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Here’s How the Independent Spirit Awards Will Impact the Oscar Race: Analysis

The Independent Spirit Awards will provide a major boost to "Moonlight," "Jackie," and "Manchester By the Sea," but less so for "American Honey."

Barry Jenkins Moonlight

Barry Jenkins, director of “Moonlight”

Daniel Bergeron


The sprawling Film Independent Spirit Award nominations, which are selected by a series of small juries, has an impact on film writers who will vote for awards ranging from the Golden Globes and Critics Choice to regional critics’ groups and Guild and Oscar voters. It’s all a question of what moves up in those screener piles.

So digging into Tuesday’s multiple Spirit category nominees, who got a boost? (Note that, for various reasons including the $20-million cap, “La La Land,” “Lion,” “A Monster Calls” and “Nocturnal Animals” were ineligible.)

As expected, A24’s Miami triptych “Moonlight” (six nominations), Amazon/Roadside Attractions’ tragic drama “Manchester by the Sea” (five) and Fox Searchlight’s portrait of JFK’s widow “Jackie” (four), all considered strong Oscar entries, landed coveted Best Feature slots. Another A24 entry, “American Honey” (six) and Monument Releasing’s “Chronic” (two) also received feature nominations, but are less likely to be factors during awards season.

Snubbed for Director was “Manchester by the Sea” helmer Kenneth Lonergan, who had to settle for a Screenplay slot. Left out of Feature contention was Focus Features’ “Loving,” although Jeff Nichols scored a Director nod, as well as “Certain Women” (IFC), whose director Kelly Reichardt landed a Screenplay spot.

Omitted from both Feature and Director were Screenplay nominees “20th Century Women” (Mike Mills), “Hell or High Water” (Taylor Sheridan), and “Little Men” (Ira Sachs, with Mauricio Zacharias). “American Honey” and “Jackie” scored directing nods for Andrea Arnold and Pablo Larrain, respectively, but no Screenplay consideration. Only “Moonlight” scored the trifecta of Feature, Director, and Screenplay (Barry Jenkins).

In the tech categories, Feature contenders “Moonlight” also racked up nominations for Cinematography and Editing, “American Honey” got a Cinematography mention, and “Hell or High Water” and “Jackie” scored Editing nods.

Among the acting categories, the Spirits opted to give “Moonlight,” with five nominations, a sixth consolation casting ensemble prize, the Robert Altman Award, rather than any individual acting nods. That means expected awards contenders Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris did not get individual boosts in the supporting categories.

Annette Benning in 20th Century Women

“20th Century Women”


Among the Female Lead nominees starring in film festival hits, Annette Bening (“20th Century Women”), Natalie Portman (“Jackie”), Ruth Negga (“Loving”), and Isabelle Huppert (“Elle”) should move forward with wind in their sails.

Among the Male Lead nominees, only “Manchester by the Sea” star Casey Affleck is an Oscar frontrunner, although Viggo Mortensen is a long shot for “Captain Fantastic” if enough people screen the film. Snubbed is “Loving” star Joel Edgerton, who could have used a spotlight on his perhaps too-subtle performance.

While newcomer Lucas Hedges scored Supporting Male for his role as a New England teenager who loses his father, another “Manchester” snub along with director Lonergan is Michelle Williams in Supporting Female, who will nonetheless also proceed in her bid for an Oscar nod.

If Searchlight hadn’t opted to release “A Bigger Splash” early in the year, Supporting Male nominee Ralph Fiennes would be an Oscar shoo-in for his wild and crazy turn as Tilda Swinton’s ex-husband. But how many people will see the film? This attention could move the film into voters’ consciousness.

Lionsgate/CBS Films are pushing hard for the year’s highest-grossing indie hit, Texas contemporary western “Hell or High Water,” but with no love from the Spirits for Feature, Director, or Lead Actor, and a Supporting Male slot for Ben Foster but not Oscar perennial Jeff Bridges, they may have to settle for Original Screenplay nominations from the Writers Guild and Oscar voters.

"America Honey"

“American Honey”


While superb road movie “American Honey” landed a total of six nominations, with Sasha Lane scoring a Female Lead slot and Riley Keough and Shia LaBeouf in Supporting, the film remains unlikely to be a factor at the Oscars, unless the wayward directors branch, which is packed with international voters, opts to shock the world with a nomination for a woman.

The Spirits documentary committee picked expected contenders “13th” (Ava DuVernay), “Cameraperson” (Kirsten Johnson), “I Am Not Your Negro” (Raoul Peck), and “O.J.: Made in America” (Ezra Edelman), along with more surprising choice “Sonita,” the story of an Afghani refugee who pursues her dreams as a rapper after her family tries to sell her into marriage (Rokhasareh Ghaem Maghami).

Among the international Spirit entries, getting a needed push are three Oscar submissions: Greece’s “Chevalier,” Germany’s Cannes hit “Toni Erdmann,” and UK’s “Under the Shadow.” (Neither Brazil’s “Aquarius” nor France’s “My Golden Years” were their countries’ submissions.)

Isabelle Huppert and Pa

Isabelle Huppert and Pablo Larrain at Telluride.

Anne Thompson

To sum up, while the last three Spirit Award winners have won the Oscar for best picture, “Moonlight” and “Manchester by the Sea” are the only Spirit Feature contenders with the right stuff to conceivably duplicate that feat. Both are steady as they go in the awards race in multiple categories, with Barry Jenkins and Kenneth Lonergan duking it out for Original Screenplay and Casey Affleck a frontrunner for Best Actor.

Among the other Spirit acting nominees, Isabelle Huppert, Natalie Portman, Annette Bening, Ruth Negga and Lucas Hedges are the likeliest to wind up competing in this year’s Oscar derby.

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