Surprise and confirmation in Spirit Awards nominations

It’s not only actors and filmmakers who get excited about something like the Spirit Awards nominations announcement. One could argue that such things are actually more meaningful (and closely watched) by executives and producers.

The nominations unveiled Tuesday split up well between films that are definitely in the hunt for larger awards and those that may be happy with any recognition at all, with seven nominations for “12 Years a Slave,” six for “Nebraska," four for “All Is Lost,” and three each for “Blue Jasmine,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “Fruitvale Station” and “Short Term 12.”

Depending on whom you ask, the nominations either solidify who is competing for what in the ongoing awards picture — “Enough Said,” for example, was distilled to supporting actor and screenplay, “Dallas Buyers Club” strictly a competitor in the male acting categories — or remain their own self-contained system.

“It’s such a strong year, with a lot of strong films in the independent field,” said Albert Berger, producer of "Nebraska” with longtime producing partner Ron Yerxa. “We’re very, very happy to be included in that. But, of course, it’s a great year for bigger films too. It’s quite a great thing for movies in general, just how broad the quality is this year.”

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Berger and Yerxa have twice before won best picture at the Spirit Awards, with “Election,” also directed by “Nebraska’s” Alexander Payne, and “Little Miss Sunshine.” Though the Spirits are sometimes thought of as the hip young cousin to the Oscars, and perhaps therefore not amenable to something like “Nebraska,” a black-and-white film that deals with aging, the pair noted that they think of “Nebraska” as “an R-rated family film” that “could be appreciated by three generations at least.”

Likewise, Howard Cohen, co-president of distributor Roadside Attractions, noted that all the things that make “All Is Lost" such an unconventional film — such as no dialogue, a short script and relatively modest budget — also confirm its indie film bona fides even as it features one of the biggest stars in movies, Robert Redford. (Redford was nominated for male lead.)

Roadside picked up seven nominations (as well as the Robert Altman ensemble award) across four films. Cohen noted how the Spirit Awards seek to balance high-profile awards favorites and lesser-known titles, pointing out the nominations for “Go for Sisters” in supporting actress and for “Wadjda,” “Una Noche,” “Concussion” and “Blue Caprice” in best first feature.

“I think they do that deliberately, but to look at it in a positive way, to be true to their mission,” said Cohen. “By and large, I think they do a good job of balancing that: They have nominations that wouldn’t be in anywhere else and the also the movies that are the Oscar favorites. Somebody is noticing them. It is meaningful.”

“There are always some surprises, some disappointments, but that’s the Spirit Awards,” said Jonathan Sehring, president of IFC Films/Sundance Selects, who had eight nominations for five films. “Blue Is the Warmest Color” received a nomination for best international film, the only Spirit Award category in which it was eligible.

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Arguably the biggest surprise nomination in any category was in the lead actress category for Gaby Hoffman as the title character in the Chilean psychedelic road comedy “Crystal Fairy,” also starring Michael Cera and which was also nominated for the John Cassavetes award. Even Sehring expressed surprise that Hoffmann was in a lead and not supporting category.

Hoffman’s nomination, however, may have blocked actress Greta Gerwig from a slot for her title-role performance in IFC's “Frances Ha.” Though the film was nominated for best feature (and editing), director Noah Baumbach wasn't recognized, nor was the screenplay, co-written by Baumbach and Gerwig.

“I’m thrilled that Gaby got nominated but obviously really disappointed that Greta didn’t,” noted Sehring. “Greta not being nominated for actress is a real disappointment; I’d say over and above anything, that’s the real head-scratcher for me.”

All awards have their own rhythms. By comparison, at the Gotham Awards, which will be presented next week, the New York-set “Frances Ha” got no nominations at all. And “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” which received no Sprit Award nominations, is competing at the Gothams for best picture.

For a still relatively unknown company such as Cinedigm (which won the Spirit Award for documentary last year with “The Invisible War”), the attention of awards season can be a boost as well. Actress Brie Larson has been picking up a little awards season momentum for "Short Term 12," and the film was also nominated for supporting male actor and editing.

“The attention Brie has been getting throughout the awards season is really validating,” Vincent Scordino, senior vice president for theatrical releasing at Cinedigm, said in an email. “The three nominations across acting and filmmaking categories rightly draw attention to the film. In a great year for movies, it is wonderful to be distributing one of the absolute best.”

The five nominees for best feature are "12 Years A Slave," "All Is Lost," "Frances Ha," Inside Llewyn Davis" and "Nebraska." Films such as “Short Term 12,” “Upstream Color,” “Before Midnight,” “Fruitvale Station” or any of the other titles that might have shaken up the best feature category a bit more didn’t quite break through. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“It’s a great lineup for best feature,” said IFC’s Sehring. “If you look at those five features there, those are to my mind the right ones. I think they got it right.”


Spirit Award nominees express varied reactions

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