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…

Oscar Watch: Knives Out

Good old fashioned whodunnits are rare on the silver screen, but Rian Johnson has one on deck with Knives Out. It’s premiered in Toronto and early reaction indicates a major crowd favorite that has killer box office potential. The Looper and Star Wars: The Last Jedi maker has apparently fashioned a laugh out loud comedy that makes fine use of its all-star cast led by Daniel Craig. We also have Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Lakeith Stanfield, and Christopher Plummer onboard.

So when it comes to this genre, will Knives follow in the path of Robert Altman’s Gosford Park (multiple nominations) or Kenneth Branagh’s 2017 version of Murder on the Orient Express (nada). The likelihood is that nods in the major categories could be elusive even if it strikes a chord with crowds. The best hope could be with Johnson’s original screenplay or supporting turns that have been singled out, like Evans and especially de Armas.

The better bet is a nomination for Production Design, which has been praised in every write up I’ve scanned. Bottom line: Knives Out has announced itself as a probable hit and there’s at least a chance that Academy voters could notice. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: The Front Runner

Director Jason Reitman debuted his newest feature at the Telluride Film Festival this weekend. It’s a venue that he probably has affection for. Both 2007’s Juno and 2009’s Up in the Air premiered in Colorado and went on to garner Best Picture nominations. On the other hand, his last feature to open there (2014’s Labor Day) saw its awards hopes dashed upon critical reaction.

This brings us to The Front Runner, which recounts Gary Hart’s failed 1988 Presidential campaign. Hugh Jackman plays him with Vera Farmiga as his wife. The buzz from Telluride includes some solid reviews, with some claiming it shares the vibe of Robert Altman’s 1970s works. However, not all write-ups have been raves.

This puts The Front Runner in a position of uncertainty. It could face an uphill battle for Picture or Director nods (as well as Adapted Screenplay). Jackman has only one Academy Awards nomination to his credit for 2012’s Les Miserables. He didn’t manage to score recognition last year for two high-profile roles in Logan or The Greatest Showman. Farmiga also has one nod to her credit courtesy of Reitman’s Up in the Air. Both are possibilities, but far from slam dunks in Actor and Supporting Actress.

Bottom line: let’s see how future buzz plays out, but The Front Runner might find itself on the back burner for Oscar chatter.

The film opens November 7 in the United States. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

This Day in Movie History: December 26

On this day after Christmas in Movie History, it is time to introduce you to the term “qualifying run” if you aren’t already familiar with it. Qualifying run means when a studio releases a picture between December 26 and December 31 and there’s only one reason to do it: so that the picture is eligible for Oscar consideration. This will likely be the case with most movies featured on This Day in Movie History for the remainder of the year. These releases typically aren’t released wide until January or sometimes February of the following year.

Such is the case with Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, which came out six years ago today. Daniel Day-Lewis earned his second Best Actor Oscar for the pic (with another to follow five years later for Lincoln), but it lost in the Picture and Director race to No Country for Old Men and the Coen Brothers.

Twelve years ago today was the release of Robert Altman’s comic murder mystery Gosford Park, which opened to critical raves and a surprising $40 million domestic take. It also was the final Best Director nomination for Altman and earned Supporting Actress nominations for Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren.

As for birthdays on this day, Jared Leto is 42. He is currently the frontrunner for Supporting Actor for his work in Dallas Buyer’s Club. Known more to many in the younger generation as the lead singer of Thirty Seconds to Mars, Leto is also known for past roles in Requiem for a Dream and Panic Room.

Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich is 50 today. His resume in film certainly isn’t extensive, but he did appear in this year’s Metallica Through the Never and had a humorous supporting role as himself in 2010’s Get Him to Greek.

As for Six Degrees of Separation between these two gentlemen:

Jared Leto was in Dallas Buyer’s Club with Matthew McConaughey

Matthew McConaughey was in The Wolf of Wall Street with Jonah Hill

Jonah Hill was in Get Him to the Greek with Lars Ulrich

And there’s today – December 26 – in Movie History!