Nominations for the 30th Film Independent Spirit Awards were announced Tuesday. And with them arrived the usual grumbling from some quarters that the movies leading the way -- "Birdman," "Boyhood," "Selma" and "Nightcrawler" -- lacked true indie cred and that the whole slate was just a warm-up for the Oscars.
But that sort of griping (and, really, you try to get "Selma" made and then get back to me about how that goes) misses the bigger picture. This is a fantastic group of nominees -- the best-feature set included "Love Is Strange" and "Whiplash" along with "Birdman," "Boyhood" and "Selma" -- that stand as a required viewing list for any movie lover in 2014.
"Birdman," starring Michael Keaton as a movie actor known for playing an iconic superhero, trying to reignite his career by staging a Broadway play, led the day with six nominations, including acting nods for Keaton, Edward Norton and Emma Stone.
The recognition arrives at a propitious time for "Birdman." The film, currently playing in 862 theaters, has seen sluggish ticket sales in recent days, earning just $1.85 million at the box office last weekend. Tuesday's good news should direct a few more people toward seeing it.
Last year, for the first time, all four Spirit acting winners (Cate Blanchett, Matthew McConaughey, Lupita Nyong'o and Jared Leto) went on to take the Oscar.
Could that happen again? Possibly. Keaton faces a tough challenge with the likes of Eddie Redmayne and Benedict Cumberbatch (neither of whom were nominated Tuesday ... more on that below) in the competitive lead-actor race. But Julianne Moore ("Still Alice"), Patricia Arquette ("Boyhood") and J.K. Simmons ("Whiplash") are currently favorites with Oscar pundits in the other three Oscar acting contests.
To be eligible for the Spirit Awards, films must be American productions, which Film Independent defines as movies either having American citizens credited in two of the three categories of director, writer and producer or a movie set primarily in the United States with an American company providing at least 70% of its financing.
That ruled out such films as Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel," the Stephen Hawking biopic "The Theory of Everything" and the disturbing true-crime drama "Foxcatcher."
But "The Imitation Game," the historical drama about British mathematician Alan Turing and his team of WWII code-breakers, was eligible because its financing came from Teddy Schwarzman's New York-based Black Bear Pictures and it has an American producer (Schwarzman) and screenwriter (Graham Moore).
The Weinstein Co. release received no nominations, rating as the day's biggest surprise. The studio owns a strong track record at the Spirits with movies like "The King's Speech," "The Artist" and "Silver Linings Playbook" and was fully expecting more love today for "The Imitation Game" and cast members Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley.
This isn't going to affect the film's Oscar chances. No movie has had a better academy screening this year. But its exclusion might indicate a feeling in the air that voters are looking for something that feels new and alive this year, another reason for the makers of "Boyhood" and "Birdman" to be enjoying Tuesday's announcement.