Yes, it's finally come to this. After months of festival debuts, cocktail parties and a fake awards show that somehow was aired on a major broadcast network, an awards event that actually means something (sort of) in the Oscar race is happening. The 2014 Independent Spirit Awards nominations are hours away and, in some ways, they are the most competitive in recent memory.
Just as with the Academy Awards, the Spirits' equivalent Best Film and Best Lead Male categories will leave a number of worthy contenders out in the cold. That's somewhat remarkable considering players such as “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Foxcatcher” and “The Theory of Everything” didn't qualify. Still, you'll find a number of familiar Oscar contenders announced including Julianne Moore (“Still Alice”), Reese Witherspoon (“Wild”), Jessica Chastain (“A Most Violent Year”) and lots of nods for “Birdman” and “Boyhood.”
The thing to remember about the Spirits, however, is that as broad as the event has become in recent years, it still tends to reward a ton of Sundance Film Festival titles (which isn't a bad thing since the Park City institution may have debuted two Best Picture nominees this year). And there are always a bunch of smaller art house players who get a few unexpected nominations.
With that in mind, here are 10 predictions for tomorrow's nominations announcement. And let's kick it off with one that may have you rolling your eyes as a film that somehow qualified as an “American” independent…
1. “The Imitation Game” will earn a minimum of Best Film and Best Male Lead nominations.
That's right. Harvey's done it again. “The Imitation Game” was somehow deemed eligible. The Oscar player could also earn Best Director (Morten Tyldum), Best Supporting Female (Keira Knightley), editing and screenplay nods.
2. Jenny Slate will earn a Best Female Lead nomination for “Obvious Child.”
The Sundance summer hit could also earn a screenplay nomination.
3. “Boyhood” will rule the day with at least seven nominations.
Picture, Director, Editing, Screenplay, Cinematography, Supporting Male (Ethan Hawke) and Supporting Female (Patricia Arquette). And if Ellar Coltrane gets a Best Male Lead nod? That's eight.
4. Elisabeth Moss will earn a Best Female Lead nod for “The One I Love.”
Moss' work in the Sundance Film Festival selection is the sort of art house success the committees end up unexpectedly celebrating with a nod. And considering how weak the Best Female Lead category is this year, we'd be genuinely surprised if she didn't make it.
5. Gugu Mbatha-Raw will duplicate her Gotham nod for “Beyond the Lights.”
Mbatha-Raw had a breakthrough year. The committee was likely more familiar with her work in “Belle,” but that Fox Searchlight title was not eligible this year.
6. Jake Gyllenhaal will earn a Best Male Lead nomination for “Nightcrawler.”
His chances for Oscar recognition appear slim, but he'll get Spirit love. “Nightcrawler” could be a surprise across the board in a number of major categories.
7. Justin Simien will earn Best First Film and First Screenplay nominations for “Dear White People.”
Note: Film Independent also helped shepherd Simien through his early development process. And he also won a key award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Ding!
8. “Whiplash” will earn at least five nominations including Best Film.
Potential Oscar Best Picture nominee “Whiplash” will earn Best Film, Best Director (Damien Chazzelle), Best Male Lead (Miles Teller), Best Supporting Actor (J.K. Simmons) and Best Editing (Tom Cross) nominations. Best Cinematography is also possible (and deserved), but the Spirits usually pick the wrong, er, unexpected nominees in that category every year.
9. Kristen Wiig is in, but Bill Hader is not.
Bill Hader earned the lion's share of critical kudos for his performance in “The Skeleton Twins,” but Best Male Lead is just too competitive for him to crack (and if he does someone major gets left out). Instead, look for Wiig, who was pretty damn good herself, to earn a Best Female Lead nod.
10. Ava DuVernay will earn a Best Director nod for “Selma,” but…
…it may be hard for the film to earn other major nods. The movie is barely completed (still) and Paramount was able to screen it for the committees in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, but couldn't get screeners out in time. This is when the Spirits process can really hurt deserving nominees.
Look for full coverage of this year's 2014 Independent Spirit Awards nominees tomorrow beginning at 11 AM PST, 2 PM EST on HitFix.