David O. Russell's screwball comedy "Silver Linings Playbook" and Wes Anderson's coming-of-age romance "Moonrise Kingdom" led the 2013 Film Independent Spirit Awards with five nominations apiece, including feature, director and screenplay.
The bounty for Anderson's acclaimed "Moonrise" comes half a day after the film won best feature honors at Monday's Gotham Awards, boosting the movie's end-of-the-year profile and maybe providing an impetus for Oscar voters -- who haven't been the biggest Anderson boosters over the years -- to revisit the late-May release.
Most pundits had "Moonrise's" Oscar hopes pegged solely for its original screenplay, written by Anderson and Roman Coppola. This week's back-to-back honors could alter that thinking to include the film as a contender.
Three Spirit Award committees select the nominees, determining a film's "independence" by guidelines that include uniqueness of vision, original and provocative subject matter and "economy of means," i.e. movies made for budgets up to $20 million. This limits the pool of films to be considered for the awards, excluding such indie-minded movies as Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" (which cost more than $30 million) and most studio fare -- all of which can be considered for Oscar nominations.
Still, small films in recent years have landed in what has become known as "the indie slot" of Oscar's best picture nominations, which can number up to 10 films -- such pictures as "Winter's Bone" and "District 9" have been included. And, in rare cases, as with Spirit Award nominees "Fargo" or last year's mostly silent "The Artist," go on to win the Oscar.
Oscar contender "Silver Linings Playbook," which also saw its lead actors -- Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence -- nominated, simultaneously embraces and skirts the indie label. Its $21-million budget puts it over Film Independent's stated guidelines. But take away bonding and contingency costs and tax rebates and the movie qualifies. Tuesday's Spirit Awards recognition keeps "Silver Linings' " momentum strong heading into December's guild and critics awards.
"Moonrise" and "Silver Linings" weren't the day's only notable winners. Fox Searchlight's Oscar prospects might be a bit dimmer this year, but Fox's indie division showed it can still dominate on its home court, receiving nine Spirit Award nominations, the most of any distributor.
Although the studio has had difficulty gaining any kind of best picture traction so far this season for such movies as "The Sessions" and "Hitchcock," Searchlight did land an Indie Spirit best feature nomination for "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and high-profile acting noms for John Hawkes and Helen Hunt from "The Sessions."
"Beasts" received four noms in all, including recognition for director Benh Zeitlin and its young lead, Quvenzhané Wallis. The dreamlike bayou tale remains firmly in play as a best picture Oscar contender, though its strongest chance for success might rest on Wallis' young shoulders in the lead actress category.
It was also a good day for "Bernie," Richard Linklater's story of small-town murder, which was nominated for best feature and Jack Black's lead turn. Black's understated performance in the movie seemed an unlikely awards-season candidate just a few weeks ago, but recognition here puts him squarely in the conversation. A Golden Globe nomination next month wouldn't be a surprise.
Black's "Bernie" co-star, Matthew McConaughey, popped up in both acting categories, earning a lead nomination for the dysfunctional family tale "Killer Joe" and a supporting nod for Steven Soderbergh's male stripper drama "Magic Mike." The double-dip continues McConaughey's unlikely career turn as a respected character actor, a shift in focus far removed from his shirt-free days in rom-coms such as "Fool's Gold" and "Failure to Launch."
"Keep the Lights On," Ira Sachs' searing autobiographical tale of a gay romance between a documentary filmmaker and a drug addict, scored nominations for picture, director and screenplay, as well as Thure Lindhardt's lead performance. The movie received strong reviews on its release in early September, and its inclusion in the three top filmmaking categories (it, along with "Moonrise Kingdom" and "Silver Linings Playbook" were the only films nominated for feature, director and screenplay) represents Film Independent's long-standing respect for movies that debuted at Sundance.
Another Sundance fave, Ava DuVernay's tough-minded drama "Middle of Nowhere," garnered four nominations, including for the John Cassevetes Award (best feature made for under $500,000) for DuVernay. Perhaps the most notable of its honors was the female lead nod for Emayatzy Corinealdi, who also picked up breakthrough actor honors at the Gotham Awards. One can sense the 32-year-old Corinealdi picking up the kind of momentum that Demián Bichir achieved last year with the class-struggle drama "A Better Life." Bichir's Spirit Award nod was a springboard to nominations from SAG and the Oscars. Could Corinealdi do the same? It’s early. Which means there’s always hope.