Will The Indie Spirits Nominees Showcase Oscar Gems?

This afternoon, the nominations for the 35th Independent Spirit Awards were released as we prepare for the onslaught of Oscar precursors to follow. And make no mistake – the Indie Spirits are indeed a precursor. In this decade from 2010-2018, five of the nine Best Feature winners emerged victorious with the Academy for Best Picture: 2011’s The Artist, 2013’s 12 Years a Slave, 2014’s Birdman, 2015’s Spotlight, and 2016’s Moonlight. Some of these years have three or four of the five nominees get Oscar nods in the big race.

However, 2018 marked the first year of this decade when none of the five nominated pictures at the Indies garnered any Academy love. I don’t expect that to occur for a second year in a row.

In this post, I’ll break down Feature, Director, and the four acting races and what it might mean for Oscar:

Best Feature

Nominees: A Hidden Life, Clemency, The Farewell, Marriage Story, Uncut Gems

First things first: Marriage Story is going to get a Best Picture nomination and probably wins here. And it might be the only one here that does. The Farewell has a decent shot and Uncut Gems is a potential sleeper (though I wouldn’t bet on it).

That said, Gems did tie The Lighthouse for most Indie mentions (5). And that brings us back to Marriage Story. The voters here chose to give it a special Robert Altman award honoring the team behind it. That includes cast members Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, and Alan Alda. They all probably would’ve heard their names here had that not occurred and same goes for director Noah Baumbach. If that seems like a bit of a cheat (taking out probable winners like Driver and Baumbach), I wouldn’t argue. The silver lining is that it does make some of these categories more interesting.

Best Director

Nominees: Robert Eggers (The Lighthouse), Alma Hor’el (Honey Boy), Julius Onah (Luce), Ben and Josh Safdie (Uncut Gems), Lorene Scafaria (Hustlers)

Like Best Feature, 2018 saw no directors recognized get Academy attention. With Baumbach getting his Altman award and out of the running, that could certainly happen again as I don’t even have any of these directors in my top ten Oscar possibilities. Perhaps this could help spur chatter for the Safdies or Scafaria. Again… I wouldn’t bet on it.

Best Female Lead

Nominees: Karen Allen (Colewell), Hong Chau (Driveways), Elisabeth Moss (Her Smell), Mary Kay Place (Diane), Alfre Woodard (Clemency), Renee Zellweger (Judy)

Six out of nine winners here from 2010-2018 went onto win the Best Actress statue: Natalie Portman (Black Swan), Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Julianne Moore (Still Alice), Brie Larson (Room), and Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri).

Even with Johansson not included, it could be 7/10 as Zellweger is my current Oscar front runner. Woodard and Moss stand shots at nods. The other three need not shop for red carpet dresses.

One noticeable omission is Awkwafina in The Farewell, who many are predicting for Oscar attention. I currently had her on the outside looking in at sixth. That could slide when I update my estimates on Monday.

Best Male Lead

Nominees: Chris Galust (Give Me Liberty), Kelvin Harrison, Jr. (Luce), Robert Pattinson (The Lighthouse), Adam Sandler (Uncut Gems), Matthias Schoenarts (The Mustang)

Jean Dujardin (The Artist), Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club), and Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) are the three Indie/Oscar recipients. Only in 2015 and (yes) 2018 did no nominees get Oscar nods…

I expect that to occur again. I believe only Sandler stands a chance, but it’s a reach based on severe competition.

Best Supporting Female

Nominees: Jennifer Lopez (Hustlers), Taylor Russell (Waves), Lauren Spencer (Give Me Liberty), Octavia Spencer (Luce), Shuzhen Zhou (The Farewell)

Four winners here have picked up Academy trophies – Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), Patricia Arquette (Boyhood), and the past two winners Allison Janney (I, Tonya) and Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk).

With soft front runner Laura Dern in the Marriage Story special category thing, we could still see a third year in a row match with Lopez. Zhou and Spencer (to a lesser degree) may also find themselves in the Oscar mix.

And with Taylor Russell’s nod here, it’s a good time to mention that Waves really came up short with the Indies today. That doesn’t help its Oscar viability.

Best Supporting Male

Nominees: Willem Dafoe (The Lighthouse), Noah Jupe (Honey Boy), Shia LaBeouf (Honey Boy), Jonathan Majors (The Last Black Man in San Francisco), Wendell Pierce (Burning Cane)

This category is another ultra crowded one for Oscar attention, but Dafoe and LaBeouf are legit contenders for nods. Not so with the other three. The omission of Sterling K. Brown in Waves is a surprise.

There have been four Indie/Oscar victors this decade: Christopher Plummer (Beginners), Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club), J.K. Simmons (Whiplash), and Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri). With Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) and Al Pacino (The Irishman) as likely favorites for the Academy, I wouldn’t expect a fifth match.

And there you have it, folks! My take on the Indies and which Oscar gems they could produce…

Red Sparrow Movie Review

Jennifer Lawrence teams up with her Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence once again with Red Sparrow. This spy thriller could rightfully be called The Somber Games. To put it in Red Bull terms, there are times when Sparrow could use some wings.

While Lawrence gives a solid performance, the film never quite strikes a satisfying balance between wanting to be a little trashy and wanting to take itself as stone faced seriously as every character who inhabits it.

Here we have Jenny from the Red Block – with the star playing Dominika. She’s a well-known Russian ballerina whose career is cut short in a freak injury. Unable to care for her ill mother (Joely Richardson) or make ends meet, her high-ranking government official uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts) offers her an ultimatum. Dominika is to become an employee of the Foreign Intelligence Service and extract information from suspects by any means possible.

This brings her to an intensive training course called State School 4 or as she later coins it – Whore School. It’s an apt description as most of the methods taught by its headmaster (Charlotte Rampling) involve seduction. Her training soon puts her in close contact with CIA agent Nash (Joel Edgerton) as he knows the true identity of a Russian mole.

Based on a 2013 novel by Jason Matthews, Red Sparrow follows the spy flick playbook of frequent double crosses and surprising character reveals. Unlike some recent entries in the well-worn genre, it’s bursts of violence are hardcore and it’s filled with sex. Dominika is tasked with always staying a step ahead of her mostly male coworkers and marks. That almost always involves their uncontrolled libido.

Director Lawrence and Jennifer Lawrence deserve some credit for making this pretty interesting for the first hour or so. The pic is not short on style and watching Dominika first adapt to her new reality has some entertaining and unexpected pleasures at first.

After a while, however, Red Sparrow struggles as it devolves into more familiar torture scenes and unsurprising “surprises”. Unlike Atomic Blonde with Charlize Theron (a much better genre experience), there’s hardly any sense of fun here. The Lawrence’s seem convinced that the dour happenings are enough to sustain a 140 running time. Not quite.

**1/2 (out of four)

Red Sparrow Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (02/28): I am revising my Red Sparrow down from $19.5 million to $17.5 million

Red Sparrow, out next Friday, reunites Jennifer Lawrence with her director for the last three Hunger Games installments Francis Lawrence. The spy thriller casts the star as a Russian spy with a supporting cast that includes Joel Edgerton, Matthew Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Jeremy Irons, and Mary-Louise Parker.

The 20th Century Fox release was originally scheduled for November of last year before the March push back. Reviews have been a bit mixed as it stands at 63% on Rotten Tomatoes at press time.

Lawrence has certainly had her share of massive hits. She’s also had some under performers as of late, including Passengers and mother! Competition is a factor here. Black Panther should still be ruling the charts and Death Wish with Bruce Willis opens directly against it and will try to capture the attention of actions fans.

I could see Red Sparrow performing similarly to another recent female led spy flick, last summer’s Atomic Blonde with Charlize Theron. It opened to $18.2 million. I’ll put this just a touch higher due to Lawrence’s drawing power, but still under $20 million.

Red Sparrow opening weekend prediction: $17.5 million

For my Death Wish prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/02/21/death-wish-box-office-prediction/