With the recent announcements of both the Gotham Awards nominations and 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 31st anniversary this year.
With nominations to be announced on November 24, the awards promise to (as
always) be a surprising and at times unexpected representation of the
year in American independent film.
In the past two years there has been unprecedented crossover between the Oscars and the Spirits. “12 Years a Slave” and “Birdman” won both Best Feature at the Spirits and Best Picture at the Oscars, and seven of eight acting winners — Cate Blanchett, Matthew McConaughey, Lupita Nyong’o, Jared Leto, Patricia Arquette, JK Simmons and Julianne Moore — took home prizes at both ceremonies (Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne split last year’s best actor trophies, respectively).
Will this year be more of the same? It’s certainly possible: Oscar favorites like “Spotlight,” “Room” and “Carol” are all expected to factor in quite heavily, but don’t expected “Birdman” director Iñárritu to go back-to-back. His “The Revenant” — which has yet to widely screen — is reported to cost a not-so-indie $135 million.
Another Oscars/Spirits crossover would give
less opportunity for the Spirits to honor deserving indies that sit a little too far outside the
mainstream for Academy tastes. WHile the nominations haven’t come out yet, we can still make some general assumptions about the direction of the race — bearing in mind the Spirits’ eligibility rules.
For example, “Joy” — directed by multiple past Spirit Award winner David O. Russell — is being released by a studio, so don’t expect it to land here. “Brooklyn,” “Suffragette,” “45 Years,” “Youth,” “Ex-Machina” and “Son of Saul” are not American productions, which almost certainly excludes them
from all categories except “foreign film.” Having said that, “The Artist” made it a few years back — and won — so one or two of these titles might make the cut if they can argue that they’re primarily supported by American companies. Films that have budgets that exceed $20 million place it outside the awards’
limitations. “Sicario” has a budget of $30 million, for example (but you never know — “Silver Linings Playbook” had a budget of $21 million and it was a big winner here) So that all said, here are some of our best guesses.
Prediction: “Anomalisa,” “Beasts of No Nation,” “Carol,” “Room,” “Spotlight”
Spoilers: “The Danish Girl,” “Love & Mercy,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” “Tangerine,” “While We’re Young”
We can pretty much assume Todd Haynes’ “Carol” and Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight” make the cut here. With universal acclaim and inarguable eligibility, they seem like the frontrunners. If Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room” — which is technically a Irish/Canada co-production — ends up being eligible (as we suspect it will be), count it in, too. But then things get murky. Remember that the nominations are decided on by committees, not the entire voting membership, and so the nominations often end up being edgier than the actual winners (which are voted on by everyone).
Two years ago, “Frances Ha” got in over Oscar juggernauts “Blue Jasmine” and “Dallas Buyers Club.” That could bode well for “Anomalisa,” “Beasts of No Nation” and “Tangerine” — all films with passionate fans. With regard to the latter, its tiny budget of a reported $100,000 might mean that it gets relegated to the John Cassavetes Award category instead (which honors films made for under $500,000). If that ends up being the case, you can pretty much give “Tangerine” that award right now.
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Best Female Lead
Prediction: Cate Blanchett (“Carol”), Blythe Danner (“I’ll See You In My Dreams”), Brie Larson (“Room”), Kitana “Kiki” Rodriguez (“Tangerine”), Lily Tomlin (“Grandma”)
Spoilers: Bel Powley (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”), Arielle Holmes (“Heaven Knows What”), Sarah Silverman (“I Smile Back”), Alicia Vinkander (“The Danish Girl”), Kristen Wiig (“Welcome To Me”)
This category is gloriously crowded this year, with seasoned veterans and newcomers alike competing for too few slots given the talent that is going to miss out. How will the category confusion facing Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in “Carol” factor in here? Will both get in? How about Blythe Danner and Lily Tomlin, offering up career-highs in indies “I’ll See You In My Dreams” and “Grandma,” respectively? Or newcomers Bel Powley (“Diary of a Teenage Girl”) and Kitana “Kiki” Rodriquez (“Tangerine”)? It’s a tough call, but one thing is for certain: If “Room” ends up being eligible, Brie Larson is the frontrunner to win here (and probably at the Oscars, too).
Best Male Lead
Prediction: Christopher Abbott (“James White”), Eddie Redmayne (“The Danish Girl”), Peter Sarsgaard (“Experimenter”), Jason Segel (“The End of the Tour”), Jacob Tremblay (“Room”)
Spoilers: John Cusack (“Love & Mercy”), Bryan Cranston (“Trumbo”), Andrew Garfield (“99 Homes”), Shameik Moore (“Dope”), Ben Stiller (“While We’re Young”)
This could easily be the first time in nearly a decade when not a single eventual Oscar nominee gets recognized here first. With the Oscar race stacked with studio bids for Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp and Michael Fassbender, the only man with much potential to double dip is Eddie Redmayne, whose work in the British-American co-production “The Danish Girl” may not even end up proving eligible here. Then there’s Jacob Tremblay, who’s likely competing at the Oscars in the supporting category for his remarkable performance in “Room,” but is certainly not a lock to get a nomination there. We’re predicting he gets bumped to lead at the Spirits (which would certainly be fair given he arguably lands more screen time than Brie Larson), joining Redmayne and a trio of under-the-radar performances by Christopher Abbott, Peter Sarsgaard and Jason Segel. But this is definitely the acting category that’s the hardest to predict.
Best Supporting Female and Best Supporting Male
Female Prediction: Joan Allen (“Room”), Elizabeth Banks (“Love & Mercy”), Rooney Mara (“Carol”), Cynthia Nixon (“James White”), Mya Taylor (“Tangerine”)
Female Spoilers: Olivia Cooke (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”), Lola Kirke (“Mistress America”), Rachel McAdams (“Spotlight”), Winona Ryder (“Experimenter”), Kristen Wiig (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”)
Male Prediction: Paul Dano (“Love & Mercy), Idris Elba (“Beasts of No Nation”), Michael Keaton (“Spotlight”), Mark Ruffalo (“Spotlight”), Michael Shannon (“99 Homes”)
Male Spoilers: Kyle Chandler (“Carol”), RJ Cyler (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”), Adam Driver (“While We’re Young”), Robert Redford (“Truth”), Liev Schreiber (“Spotlight”)
The Spirits tend to get even more wildly unpredictable when it comes to
the supporting categories. Who predicted Andrea Suarez Paz last year for “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors” (over Rene Russo for “Nightcrawler,” no less)? Just because Joan Allen, Idris Elba, Rooney Mara, Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo are apparent Oscar contenders doesn’t mean the Spirits won’t snub them. And as much as we’re fans of all of those performances, a few surprises would be nice, too.
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Best Director and Best First Feature
Director Prediction: Lenny Abrahamson (“Room”), Cary Fukunaga (“Beasts of No Nation”), Todd Haynes (“Carol”), Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson (“Anomalisa”), Tom McCarthy (“Spotlight”)
First Feature Prediction: Brett Haley (“I’ll See You In My Dreams”), Marielle Heller (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”),
Josh Mond (“James White”), Reed Morano (“Meadowland”), James Vanderbilt (“Truth”)
One of the most interesting races to watch is the one that has no Oscar
equivalent: Best first feature. 2015 was an exceptional year for first
time filmmakers, with the men and women behind “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” “James White,” “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” “Truth” and “Meadowland” all making their debuts. If they end up winning here, they 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, Dan Gilroy. Not bad company, to say the least.
As for the best director race, it very likely comes down to Tom v. Todd. McCarthy won both the John Cassavetes Award and the Best First Screenplay award back in 2003 for “The Station Agent,” and then took this award in 2008 for “The Visitor” in a bit of a shocker (the film hadn’t been nominated for best feature). Then there’s Todd Haynes. He’s been nominated in this category for every single one of his theatrically released films, winning for “Far From Heaven.” Both big favorites with the Indie Spirits, whoever joins them (we’re betting Cary Fukunaga, Lenny Abrahamson and the team of Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson) will be dark horses to win.
Best Foreign Film
Prediction: “Brooklyn,” “Ex-Machina,” “Son of Saul,” “Victoria,” “Youth”
Spoilers: “45 Years,” “Amy,” “Goodnight Mommy,” “Mustang,” “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting On Existence”
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 four — “A Separation,” “Amour,” Blue is the Warmest Color” and “Ida” — were all in a foreign language.
This year, the English language films that seem like they have real shot are “Brooklyn,” “Ex-Machina,” “Youth,” “45 Years,” “Suffragette” and perhaps even British documentary “Amy.” They’ll be squaring off against the impressive international likes of “Son of Saul,” “Victoria,” “Mustang,” “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting On Existence” and “Goodnight Mommy.” We’d give the edge to the English-language contenders at this point, with “Brooklyn” holding strong as the frontrunner.
Prediction: “Cartel Land, “Heart of a Dog,” “Listen To Me Marlon,” “The Look of Silence,” “The Wolfpack”
Spoilers: “Best of Enemies,” “Going Clear,” “The Hunting Ground,” “Iris,” “Where To Invade Next”
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.
The last two years saw “20 Feet From Stardom” and “Citizenfour” both were winners here that crossed over with Oscar, though if British-produced “Amy” lives up to its awards season promise, it might not happen again. But even without “Amy,” it’s a very crowded field. The list of eligible possibilities is literally dozens of films long, but it would be surprising if at least one or two of our other predicted films didn’t make it.