It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Awards Season

It’s that time of year again – there’s a crisp in the air, snow is on the ground (in Buffalo, anyway) and the Film Independent Spirit Awards are here to remind you about movies that debuted at Sundance way back in January. The Indie Spirits aren’t exactly a roadblock on the way to Oscar – considering the annual contenders that don’t even qualify (whose ranks this year included “The Theory of Everything,” “Foxcatcher” and “Unbroken”), Academy success is hardly reliant on a bunch of drunk independent filmmakers in a tent. But, as Weinstein pseudo-indies like “The King’s Speech,” “The Artist” and “Silver Linings Playbook” can tell you, it certainly doesn’t hurt.

It was a bit of a surprise today, then, considering how good Harvey Weinstein has been at wrangling votes for his films from this particular group, that his big play of the year – Morten Tyldum’s “The Imitation Game” – was completely shut out of the Indie Spirit nominations. Not even star and presumptive category frontrunner Benedict Cumberbatch could wrangle a spot, albeit in a crowded Best Actor race (one even more crowded than we thought, but more on that in a minute). The Alan Turing biopic still has a Toronto Audience Award to its name and shouldn’t have trouble gaining traction with the Academy, but its absence here is an opportunity for some other contenders to gain ground.

The biggest winner today, in that regard, was probably Ava DuVernay’s “Selma” – a focused account of MLK’s civil rights protests in the titular city. DuVernay’s film premiered to considerable acclaim at the AFI Fest in LA a couple weeks ago, but Paramount was unable to get screeners out to the Film Independent committees, given how late editing wrapped up. That didn’t prove to be much of a hindrance, as “Selma” picked up five big nominations, including Feature, Director, and Actor. Along with expected big hauls for Alejandro Iñárritu’s “Birdman” and Richard Linklater’s critical favorite “Boyhood,” DuVernay’s film looks to be a firm contender in the season.

Also getting a good boost were a trio of Sundance hits – Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash,” Justin Simien’s “Dear White People” and Gillian Robespierre’s “Obvious Child.” All three are interesting options to keep an eye out for in the Original Screenplay race, but “Whiplash” in particular is starting to look like it might find a niche in the Best Picture. It’s a stylish and energetic film, ultimately crowd-pleasing but hardly because it makes easy or lazy choices – it’s had a steady presence in the indie box office this fall, a good share of fierce advocates, and J.K. Simmons may be the closest thing we’ve got to a sure winner at this point of a wide-open season.

It really would’ve been a triumph for “Whiplash” if lead Miles Teller had also slid in, but Best Actor proved to be a peculiar point for the Indie Spirits. Instead of expected names like Cumberbatch, Teller, Bill Murray (“St. Vincent”), Joaquin Phoenix (“Inherent Vice”) or Oscar Isaac (“A Most Violent Year”), we got none other than André Benjamin (that’s André 3000 to you) for his part as young Jimi Hendrix in John Ridley’s “Jimi: All Is By My Side.” The generally music-less biopic didn’t seem to gather a lot of buzz back when it was released a few months ago, but apparently it had some friends in Film Independent. Will this be a one-and-done scenario or will more people check out Benjamin’s performance as a result of this nod?

Benjamin joined Michael Keaton (“Birdman”), David Oyelowo and Jake Gyllenhaal, who is sneakily gaining a lot of traction for his slippery, uneasy performance as Louis Bloom in “Nightcrawler.” This was the perfect place for him to get recognized, but I do wonder if he might pick up some unexpected critics’ awards as well and really get the ball rolling (most of those accolades will likely go to Keaton and Steve Carell, but who knows?). Meanwhile, it was lovely to see them joined by John Lithgow (and, in a bit of category fraud, “Supporting Actor” Alfred Molina) in “Love Is Strange,” Ira Sachs’ summer indie that at least deserved a mention somewhere along the line.

Finally, these nominations probably serve as confirmation that P.T. Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” is unlikely to be an awards player, but its reception of the Robert Altman Award, which honors the film’s director, casting director and ensemble cast, seems appropriate.

Oh, also, I have no idea what “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” is. Sorry.

The Independent Spirit Award winners will be announced, as usual, at a Santa Monica ceremony the day before the Oscars, on Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015.

Best Feature

  • Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Boyhood
  • Love Is Strange
  • Selma
  • Whiplash

Best Director

  • Damien Chazelle, “Whiplash”
  • Ava DuVernay, “Selma”
  • Alejandro G. Iñárritu, “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
  • Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
  • David Zellner, “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter”

Best Screenplay

  • Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, “Big Eyes”
  • J.C. Chandor, “A Most Violent Year”
  • Dan Gilroy, “Nightcrawler”
  • Jim Jarmusch, “Only Lovers Left Alive”
  • Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias, “Love Is Strange”

Best First Feature

  • Ana Lily Amirpour, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”
  • Justin Simien, “Dear White People”
  • Dan Gilroy, “Nightcrawler”
  • Gillian Robespierre, “Obvious Child”
  • Anja Marquardt, “She’s Lost Control”

Best First Screenplay

  • Desiree Akhavan, “Appropriate Behavior”
  • Sara Colangelo, “Little Accidents”
  • Justin Lader, “The One I Love”
  • Anja Marquardt, “She’s Lost Control”
  • Justin Simien, “Dear White People”

John Cassevetes Award (for best feature made for under $500,000)

  • Jeremy Saulnier, “Blue Ruin”
  • Eliza Hittman, “It Felt Like Love”
  • Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens, “Land Ho!”
  • Dave Boyle, “Man from Reno”
  • Chris Mason Johnson, “Test”

Best Female Lead

  • Marion Cotillard, “The Immigrant”
  • Rinko Kikuchi, “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter”
  • Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”
  • Jenny Slate, “Obvious Child”
  • Tilda Swinton, “Only Lovers Left Alive”

Best Male Lead

  • André Benjamin, “Jimi: All Is By My Side”
  • Jake Gyllenhaal, “Nightcrawler”
  • Michael Keaton, “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
  • John Lithgow, “Love Is Strange”
  • David Oyelowo, “Selma”

Best Supporting Female

  • Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”
  • Jessica Chastain, “A Most Violent Year”
  • Carmen Ejogo, “Selma”
  • Andrea Suarez Paz, “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors”
  • Emma Stone, “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Best Supporting Male

  • Riz Ahmed, “Nightcrawler”
  • Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”
  • Alfred Molina, “Love Is Strange”
  • Edward Norton, “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
  • J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”

Best Cinematography

  • Darius Khondji, “The Immigrant”
  • Emmanuel Lubezki, “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
  • Sean Porter, “It Felt Like Love”
  • Lyle Vincent, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”
  • Bradford Young, “Selma”

Best Editing

  • Sandra Adair, “Boyhood”
  • Tom Cross, “Whiplash”
  • John Gilroy, “Nightcrawler”
  • Ron Patane, “A Most Violent Year”
  • Adam Wingard, “The Guest”

Best Documentary Film

  • 20,000 Days on Earth
  • CITIZENFOUR
  • Stray Dog
  • The Salt of the Earth
  • Virunga

Best International Film

  • Force Majeure
  • Ida
  • Leviathan
  • Mommy
  • Norte, the End of History
  • Under the Skin

Robert Altman Award:

Inherent Vice

Special Distinction Award:

Foxcatcher

Piaget Producers Award
Chad Burris
Elisabeth Holm
Chris Ohlson

Someone to Watch Award
Ana Lily Amirpour, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”
Rania Attieh & Daniel Garcia, “H.”
Chris Eska, “The Retrieval”

Truer Than Fiction Award
Amanda Rose Wilder, “Approaching the Elephant”
Darius Clark Monroe, “Evolution of a Criminal”
Dan Krauss, “The Kill Team”
Sara Dosa, “The Last Season”

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