the Best Lead Female category, here we could have easily listed another 10.
Best Supporting Female and Best Supporting Male
Female Prediction: Patricia Arquette (“Boyhood”), Jessica Chastain (“A Most Violent Year”), Rene Russo (“Nightcrawler”), Emma Stone (“Birdman”), Tessa Thompson (“Dear White People”)
Female Spoilers: Laura Dern (“Wild”), Vanessa Redgrave (“Foxcatcher”), Kristen Stewart (“Still Alice”), Marisa Tomei (“Love is Strange”), Robin Wright (“A Most Wanted Man”)
Male Prediction: Riz Ahmed (“Nightcrawler”), Ethan Hawke (“Boyhood”), Edward Norton (“Birdman”), Mark Ruffalo (“Foxcatcher”), JK Simmons (“Whiplash”)
Male Spoilers: Alec Baldwin (“Still Alice”), Albert Brooks (“A Most Violent Year”), Jake Lacy (“Obvious Child”), Jaeden Lieberher (“St. Vincent”), Luke Wilson (“The Skeleton Twins”)
The Spirits tend to get even more wildly unpredictable when it comes to
the supporting categories. Who predicted Yolonda Ross (“Go For Sisters”) last year, over Octavia Spencer (“Fruitvale Station”) and Scarlett Johannson (“Don Jon”)? Or Ashley Bell (“The Last
Exorcism”) and Daphne Rubin-Vega (“Jack Goes Boating”) over Mila Kunis
(“Black Swan”) a few years before that? With that in mind, continue to
take these suggestions cautiously. Just because Edward Norton, JK Simmons, Mark Ruffalo, Patricia Arquette, Jessica Chastain and Emma Stone likely seem Oscar bound doesn’t mean the Spirits won’t snub them. And as much as we’re fans of all of those performances, we’re all for surprises that may for the likes of Tessa Thompson (“Dear White People”) or Riz Ahmed (“Nightcrawler”) — which we’re just going to go ahead and predict.
This article continues on the next page.
Best Director and Best First Feature
Director Prediction: JC Chandor (“A Most Violent Year”), Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”), Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Birdman”), Richard Linklater (“Boyhood”), Bennett Miller (“Foxcatcher”)
Director Spoilers: Craig Johnson (“The Skeleton Twins”), Alex Ross Perry (“Listen Up Phillip”), Ira Sachs (“Love is Strange”), Jeremy Saulnier (“Blue Ruin”)
First Feature Prediction: “Dear White People” (Justin Simien”), “Infinitely Polar Bear” (Maya Forbes), “Nightcrawler” (Dan Gilroy), “Obvious Child” (Gillian Robespierre), “St. Vincent” (Theodore Melfi)
First Feature Spoilers: “Appropriate Behavior” (Desiree Akhavan), “Coherence” (James Ward Byrkit), “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” (Ana Lily Amirpour), “Rosewater” (Jon Stewart)
One of the most interesting races to watch is the one that has no Oscar
equivalent: Best first feature. 2014 was an exceptional year for first
time filmmakers, with the men and women behind “Dear White People,” “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” “Nightcrawler,” “Obvious Child,” and “St. Vincent” were all first timers, and if they end up winning here will follow in the impressive footsteps of Spike Lee, Whit Stillman, David O. Russell, Spike Jonze, Kenneth Lonergan, Charlie Kaufman and last year’s winner Ryan Coogler. Definitely not bad company.
As for the best director race, this seems like Richard Linklater’s to lose. The only thing shocking about that? It will mark his very first win in this category.
Best Foreign Film
Prediction: “Force Majeure,” “Ida,” “The Imitation Game,” “Mommy,” “Mr. Turner”
Spoilers: “Leviathan,” “The Theory of Everything,” “Two Days, One Night,” “Under The Skin,” “Winter Sleep”
This category is always quite interesting in that it often honors both
foreign-language films and English-language films made outside the
United States. As a result, “Once,” “An Education” and “The King’s Speech” are recent winners, though the last three “A Separation,” “Amour” and “Blue is the Warmest Color” were all foreign language, and the last two years saw the category entirely filled with non-English titles.
This year, the English language films that seem like they have real shot are “The Theory of Everything,” “Under The Skin,” “Mr. Turner,” and certainly “The Imitation Game” too if this is where it ends up being eligible. They’ll be squaring off against the impressive international likes of “Force Majeure,” “Leviathan,” “Mommy,” “Two Days One Night” and “Winter Sleep.”
Prediction: “The Case Against 8,” “CITIZENFOUR,” “Keep On Keepin On,” “Life Itself,” “The Overnighters”
Spoilers: “Finding Vivian Maier,” “Last Days in Vietnam,” “Point and Shoot,” “Rich Hill,” “The Salt of the Earth,” “Tales of the Grim Sleeper”
As the recent IDA Award nominations helped made clear, another thing 2014 has 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;
historically, they have very much gone their own way in this category.
Last year “20 Feet From Stardom” became the first Spirit Award winner here in five years to crossover with Oscar, though if the acclaim surrounding Laura Poitras’ “CITIZENFOUR” lives up to its awards season promise, it could definitely happen again. The list of possibilities is literally dozens of films long, though it would be surprising if at least one or two of our other predicted films — “The Case Against 8,” “Keep On Keepin On,” “Life Itself” and “The Overnighters” — didn’t make it.
Peter Knegt is Indiewire’s Contributing Editor and awards columnist. Follow him on Twitter.
Check out Indiewire’s latest chart of Oscar predictions here.
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