The 2015-16 awards season is officially here: This morning, the nominations for the 25th annual Gotham Independent Film Awards were announced, and they were characteristically eccentric.
In a sea of increasingly predictable awards organizations, the Gothams continued to stand out this year as a unique and unpredictable voice. Here’s a look at how they did that this time around.
The winners, selected by different committees, will be announced November 30 at Cipriani Wall Street in New York.
Perhaps the most surprising element of this morning’s nominations was the film that led them. Marielle Heller’s “The Diary of Teenage Girl” — which got rave reviews out of Sundance, but then stumbled at the box office this summer — received four nominations, which was more than any other film. This included a nomination for its breakthrough lead Bel Powley, except it wasn’t in the “breakthrough performance” category as one might expect. Gotham voters felt Powley’s performance warranted a best actress nod, placing her alongside the likes of Cate Blanchett, Lily Tomlin and Blythe Danner. Not too shabby, and neither were the three nominations pulled off by Sean Baker’s “Tangerine” — another acclaimed Sundance premiere that didn’t quite find the box office reception it deserved.
“Tangerine” was nominated alongside “Diary” for best picture, while both of its stars — Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor — were nominated for breakthrough actor. Can we please request a tie? And can both of these films jump into the Oscar conversation already?
Last year’s Gotham Awards were dominated by films that went on to Oscar glory: “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “Whiplash,” “Still Alice” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” While there’s still a few months to go until we find out whether this year’s crop does the same, it’s likely there won’t be as much crossover.
While we’d certainly love to see films like “Diary of a Teenage Girl” and “Tangerine” make the cut at the Oscars, the only two certainties among the best film nominees are Todd Haynes’ “Carol” and Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight.” Both of those films did quite well across the board, with three nominations each, and probably got the biggest pushes in terms of what’s to come. But the Gothams definitely didn’t pander to Oscar prognosticators.
Case in point is the fifth best feature nominee, Josh and Benny Safdie’s “Heaven Knows What,” which debuted in Venice last fall and quietly made about $65,000 when it came out in May. It’s a harrowing depiction of drug addiction featuring one of the year’s best performances in Arielle Holmes — who was, unsurprisingly, nominated for best breakthrough actor. Irrespective of its Oscar odds, this is a film you should all see (and maybe the Gothams will help make that happen).
Okay, so the fact that Cate Blanchett and Brie Larson both got nominated in the best actress category is not a surprise. But the context in which they got here is a different story. Two years ago, the first year the category existed, Blanchett and Larson were both nominated — for “Blue Jasmine” and “Short Term 12,” respectively. However, while Blanchett went on to win seemingly every award in the world (including the Oscar), she lost at the Gothams — to Larson. It’s typical of the Gothams’ unique logic that, in this case, Blanchett is overdue to win, and Larson is the overachieving winner.
Larson ended up being the only nomination that “Room” managed at the Gothams, despite a ton of awards momentum coming into it. The movie was shut out of the best feature and best screenplay categories; most surprisingly, its young star Jacob Tremblay didn’t get nominated for best breakthrough actor, even though his performance has received some of the best notices for a child actor in recent memory. Instead, the Gothams — somewhat confusingly — nominated Rory Culkin for “Gabriel,” even though Culkin has been making movies since the ne (and was nominated for a Spirit Award for Best Debut Performance back in 2000 for “You Can Count On Me”).
The best actor category featured quite a few under-the-radar performances. Christopher Abbott and Peter Sarsgaard got in for “James White” and “Experimenter” — two films more people should be talking about. But the most unlikely nominee arrived with Kevin Corrigan, getting deserved recognition after three decades of first-rate character work in so many films (check out his filmography). His role in Andrew Bujalski’s indie rom-com “Results” was the little engine that could among the Gotham’s acting nominees.
The documentary feature category consisted of a quartet of films many would expected to make the cut: Matthew Heineman’s “Cartel Land,” Laurie Anderson’s “Heart of a Dog,” Stevan Riley’s “Listen To Me Marlon” and Joshua Oppenheimer’s “The Look of Silence.” But then there was Amanda Wilder’s “Approaching The Elephant,” which surprisingly beat out the likes of more broadly discussed docs like “The Hunting Ground” and “The Wolfpack.”
Following a group of kids who are the first students at a new “free school” in New Jersey, the film has been making the festival rounds since February 2014, when it premiered at True/False. It won major awards at both the Camden International Film Festival and the DocAviv Film Festival, but this nomination puts it on the map in a whole new way.
Oscar voters, take note: Four of the five films nominated for best feature (“Carol,” “Tangerine,” “Heaven Knows What” and “Diary of a Teenage Girl”) are centered around female characters. Two of the five films nominated for best documentary were directed by women. Two of the five breakthrough director nominees were women. Two of the five best screenplays were written by women. On average, that’s a 60/40 ratio, but it’s also as close to equal representation as we ever see from awards shows — and a major step in the right direction.
Peter Knegt is Indiewire’s Contributing Editor and awards columnist. Follow him on Twitter.
Check out Indiewire’s latest chart of Oscar predictions here and additional predictions from Anne Thompson.