Where did all the American mavericks go? I think the Gotham and Spirit Award nominations were a pretty solid indication of how off it's been for U.S. specialty releases this year. With the Gothams going up the budget level to embrace studio pictures and the Spirits going low budget to embrace subpar indies, the star-studded studio-arthouse release has come up short in 2006, in contrast to 2005's triumphs "Capote," "Brokeback Mountain," "Good Night and Good Luck," etc. In a Variety article published today, I look at the number of foreign-bred filmmakers who are frontrunners in this year's awards races, from "Babel" to "The Queen," "Venus" to "Volver," "The Painted Veil" to "Pan's Labyrinth."
That's not to say there weren't U.S.-made indie standouts ("Half Nelson," for one), but the best American films of the year did not come out of the studio system, and are so small ("Mutual Appreciation," "Old Joy") that they're not going to get major awards recognition. What's happening?
Couple things: As critic Peter Rainer told me, "American indie directors tend not to stay indie for long." This year, for example, once-alternative filmmakers such as Todd Field, Darren Aronofsky, Bill Condon, Alfonso Cuaron and Sofia Coppola have all graduated to studio projects.
An analogous truth may also be the cause: Foreign-born auteurs tend not to say foreign for long. So Cuaron, Inarritu, etc. move in to the American indie sector and take those spots from American independents. The joys of globalization.
None of this is bad, per se. But it'll be interesting to see what happens to the next generation of American auteurs.