With this morning’s release of the Film Independent Spirit Award nominations, one more piece of the eventual Oscar puzzle is in place, and, as expected, Birdman, Boyhood, Selma and increasingly Whiplash — which all landed Best Feature and Directing noms — seem to be headed toward the same trajectory at the Academy Awards. And although the Indie Spirits announcement is one of the earliest of the season, the actual awards themselves are one of the latest, taking place February 21, the day before the Oscars. There generally is a lot of bleed-over from one to the other, even though Oscar nominations won’t be out for a couple of months and — unlike the Indie Spirits, which supposedly limit eligibility to only films made for $20 million and under — the Academy has everything to consider and more time to do it.
For instance, Sony Pictures Classics had a very good day with a whopping 15 nominations, gaining Feature noms and several other mentions for Whiplash and Love Is Strange and even a couple of nice noms for the nearly forgotten Only Lovers Left Alive as well as Foreign and Documentary entries. But their big Oscar ponies Foxcatcher and Mr. Turner were ineligible (Foxcatcher did get a Special Distinction Award, which guarantees its starry cast and filmmakers will be present anyway).
Other major Oscar contenders such as The Theory Of Everything and Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel were not eligible for various reasons; they will live to fight another day, just not at Santa Monica beach the day before the Oscars. Warner Bros’ Paul Thomas Anderson film Inherent Vice also was ineligible but is being thrown a bone by receiving the Robert Altman Award, which acknowledges an exceptional ensemble cast.
The Weinstein Company’s major Oscar player The Imitation Game supposedly was eligible somehow (I’m not exactly sure how) but was shut out, and I have a feeling that’s because the selection committee likely felt it shouldn’t have been eligible. Otherwise its omission is absolutely criminal and makes no sense. TWC has gotten around those Spirit rules before, most notably with Silver Linings Playbook and The Artist (but not The King’s Speech) but failed to do so this time. Without Imitation Game, TWC had one of its worst showings ever at the Spirits, nabbing only a single writing nom for Big Eyes and two noms for James Gray’s The Immigrant (Female Lead for Marion Cotillard and Cinematography). The film got a minor release in the spring after much delay. TWC also got a Documentary nom through its Radius division for Citizenfour, the company’s best shot for a Spirit win this year.
Fox Searchlight, which released Grand Budapest, called around Monday to make sure journalists knew that film would not be competing but did confirm that Birdman and the about-to-be-released Wild indeed were eligible. Birdman cleaned up, leading all comers with six noms in the same key categories it is expected to compete at the Oscars. But its wildly original screenplay was left off that list, as was that of chief competitor Boyhood, which nabbed five noms. I think those omissions are odd in favor of otherwise-ignored Big Eyes, along with A Most Violent Year, Only Lovers Left Alive, Love Is Strange and Nightcrawler. Seems very strange to leave them out, but the Spirits don’t always operate in the most predictable pattern — witness Directing and Acting noms for the virtually unknown Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter. As for the acclaimed Wild, it was completely left off the list including Reese Witherspoon’s sterling performance for Female Lead, which almost certainly will belong to Julianne Moore, the sole mention for SPC’s Toronto pickup Still Alice.
Perhaps the most impressive, if slightly unexpected, showing of the morning was for Dan Gilroy’s brilliant Nightcrawler, which grabbed five noms including star Jake Gyllenhaal, who likely will be duking it out with Birdman’s Michael Keaton, the favorite, and David Oyelowo, who plays Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in Selma. That film came from Brad Pitt’s Plan B, which last year swept the Spirits with 12 Years A Slave and went on to win the Best Picture Oscar the next day. This year the race for Best Feature at the Spirits, as well as the Oscars, appears to be more wide open and unpredictable. But it would seem to me that if voters stay true to the “independent” spirit for which these awards were created, Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-production indie sensation, should be hard to beat at the beach.