No one in my business has a crystal ball. No one really knows what they’re talking about even if we pretend we do. There are a few things worth noting, however, from today’s Film Independent nominations. The Spirits gave a big boost to two films that really could use it – Cary Fukunaga’s uncompromising, brilliant masterpiece Beasts of No Nation, and Charlie Kaufman/Duke Johnson’s equally brilliant, uncompromising masterpiece Anomalisa. Both films represent the very best in independent film because they represent the true independent spirit. Both were put together on a wing and a prayer – with Anomalisa raising much of its funds through Kickstarter and Beasts of No Nation finally getting picked up by Netflix after every studio in town passed on it.
In recent years, the Spirits have mirrored the Oscar race because usually independent films are where Oscar voters can find the films they like best – those that aren’t made to make money, or aren’t part of a franchise, or aren’t branded within an inch of their lives. They exist to create art. They are put together by true believers in the art of cinema. So the Oscars have been piggybacking the Spirits because they haven’t had many big studio alternatives. Will this year show a sharper divide between the two? As we’ve talked about 3 months ago, it’s possible.
The other two films that did well with the Spirit nominations were already expected to crossover to the Oscars. Those would be Spotlight – Tom McCarthy’s superb hit of the festival season, meticulous, realistic, beautifully rendered – and Todd Haynes’ magnificent love story, Carol. Both films seem to have multiple Oscar nods in the bag and their appearance at the Spirits merely confirms that eventuality. If you’ve ever listened to the producer of Carol talk about how hard that movie was to get made, how long it took them to put it together, how lovingly crafted its origin story is, you can see it’s not the kind of movie project that gets made every day. The same goes for Spotlight, which is also backed by devoted true believers who are still committed to making great movies.
But really, Beasts of No Nation and Anomalisa got the biggest boosts. The Spirits are not going to be intimidated, for instance, by Netflix entering the fray. After all, that offers up another great destination for indies – and big studio product, too, incidentally. Netflix helps keep movies alive by making them repeatedly in virtual pepetuity. It’s such a great invention, this online library concept that has now spread to Amazon and Hulu and Mubi. We live in a time when there are more ways than ever to watch movies. Thus, the Spirits will not try to cockblock Netflix from the big show. The Oscars might. Either way, it’s great for Beasts of No Nation, for Cary Fukunaga, Abraham Attah and Idris Elba, even if its awards run stops there. That’s significant, as the Spirits are almost a standalone awards show, the adventurous cousin of the Oscars who’s more fun to hang out with.
I guess the biggest surprise was the relative lack of nominations for Room. Had I been predicting these Spirit nominations I would have probably guessed Lenny Abrahamson would have gotten in, or the film for picture or director. But the reason I think it wasn’t is that it probably has much more of a Big Oscar Movie feel to it and it’s also been awards already at film festivals. Larson is nominated and it also got Best First Screenplay and Editing nods. I think these are two odd nominations for this movie but hey. That means it has four. I still think it has enough momentum to push forward; these awards do more good than harm.
Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett both getting in for lead is a good sign that the same might be mimicked at the Oscars. I’ve had my doubts that both could get in. Clearly the Spirit crowd really loves Carol and that sort of broad-based support is what would be needed for both to get in. The competition at the Oscars would include Jennifer Lawrence for Joy, Saoirse Ronan for Brooklyn, not to mention Carey Mulligan and Brie Larson. It’s a tight category at the Oscars.
Anomalisa might have made history becoming the first animated film to have a character get an acting award nomination. That will not repeat at the Oscars, which is ruled by actors who value their faces as their bread and butter. Kris Tapley wrote a piece today about whether Anomalisa could break out in other categories besides animation. It seems like it’s certainly possible, screenplay is a certainty and possibly picture.
As far as Tangerine goes, I believe it also made history with the first trans lead actress and supporting actress to be nominated. Can it break through at the Oscars? Probably it’s too micro-budget indie for them. It’s hard enough for the bigger indies to break through in an ordinary year but especially so for this year with Big Studio Hollywood making such as strong showing, theoretically speaking. Getting this far for a movie made with an iPhone and a credit card is impressive indeed. And to get a Best Director nod is also a career changer.
As to which film will win the Spirits? Well, at this stage it’s tough to say. In recent years, the closer to Best Picture at the Oscars a movie is, the better shot it has at the Spirits. If I were to guess right now I’d say Carol had the best shot, with Spotlight close behind. It’s an interesting year at the Spirit Awards, in my opinion. It all feels very unpredictable, very next level, very optimistic for the future of film, or at least for independent film.