Gold Standard: Spirit Awards and Oscars likely on diverging paths this year
Reflecting an awards season landscape that, for the moment, has yet to come into focus, the nominees for the 2019 Independent Spirit Awards were all over the map, offering an interesting and often contradictory early look at the noteworthy movies and performances we could be hearing about for the next few months.
Spirit Awards nominees for best picture included “Eighth Grade,” “First Reformed,” “If Beale Street Could Talk,” “Leave No Trace” and “You Were Never Really Here.”
Notably, for the first time in Spirit Awards history, three women — Debra Granik (“Leave No Trace”), Tamara Jenkins (“Private Life”) and Lynne Ramsey (“You Were Never Really Here”) — were nominated for director. Paul Schrader (“First Reformed”) and Barry Jenkins (“Beale Street”) were the other nominees.
Jeremiah Zagar’s immersive debut film “We the Animals” led the field with five nominations, including first feature, cinematography, editing, supporting actor and Zagar himself in the “Someone to Watch” category, which “recognizes a talented filmmaker of singular vision who has not yet received appropriate recognition.” The acclaimed film, which tied for the Next Innovator award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, grossed less than $500,000 theatrically for U.S. distributor The Orchard.
A24’s “Eighth Grade” and “First Reformed” and Amazon’s “You Were Never Really Here” each picked up four nominations. A24 led all studios with 12 nominations, while Amazon, Netflix and The Orchard trailed with six apiece.
Two indie titles expected to factor heavily in the Oscar race, Alfonso Cuarón’s intimate family portrait “Roma” and Yorgos Lanthimos’ subversive costume drama “The Favourite,” were eligible for a Spirit nomination only in the international film category, where they were both selected along with “Burning,” “Shoplifters” and “Happy As Lazzaro.”
“Vice,” “Beautiful Boy,” “Mary Queen of Scots” and “The Sisters Brothers” were among the high-profile, indie movies ineligible because their budgets exceeded the Spirits’ $20 million budget ceiling.
The Independent Spirit Awards have notably synced up with the Oscars this decade. Prior to Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” victory this year, the past four best feature winners — “12 Years a Slave,” “Birdman,” “Spotlight” and “Moonlight” — went on to take the Oscar for best picture.
But there will likely be a more distinct demarcation this season between the Spirits and the Oscars, which feature a number of big studio contenders, including “A Star Is Born,” “Green Book,” “Black Panther,” “First Man,” “Widows,” “A Quiet Place,” “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Mary Poppins Returns.”
And among the indie titles, “Roma” and “The Favourite,” judging from festival reviews, appear to be the early front-runners for this year’s critics groups accolades.
Spirits voters — composed of committees of industry professionals, critics and members of Film Independent’s board — didn’t show much love for another prominent Oscar contender, Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” nominating the hit indie for just Adam Driver’s supporting turn.
While he wasn’t nominated for Lee’s movie, Driver’s “BlacKkKlansman” co-star John David Washington did earn a supporting actor slot for his work in “Monsters and Men.”
Among other eligible films absent from the nominations: Julian Schnabel’s Vincent Van Gogh portrait “At Eternity’s Gate” and the family drama “Boy Erased.”
Those movies and actors overlooked by the Spirits this year can take comfort in the fact that the eventual Oscar best picture winner — Guillermo del Toro’s lavish fantasy romance, “The Shape of Water” — was ignored by Spirit voters last year, receiving no nominations even though it was eligible.
The female lead category proved particularly competitive, as has been the case for the past few years. Nominees included Glenn Close (“The Wife”), Toni Collette (“Hereditary”), Elsie Fisher (“Eighth Grade”), Regina Hall (“Support the Girls”), Helena Howard (“Madeline’s Madeline”) and Carey Mulligan (“Wildlife”).
That left no room for Melissa McCarthy’s celebrated turn as a lonely writer turning to forgery to pay the bills in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” Nicole Kidman’s performance as a burned-out detective in “Destroyer” or Kathryn Hahn’s work as a woman grappling with infertility in “Private Life,” which earned Tamara Jenkins a screenplay nomination in addition to her directing bid and Kayli Carter a supporting actress nomination.
Actors nominated for their lead work were John Cho (“Searching”), Daveed Diggs (“Blindspotting”), Ethan Hawke (“First Reformed”), Christian Malheiros (“Sócrates”) and Joaquin Phoenix (“You Were Never Really Here”).
Winners, selected by Film Independent members (if you join, you can vote), will be announced at the Spirit Awards on Feb. 23, the day before the Oscars per tradition, at a ceremony in Santa Monica. The show will air live on IFC.
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