Thursday, November 21, 2019

Film Independent Spirit Awards Nominations Announced

This morning, the nominees for the Film Independent Spirit Awards were announced. I joined Film Independent just over a year ago, and now I’m excited to be able to vote for the winners for the second time. I’ve seen a bunch of the films nominated, but I’m more astounded by a very surprising list. Here are my biggest takeaways.

- First, it’s important to look at recent history. Last year, none of the Best Feature nominees ended up with a Best Picture bid at the Oscars. In the last five years, usually one to four of the nominees go on to be cited for Best Picture by the Oscars.
- The nominees for Best Feature this year are “A Hidden Life,” “Clemency,” “The Farewell,” “Marriage Story,” and “Uncut Gems.” There’s a lot to say about each of these.
- The other independent organization that’s already announced is the Gotham Awards. They match up with the top race 3/5. The two films not mentioned here, “Hustlers” and “Waves,” scored three and one bids, respectively.
- The Best Director list matches up only 1/5 with Best Feature, with the Safdie brothers the only ones to make the cut, for “Uncut Gems.” Every year in the past five years, at least three top-nominated films have also placed in Best Director. This is a cool scenario that shows that it’s really possible to honor a variety of films, something that doesn’t tend to happen across awards season with different groups picking the same films over and over.
- “Uncut Gems” has the distinction of being the only film to earn Best Feature and Best Director bids, and it’s the nominations leader, with five bids (tied with “The Lighthouse”). It’s also the only Best Feature nominee I haven’t seen, but, conveniently, I’m seeing it tonight!
- “A Hidden Life” showed up in Best Feature, but not in any other category! That’s highly unusual, though there aren’t as many technical categories, which could explain it.
- “Clemency” getting a Best Feature nomination is a big boost for star Alfre Woodard, who was also shortlisted for Best Actress. It’s unfortunate that supporting actor Aldis Hodge, who really made the movie for me, didn’t make the cut.
- “The Farewell” was expected to earn a Best Feature nomination, but along with it came just one other bid, for supporting actress Zhao Shuzhen. That’s bad news for star Awkwafina, but not the worst, since Melissa McCarthy didn’t make the cut last year with this group but still managed an Oscar nomination.
- “Marriage Story” may be the strangest story of all. It got nominated for Best Screenplay along with Best Feature, but its only other mention was the Robert Altman Award for ensemble acting. It’s a strong choice for that, but the fact that none of its cast members, particularly Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, were individually cited. It’s likely not to influence other groups, but it’s troubling.
- “Honey Boy” is a great film and deservedly earned nominations for Best Director and Best Editing. It is, however, the biggest instance of category fraud, since both Noah Jupe and Shia LaBeouf contend in the Best Supporting Male race. They were excellent, but to argue that neither of them is a lead is illogical. Whatever the category, I hope this enthusiasm translates to Oscar attention for this great movie!
- One of my favorite movies of the year, “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” scored three nominations, for Best First Feature, the Someone to Watch Award for director Joe Talbot, and, most excitingly, a Best Supporting Male bid for Jonathan Majors. Hooray!
- A film I didn’t like, “Luce,” scored three bids, for Best Director, Best Male Lead Kelvin Harrison Jr., and Best Supporting Female Octavia Spencer. At least it didn’t merit a Best Feature mention. “Burning Cane,” another widely-praised film I didn’t love, is a nominee for the John Cassavetes Award and for Best Supporting Male Wendell Pierce. I’m okay with those.
- I’ve seen four out of five of the Best Documentary nominees. The fifth, “Island of the Hungry Ghosts,” isn’t eligible for the corresponding Oscar. The ones that are: “American Factory,” “Apollo 11,” “For Sama,” and “Honeyland.” My favorite is “American Factory.”
- The Best International Film category includes six nominees. “The Souvenir” is in English but comes from the United Kingdom. Both “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” and “Les Miserables” are from France, and the latter is the country’s official Oscar submission. “Retablo” comes from Peru, “Invisible Life” comes from Brazil, and one of my favorite films of the year, “Parasite,” comes from South Korea. All three are official Oscar submissions for Best International Feature.
- “Give Me Liberty,” which I missed at Sundance, got four nominations. That’s one I’ll have to see, along with “The Lighthouse” and “Her Smell,” two films I’ve been meaning to see for a while now.
- “Sword of Trust,” a comedy featuring a sword that some think proves the South won the Civil War, is up for Best Editing. It’s a bizarre but fun inclusion.
- I liked “Driveways,” which I saw at Tribeca, and I’m happy to see it contending for Best Female Lead Hong Chau and Best First Screenplay.
- I was surprised to hear “To Dust” called out as a nominee for Best Screenplay. This wacky Tribeca entry featuring Geza Rohrig and Matthew Broderick was indeed entertaining.
- I’m excited to make my way through the nominated films I haven’t yet seen. Winners will be announced at the 35th Annual Film Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday, February 9th, the night before the Oscars.
- Next up: Golden Globe nomination predictions in all categories!

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