We laid out a few of the films that weren't eligible for today's Independent Spirit Awards announcement yesterday. Movies like “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Foxcatcher,” etc., as well as a number of foreign players, were not going to be in the mix. But of those that were, the real shocker today is that “The Imitation Game” turned up a goose egg. According to The Weinstein Company, it was eligible. That's not getting off to a great start for Harvey Weinstein's thoroughbred this season.
Looking across the nominees, as we surmised, it's the “Birdman” and “Boyhood” show with six and five nominations apiece. But Open Road also came out swinging with five nominations for Dan Gilroy's “Nightcrawler,” while the biggest boost of the announcement has to be for Ava DuVernay's “Selma.” The Paramount release was screened for the committees but due to how late in the game the film wrapped up editing, screeners were not ready in time. That didn't end up being much of a hindrance, though, as the film picked up five nominations including Best Feature and Best Director. That movie is off to the races.
In terms of studios, the biggest nomination hog – and no surprise, this – was Sony Pictures Classics. Across seven films (“Land Ho!,” Leviathan,” “Love is Strange,” “Only Lovers Left Alice,” “The Salt of the Earth,” “Still Alice” and “Whiplash”), the studio netted 14 total nominations. Both “Love is Strange” and “Whiplash” picked up four nods each, including Best Feature, a real coup for the former in a tight race. And though it was ineligible for competitive consideration, “Foxcatcher” was tapped for a Special Distinction Award.
Another prize announced ahead of time is the Robert Altman Award. Given to a film's director, casting director and ensemble cast, it always makes for a fun tip of the hat to this movie or that. Films like “Mud” and “I'm Not There” have wrangled it in the past. This year it goes to Paul Thomas Anderson's “Inherent Vice,” and that's really the perfect choice. This is a movie that lives and dies on the people Anderson puts in front of the camera, and it's a fierce ensemble that delivers one of the most unique experiences this year. A fitting award for Anderson, who owes so much of his career to Altman's influence and inspiration. (Note: It was ineligible for competitive awards otherwise due to budget.)
Other films that popped for the committee include “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” (Best Cinematography, Best First Feature, Kiehl's Someone to Watch Award) and “A Most Violent Year” (Best Editing, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Female).
But let's circle back to that “Imitation Game” shut-out. I don't necessarily think it's all that significant in terms of the Oscar race, because this is a film that is already playing through the roof for Academy members and has since it debuted at Telluride and went on to nab the Toronto Film Festival's audience award. It would have been a nice coup to hang its hat on as it heads out into release this weekend, had the film at least been recognized for something – Best Male Lead, Best Supporting Female, something – but I was expecting a full bevy of nominations. Particularly after Weinstein has successfully wielded Spirits support for his campaign on films like “The King's Speech,” “The Artist” and “Silver Linings Playbook” in recent years. An interesting hiccup, to be sure.
Also eligible but completely passed over was Jean-Marc Vallee's “Wild.” That should make today bittersweet for Fox Searchlight indeed. I'm not sure how Reese Witherspoon got passed over in such a thin race, but on the other hand, I'm happy to see the committee going their own way. And it's moderately surprising that “The Skeleton Twins” was shut out as well.
So this race appears to be between, again, “Birdman” and “Boyhood.” Fox Searchlight is feeling really good lately in terms of the Oscar race with the former. They want to win the big prize again and they'll be gunning for it, with a beloved Michael Keaton in tow. The old “win on Saturday, lose on Sunday” adage about the Spirits and the Oscars is quickly becoming a relic of the past, so there is fuel to be added to the tank here. But you can bet IFC will have something to say about that, and indeed, “Boyhood” would make the most sense to walk away the Spirits champion in a few months. Nevertheless, this gives Paramount some real incentive for “Selma” with “Interstellar” floundering. That focus is about to shift considerably, I should imagine, and I have to think they will be gunning for this and the various guild awards hard.
The season has officially achieved real, tangible lift-off. Hollywood Film Awards or not, the Gotham and Spirit nominations remain the true starting gun for the precursor circuit. Where will this road take us? Time to find out…
The 30th annual Film Independent Spirit Awards will be air on IFC at 2pm PT/5pm ET Saturday, February 21, 2015