By mattdentler | Matt Dentler's Blog February 14, 2009 at 7:33AM
With all this talk about Berlin and the Oscars, it may be easy to forget that the annual Independent Spirit Awards will happen next weekend from Santa Monica. After reviewing the nominees, I'm feeling like there are few shoo-ins. I mean, the Best Feature contenders are: Ballast, Frozen River, Rachel Getting Married, Wendy and Lucy, and The Wrestler. Not a single Oscar Best Picture nominee in the group, the first time that's happened since 2003. Since then, the Spirit Best Feature has always been the indie darling nominated for an Oscar (past winners include Juno, Sideways, and Little Miss Sunshine). I guess maybe The Wrestler wins, to make up for its scattered Oscar options? Plus, it shares something all those other winners share: Fox Searchlight. It's possible The Wrestler could win, but not a sure thing. Meanwhile, why wasn't Milk nominated?
Even less predictable, is the Best Director category, which doesn't include Wrestler helmer Darren Aronofsky but instead features: Ramin Bahrani (Chop Shop), Jonathan Demme (Rachel Getting Married), Lance Hammer (Ballast), Courtney Hunt (Frozen River), and Tom McCarthy (The Visitor). Maybe Hunt? Maybe Demme? Perhaps Melissa Leo (Frozen River) will win Best Actress, but what about Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married)? Without the Kate Winslet factor, it's hard to say who will win. I think Hathaway is deserving but Leo probably has the right kind of support for these awards. The biggest "who knows?" category is probably Best Supporting Male, which includes: James Franco (Milk), Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker), Charlie McDermott (Frozen River), JimMyron Ross (Ballast), and Haaz Sleiman (The Visitor). The one with the most exposure would be Franco, but it's all unknown.
The more predictable winners are likely in the more indie-centric categories, like Best Documentary, where Man On Wire will surely take home the prize. As a result, I could see Margaret Brown take the Truer Than Fiction award for The Order of Myths, especially because it's the lone film nominated in both of those nonfiction categories. On the fiction side, it seems like Sean Baker will probably go home with the John Cassavetes Award, which seems possible because the guy is nominated twice in that one category for two different films (Take Out and Prince of Broadway). Unless that splits the vote, which could then mean Alex Holdridge and company getting it for In Search of a Midnight Kiss.
Best First Feature is an interesting category, that could go any number of ways. Will Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York win, even though it will be honored with the Robert Altman tribute award? If so, it will probably be taking it from Barry Jenkins' Medicine For Melancholy. Which, shouldn't be a huge concern, given that Jenkins will potentially mirror Margaret Brown and instead go home with the Someone To Watch trophy. I would say Humpday and My Effortless Brilliance director (and Barry's friend) Lynn Shelton could come up from behind, but there's one issue: the winners for this category were selected in late November, before Shelton's Sundance acclaim last month.
One way or another, it's gonna be a fun time. I'll be there, for my third consecutive year, and I'm excited to celebrate with my friends. No matter who wins or doesn't win a Spirit Award, we're all gonna have fun together.