The Independent Spirit Awards: Honoring the Indie Award Contenders
by Joey Magidson
November 25, 2013
Every single year, a ton of deserving independent films struggle to compete for the limited attention of Oscar voters. These movies are often some of the best that cinema has to offer each year, but due to any number of factors (smaller distributors, less money to campaign with and other issues), only a handful are able to catch on with the Academy. This leads to lots of disappointment among film fans, but there is a silver lining to be found in the Independent Spirit Awards. Yes, this indie themed awards show sometimes works as a tonic to the repetitive and potentially stuffy winners that pop up during the precursor circuit.
That's not always the case though, as even the Spirit Awards aren't immune from trying to cozy up to/influence the Academy. Still, no matter how you slice it, this is one place where a wider variety of film is feted and given a moment in the sun. They'll be announcing their nominees this coming Tuesday the 26th of November, so now's the perfect time to take a look at this particular precursor.
Historically, this precursor is at its best when it ignores trying to codify the Academy and their frontrunners and instead goes in the direction of who and what they feel is actually deserving of an honor. At times, they've represented the final honor for Oscar nominees who sadly came up short, like Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, for example. Lately, this awards show has veered a bit more mainstream in their choices, if that makes sense, but they always manage to throw in some cool nomination picks, at the very least.
Last year, the winners at the Spirit Awards in the major categories looked like this: Best Feature went to Silver Linings Playbook, Best Director went to David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook, Best Screenplay also went to Russell, Best Male Lead went to John Hawkes for The Sessions, Best Female Lead went to Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook, Best Supporting Male went to Matthew McConaughey for Magic Mike, and Best Supporting Female went to Helen Hunt for The Sessions. Other winners in smaller categories included Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Safety Not Guaranteed. If there's one thing to take from this, it's the following: they may nominate an eclectic bunch, but a lot of the time, as mentioned above, the ultimate winners don't wind up differing too much from the Oscar winners in the end.
Which Academy long shots should look to the Spirit Awards for a boost here in 2013? Well, I'd say that long list should include flicks such as Afternoon Delight, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, The Bling Ring, Blue Caprice, Don Jon, Drinking Buddies (seen above), Escape from Tomorrow, Frances Ha, In a World..., The Kings of Summer, Mother of George, The Place Beyond the Pines, Short Term 12, The Spectacular Now, Spring Breakers, Upstream Color, and The Way Way Back (to cast a wide net). From there, you could potentially see names like Noah Baumbach, Lake Bell, Derek Cianfrance, Bradley Cooper, Sofia Coppola, Tony Danza, James Franco, Greta Gerwig, Ryan Gosling, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brie Larson, Eva Mendes, James Ponsoldt, Sam Rockwell, Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, and many more pop up. It's not impossible that one or two could transition to the Academy Award race, but this very well could be their last stand for major attention.
By that same token, what films are potentially in contention and could also garner Oscar attention this year? The main players there are of course 12 Years a Slave, All is Lost, Before Midnight, Blue Jasmine, Dallas Buyers Club, Fruitvale Station, Inside Llewyn Davis, Mud, and Nebraska. Obviously, that leads to possibly seeing names like Woody Allen, Cate Blanchett, J.C. Chandor, Joel and Ethan Coen, Julie Delpy, Bruce Dern, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Will Forte, Jennifer Garner, John Goodman, Ethan Hawke, Sally Hawkins, Oscar Isaac, Michael B. Jordan, Jared Leto, Richard Linklater, Matthew McConaughey, Steve McQueen, Carey Mulligan, Lupita Nyong'o, Alexander Payne, Robert Redford, Octavia Spencer, and June Squibb score citations both here and ultimately on the big night. They won't all do it, but some definitely will and others will try.
One odd wrinkle here worth making note of is that they really only nominate American films here, so potential multi category Oscar players like Blue is the Warmest Color, The Hunt, The Past, and Philomena will only be competing for Best Foreign Feature. That crosses big names like Bérénice Bejo, Steve Coogan, Judi Dench, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Lea Seydoux, and more from scoring individual nods. It's unfair to some for sure, but rules are rules (though this particular show does sometimes play fast and loose with their rules, but that's another story entirely), so we just have to deal.
As much as this is a precursor that's a lot of fun, in some ways it's also a bit of a sad one as well. As I mentioned, for many indie flicks this will be their big moment, with no more to come. Essentially, this nomination morning functions as their version of Oscar nomination morning. That's not the case for all of them, but for a decent portion of them, the Spirit Awards voters are the closest thing to Academy voters that they'll be coming into contact with. Only time will tell.
Ultimately, this is a precursor that's impossible to predict with any confidence or reasonable accuracy, so I won't even try, but I consistently look forward to Tuesday's announcement in a way that I don't for any other awards show besides the Academy Awards. It's always an unexpected group of nominees, which believe it or not, I love (despite it making the prognostication game basically fruitless for this one) a great deal. Perhaps this year the nominations will tell us something about what the Oscar nods might look like, but even if they don't, this set of noms will be surely one to celebrate regardless!