Before you can take a breath after the Gotham awards, the Independent Spirit Award nominations have rolled out (here’s the official list), and not without some notable parallels. For the most part, the Best Feature lineup is hardly surprising, perhaps with the exception of Bernie, which was an entertaining film from an excellent director, but this is a slot that could have been filled by something more deserving. The other selections are a bit more typical, with Moonrise Kingdom, The Silver Linings Playbook, and Beasts of the Southern Wild all critical darlings from the past year (though Beasts should really be in the Best First Feature category, but this has more to do with producer credits than director Benh Zeitlin). It’s great to see Ira Sachs’ latest, Keep the Lights On receiving the continued attention as well, one of the very few significant LGBT related films this year.
Best Director sees four of the directors of the best nominated films in the running, joined by a sole female Julia Loktev for The Loneliest Planet, which hit the festival circuit in 2011. While Loktev is a seriously talented director, it would have been nice to see Ava DuVernay listed here, who won Best Director at Sundance this year for Middle of Nowhere (which also deserves a nod over Bernie for Best Film). Best Screenplay mixes it up a bit with Keep the Lights On, Moonrise, and Silver Linings joined by Martin McDonaugh for Seven Psychopaths (Meh) and Zoe Kazan for Ruby Sparks, which is a fine addition, but, this being her first outing as a screenwriter, why isn’t this listed in Best First Screenplay?
As for those Best First categories, the Indie Spirit Awards generally get a few unheralded titles in there for some much needed buzz (like last year’s In the Family), and for Best First Screenplay, there are some surprising (and warranted nods), to Jonathan Lisecki for Gayby, and Christopher Ford for Robot & Frank. The buzz surrounding some of the other names here makes their presence unsurprising, but no less strong contenders, including Rama Burshtein for Fill the Void (Israel’s Best Foreign Language Submission), and then, from two Sundance premieres, Derek Connolly for Safety Not Guaranteed, and Rashida Jones and Will McCormack for Celeste and Jesse Forever. As far as Best First Feature goes (awarded to director and producer), there aren’t any unheard of titles, and it’s nice to see Zal Batmanglij’s excellent Sound of My Voice get a nod.
As far as the acting awards go, some neglected performances got recognized, especially in the supporting character categories, particularly with Lorraine Toussaint and David Oyelowo from Middle of Nowhere, as lead Emayatzy Corinealdi stole everyone’s thunder (she’s nominated as a lead and won a Gotham award for her performance as well). I have my reservations about a nod for the child actress Quvenzhane Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild, but I’m in the minority it seems. She appears here, as well as Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jennifer Lawrence, and surprisingly, Linda Cardellini for Return, a 2011 title that played in Cannes and was unceremoniously received (in truth, she’s the only redeemable element of the affair). As for Best Male lead, not much surprise here, but again, it’s great to see performance from Thure Lindhardt and my personal favorite, Wendell Pierce for Four pop up among the likes of McConaughey for the excellent Killer Joe, Jack Black, B Coop, and John Hawkes.
As I said, the Supporting nods are the best selected. The aforementioned Toussaint joins Rosemarie DeWitt for Your Sister’s Sister, a terribly good Ann Dowd for Compliance, Brit Marling for Sound of Your Voice, and then, the popular fodder, Helen Hunt for The Sessions. For Supporting Male, McConaughey gets a nod for Magic Mike, as does Bruce Willis for Moonrise Kingdom, but more excitingly, Sam Rockwell for Seven Psychopaths and Michael Pena for End of Watch get a nod.
Lastly, like all American awards show, the international titles get the short shrift, but their lineup for Best International Film is enjoyable, with Amour, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Rust & Bone, Sister, and War Witch to the fold, though, all of these are safe choices (and all critically praised). But you can bet that this is a more daring foreign language lineup than will make it to the Oscars. The Robert Altman award goes to Sean Baker’s beautifully executed Starlet, truly one of the best releases of the year, and the film also appears in competition for the John Cassavetes award (for films made under $500,000) where he will be up against one of the other best releases of the year, Middle of Nowhere.