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: Dark Waters

Director Todd Haynes has guided Julianne Moore and Cate Blanchett to previous acting nominations in Far From Heaven, I’m Not There, and Carol. His latest effort is the corporate legal thriller Dark Waters, based on a true story. Mark Ruffalo stars and produces, playing a lawyer taking on the DuPont conglomerate.

Somewhat surprisingly, Waters skipped the late summer and autumn festival circuit ahead of its November 22nd release and reviews are just trickling out. They’re decent and the Rotten Tomatoes score is currently 75%.

Critics have praised Ruffalo’s work. He is thrice nominated in the Supporting Actor race for 2010’s The Kids Are All Right, 2014’s Foxcatcher, and 2015’s Spotlight. He would stand the best chance at recognition for the first time in lead – over the film itself and costars including Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, and Bill Pullman. Yet, as has been discussed before on the blog, Best Actor is packed. I believe there’s eight thespians at the moment with legit shots at nods. Ruffalo isn’t in that mix.

Bottom line: chances for Dark Waters in the awards conversation are murky at best.

The PGA Goes Green

The eyes of Oscar prognosticators were on the Producers Guild of America (PGA) Awards and for good reason. In this decade, the Best Picture Award has matched the Academy’s 6 out of 8 times (there’s a little fudging here because in 2013 there was a tie between Oscar recipient 12 Years a Slave and Gravity). The non matches occurred in 2015 when the PGA selected The Big Short over Spotlight and the following year with La La Land winning and not Moonlight.

Two scenarios could have changed the Oscar landscape in a significant way. A victory for Roma (coming off its Critics Choice honor) could have solidified standing as a front-runner. If A Star Is Born took the top prize, it would have marked a much-needed win after some high-profile precursor snubs.

Neither scenario happened as Peter Farrelly’s Green Book was named. This is a surprise and it opens up an already uncertain race for Best Picture at the big dance. It certainly lessens Green Book winning the Oscar being seen as an upset. It’s a real contender along with Roma and Star.

Tonight’s ceremony also gave yet another animation award for SpiderMan: Into the SpiderVerse. Coupled with its Globes and Critics wins, it now appears Spidey is the Academy favorite over Incredibles 2.

Bottom line: the PGA made the Oscars a bit murkier. We got ourselves a race.

Best Picture: A Look Back

A few weeks ago, I posted look backs at major categories at the Oscars from 1990 to the present. I’ve covered all four acting races and if you missed it, you can peruse them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/11/04/best-actor-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/31/best-actress-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/25/best-supporting-actor-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/20/best-supporting-actress-a-look-back/

In each post, I review what I’d classify as the three least surprising winners, as well as the three biggest upsets. And I select what I believe are the strongest and weakest overall fields.

Today on the blog, we arrive at the Big Daddy – Best Picture. It’s important to remember that hindsight doesn’t come into play here. For instance, Forrest Gump won the top prize in 1994. Since then, many believe fellow nominees Pulp Fiction or The Shawshank Redemption should have won. Yet the Gump victory was not an upset at the time. Same goes for 1990 when Dances with Wolves bested GoodFellas.

Let’s begin with a reminder of each winner since 1990:

1990 – Dances with Wolves

1991 – The Silence of the Lambs

1992 – Unforgiven

1993 – Schindler’s List

1994 – Forrest Gump

1995 – Braveheart

1996 – The English Patient

1997 – Titanic

1998 – Shakespeare in Love

1999 – American Beauty

2000 – Gladiator

2001 – A Beautiful Mind

2002 – Chicago

2003 – Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

2004 – Million Dollar Baby

2005 – Crash

2006 – The Departed

2007 – No Country for Old Men

2008 – Slumdog Millionaire

2009 – The Hurt Locker

2010 – The King’s Speech

2011 – The Artist

2012 – Argo

2013 – 12 Years a Slave

2014 – Birdman

2015 – Spotlight

2016 – Moonlight

2017 – The Shape of Water

We start with my three least surprising winners:

3. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)

Peter Jackson’s final entry in the acclaimed trilogy seemed due for a win after the first two installments were nominated, but lost to A Beautiful Mind and Chicago. This was as much a recognition for the entire franchise and by 2003, it was obvious the Academy would move in that direction.

2. Titanic (1997)

James Cameron’s epic was plagued with rumors of a troubled shoot and the possibility seemed real that it could be a costly flop. The opposite occurred as Titanic became the highest grossing motion picture of all time upon its release. It seemed clear that Oscar love would follow.

1. Schindler’s List (1993)

Capping an amazing year which saw Steven Spielberg direct Jurassic Park over the summer, his Holocaust feature Schindler’s List became the undeniable front-runner at its end of year release. Winning all significant precursors, this was a shoo-in selection.

Now to the upsets. In my view, there were four very real ones and I had to leave one out. That would be 1995 when Braveheart emerged victorious over the favored Apollo 13 and Sense and Sensibility. Yet there’s 3 others that I feel top it.

3. Moonlight (2016)

La La Land appeared ready to pick up the gold after its filmmaker Damien Chazelle and lead actress Emma Stone had already won. And it looked like the script was being followed when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway actually announced the musical as Best Picture. Perhaps Oscar’s largest controversy followed as the wrong envelope was given and the Barry Jenkins effort Moonlight had actually won. Correct envelopes or not, the Moonlight victory was still unexpected given the La La momentum.

2. Shakespeare in Love (1998)

All eyes were on Spielberg’s World War II epic Saving Private Ryan to win as Spielberg had already picked up his second statue for directing. Shakespeare rewrote that script and few saw it coming.

1. Crash (2005)

Here is perhaps the most surprising BP winner in history. Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain was the strong favorite when the Paul Haggis race relations drama took it. Even presenter Jack Nicholson looked shocked when he read the envelope.

And now the fields. That’s a bit tough because just under a decade ago, the Academy switched from five finite nominees to anywhere between five and ten (nine being the most common). For weakest, I’m going with 2011 when there were 9. While there’s some quality picks like The Artist, The Descendants, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, and The Tree of Life – I feel even some of them might have missed the cut in stronger years. And I think that certainly applies to Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, and War Horse.

For strongest, I will go with the aforementioned 1994. Pulp Fiction and Shawshank are indeed two of the most impressive cinematic contributions in recent times. Winner Gump and other nominees Quiz Show and Four Weddings and a Funeral filled out the slate.

And that does it, folks! Hope you enjoyed my look back at Best Picture in modern times.

The Rider Takes The Film Critics Cup

The National Society of Film Critics bestowed their best of 2018 awards today and it showcases another victory for Chloe Zhao’s western drama The Rider. The indie pic already won Best Picture at the Gotham Awards over some higher profile competition. With two top prize victories, is there any chance The Rider could gallop into Oscar contention?

That seems doubtful, but you never know. This particular critics branch has previously honored movies that the Academy ignored. Recent examples include 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis from the Coen Brothers and 2014’s Goodbye to Language from legendary French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard. It is worth noting that the winners in 2015 and 2016 (Spotlight, Moonlight) won the Oscar and last year’s Lady Bird was nominated.

In the Director race, it was another trophy for Alfonso Cuaron’s work in Roma. He already has achieved status as the Academy favorite. He also won for his cinematography.

Ethan Hawke received yet another critics prize here for Actor in First Reformed, as did Olivia Colman in Actress for The Favourite. The latter’s Oscar chances seem assured while Hawke is more of a mystery (I’ve got him in currently). Regina King’s SAG snub is seeming less and less important as she got another honor in Supporting Actress for If Beale Street Could Talk. And Steven Yeun added to his reviewer group awards here with his Supporting Actor role in Burning. He’s racked several up, but still appears to be a long shot for Academy inclusion. Same goes for Screenplay as the Society went with The Death of Stalin. I’ve yet to include it in my Adapted Screenplay projections. It’s possible, but it probably won’t get in.

So while it was another good day for The Rider, I’m still skeptical that will equate to Oscar attention.

 

L.A. Loves Roma

Alfonso Cuaron’s Mexican drama Roma continued its precursor love today as the Los Angeles Film Critics Association awarded it Best Film. While that’s certainly a feather in the cap for something that’s a near lock for a Best Picture nod, it’s not necessarily a harbinger of what’s to come. Only once in this decade have the LAFCA and the Academy agreed on their top race  – 2015’s Spotlight.

While Cuaron’s effort got the big prize, the filmmaker himself came in second in directing to a surprise selection of Debra Granik for Leave No Trace. Her name hasn’t surfaced much for Academy consideration and I currently do not have her in my top 10 possibilities. Ironically, only two directors this decade have shared the Oscar and this category. One is Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water last year. The other? Cuaron for 2013’s Gravity.

Three of the acting winners are seen as strong players for the Oscars: Ethan Hawke (First Reformed) in Actor, Olivia Colman for The Favourite in Actress, and Supporting Actress victor Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk. In Supporting Actor, Steven Yeun won for his work in the South Korean mystery Burning. He’s been nowhere on Oscar’s radar and likely won’t be.

With Roma taking Best Film overall, the LAFCA had a tie in their Foreign Film race between Burning and Shoplifters.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? got some attention, taking Screenplay over runner-up The Favourite. That could help its already decent chances at an Adapted Screenplay nod down the road.

Another surprise came in their documentary pick – the Netflix release Shirkers from Singapore. It has not been discussed much in what’s seen as a crowded field of selections.

SpiderMan: Into the SpiderVerse took Animated Film, further positioning itself as the main rival to Pixar front-runner Incredibles 2.

My updated Oscar predictions will be up Thursday!

Gotham Takes a Ride

The Gotham Awards were held this evening in the Big Apple and the annual ceremony honoring the year’s best in independent filmmaking provided a couple of legitimate surprises. Chloe Zhao’s Western The Rider was a surprise winner for Best Feature, beating out the favored The Favourite and If Beale Street Could Talk. The Rider premiered all the way back in April after originally screening at Cannes in May 2017. The acclaimed film from director Chloe Zhao has not been on my Oscar radar screen whatsoever.

Should it be? If you look at Gotham’s winners for the last few years, you may deduce that the answer is yes. From 2014-2016, the honored feature (Birdman, Spotlight, Moonlight) went on to win Best Picture in the biggest race of all. Call Me by Your Name from last year got a nomination. On the flip side, the recipients from 2012 and 2013 (Moonrise Kingdom and Inside Llewyn Davis) failed to garner Academy recognition. The Rider will more than likely fall in that camp, unlike fellow nominees The Favourite and Beale Street. The other two features nominated were Madeline’s Madeline (an Oscar non-factor) and First Reformed (more on that in a minute).

The Actress race also provided an unexpected winner in the way of Toni Collette for Hereditary. She won out over Glenn Close, who seems bound for an Oscar nod in The Wife. Best Actress is crowded this year, but the fourth and fifth slots seem open to several leading ladies. If Collette can manage some critics awards (which are coming very soon), expect her name to earn more chatter. For the time being, I still believe a nomination is a reach. That could change.

For Actor, Ethan Hawke was a victor for First Reformed. Unlike Actress, this year’s crop of potential Actors at the Oscars is a little weaker. Hawke seems to be gaining momentum at the right time. Last week, I included him in my predicted five for the first time. I feel better and better about it.

Speaking of First Reformed, Paul Schrader (who also directed it) picked up the Screenplay award. Somehow he has never been Oscar nominated… not even for his Taxi Driver screenplay over four decades ago. In order to get his first, his original script would need to knock out one of the following contenders in that race: The Favourite, Roma, Green Book, Eighth Grade, or Vice. That could be a tall order, but it’s certainly possible.

Check back tomorrow as the National Board of Review (a significant precursor) unveils their winners. I’ll have reaction to that with updated Oscar predictions on Thursday!