In recent years the Film Independent Spirit Awards have not always seemed so much an Oscar alternative as they have Oscar adjacent. The winner of the Spirit Award for best film has matched with the Oscars' best picture winner in three of the last four years. Last year four of the Spirits' five best film nominees were also nominated for best picture.
This year it seems the Spirit Awards, which take place in Santa Monica on Saturday afternoon, may go their own way. Only one best film nominee is also up for best picture on Sunday, the drama "Spotlight." The other films nominated for the Spirit Awards' top prize are "Anomalisa," "Beasts of No Nation," "Carol" and "Tangerine."
Nominations for the Spirit Awards are decided on by special committees with final voting opened up to the more than 5,500 members of Film Independent. The arts and educational organization also puts on the Los Angeles Film Festival and other events and programs throughout the year.
With many of the films that garnered the most Academy Award nominations this year well exceeding the Spirit Awards' budget cap of roughly $20 million, the selection committees were forced to broaden their choices. This also allowed the Spirit Awards to avoid the diversity controversies that have dogged the Oscars this year. The Spirit Awards nominees have long been stronger on issues of diversity than the academy, but this year in particular people of color and women are represented throughout the acting and filmmaking categories.
The female lead category includes three actresses nominated for an Oscar this year, with Brie Larson for "Room" and Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara for "Carol." (Mara is nominated for supporting actress at the Oscars.) Also nominated for the Spirit Award is Bel Powley for "The Diary of a Teenage Girl" and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez for "Tangerine."
The best male lead category contains no overlap with this year's Oscars. Nominated for the Spirit Award are Christopher Abbott for "James White," Abraham Attah for "Beasts of No Nation," Ben Mendelsohn for "Mississippi Grind," Jason Segel for "The End of the Tour" and Koudous Seihon for "Mediterranea."
The supporting category nominees have only one point of partial crossover in common with the Oscars this year. Nominated for the Spirit Award for supporting male are Kevin Corrigan for "Results," Paul Dano for "Love & Mercy," Idris Elba for "Beasts of No Nation," Richard Jenkins for "Bone Tomahawk" and Michael Shannon for "99 Homes."
In the Best Supporting Female category, Jennifer Jason Leigh is recognized for her work in "Anomalisa," while she is nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar for "The Hateful Eight." Other supporting female Spirit Award nominees are Robin Bartlett for "H.," Marin Ireland for "Glass Chin," Cynthia Nixon for "James White" and Mya Taylor for "Tangerine."
The nominations for best director reflect the five nominees for best picture plus one. David Robert Mitchell is recognized for the low-budget horror hit "It Follows," along with Sean Baker for "Tangerine," Cary Joi Fukunaga for "Beasts of No Nation," Todd Haynes for "Carol," Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson for "Anomalisa" and Tom McCarthy for "Spotlight."
The Spirits' best screenplay category includes Phyllis Nagy for "Carol," nominated for the best adapted screenplay Oscar, and Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer for "Spotlight," nominated for the best original screenplay Oscar. Also nominated in the single Spirit award screenplay category is Charlie Kaufman for "Anomalisa," Donald Margulies for "The End of the Tour" and S. Craig Zahler for "Bone Tomahawk."
One category that could prove instructive for the Oscars on Sunday is best international film. "Embrace of the Serpent," "Mustang," and "Son of Saul" are all in contention for best foreign language Oscar on Sunday, with "Saul" considered a favorite but recent momentum swinging toward "Mustang." Also nominated in the category at the Spirits is "A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence" and "Girlhood."
"Spotlight" is guaranteed a moment to shine at the Spirit Awards ceremony on Saturday, as the film has already been announced as the recipient of Robert Altman Award, which recognizes the best ensemble.
Also already announced are the winners of the Spirit Awards filmmaker grant prizes, which include what every independent filmmaker really needs: money. Producer Mel Eslyn, filmmaker Felix Thompson and documentarian Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi each received an unrestricted grant of $25,000.
The Spirit Awards also distinguish themselves with best first feature and best first screenplay prizes. (The Directors Guild also introduced a first film prize this year.) Nominated for the Spirit for first feature are "The Diary of a Teenage Girl," "James White," "Manos Sucias," "Mediterranea" and "Songs My Brother Taught Me."
Nominated for first screenplay are Jesse Andrews for "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl," Janoas Carpignano for "Mediterranea," Emma Donoghue for "Room," Marielle Heller for "The Diary of a Teenage Girl" and John Magary, Russell Harbaugh and Myna Joseph for "The Mend."
Nominated for the John Cassavetes Award for best feature under $500,000 are "Advantageous," "Christmas, Again," "Heaven Knows What," "Krisha" and "Out of My Hand."
The Spirit Awards will be hosted by actress Kate McKinnon from "Saturday Night Live" and the upcoming revival of "Ghostbusters" and comedian Kumail Nanjiani, perhaps best known for his role on TV's "Silicon Valley. The awards will be aired live on IFC starting at 2 p.m. PT.
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