The Independent Spirit Awards, the indie alternative to the Oscars, limits eligibility to American films produced for less than $21 million. Thus a flurry of emails went out ahead of the Indie Spirit nominations announcement Tuesday morning that various films did not meet that requirement. Thus "The Butler," "August: Osage County," "Out of Furnace" and "Lone Survivor" were not in the running, along with Canadian documentary "Stories We Tell."
These nominations have a great deal of impact on the road to the Oscars as they help critics and various Academy and Guild voters to add lower-profile titles to their must-see piles. Most important: these nominations provide winning momentum to potential contenders. The ones who did not make the Indie Spirit cut have lost the chance to add that wind to their sails and will have a much harder time gaining traction.
Coming out way ahead is Fox Searchlight's "12 Years a Slave," already an Oscar frontrunner, which led the field with seven nominations, including feature, director, screenplay, cinematography and three acting slots. But Searchlight (which had the most nominations of any distributor with nine) also added some heat to "Enough Said," which landed screenplay and supporting actor nominations for Nicole Holofcener and the late James Gandolfini, respectively, who could also land Oscar nominations. But the film did not score feature, director or actress (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss) nods.
The Oscar strength of Paramount's "Nebraska" is only underscored by its six Spirit nominations, for feature, director, screenplay, male lead (Bruce Dern), supporting female (June Squib) and supporting male (Will Forte)--if this movie has long enough coattails those supporting Oscar nominations could follow the other expected nods.
Roadside Attractions (8 nominations, some shared with parent Lionsgate) had a good day as Robert Redford-starrer "All is Lost" landed four key nominations: feature, director, cinematography and male lead--but not screenplay. After all, the movie is silent. "Mud" scored two noms, for director Jeff Nichols and the Robert Altman ensemble casting award, but not feature, screenplay or supporting actor Matthew McConaughey.
CBS Films' "Inside LLewyn Davis" is looking good for best feature, cinematography and best actor (Oscar Isaac). But the Coen brothers did not land director or screenplay, nor did John Goodman nab a supporting actor slot. Shane Carruth's self-released critics' darling "Upstream Color" took slots for director and editing that might have gone to the Coens.
Cinedigm scored three nominations for "Short Term 12": female lead Brie Larson, supporting newcomer Keith Stanfield and editing, but did not land feature, director or script. I expected more support for the film. Breakout Larson could be a contender but Cinedigm needs to step up with a proper campaign if she's going to get anywhere.
Focus Features' "Dallas Buyers Club" scored only acting nominations for male lead Matthew McConaughey and supporting male Jared Leto, which is all it is likely to get for the Oscars as well.
Weinstein Co. landed only three nominations, for "Fruitvale Station," which scored best first feature (Ryan Coogler), male lead (Michael B. Jordan) and supporting female (Melonie Diaz). Given the competition for the Best Actor Oscar, Jordan will have a tough time but this gives him and the film a needed boost. Diaz and Octavia Spencer are both superb in the film, but Spencer with an Oscar win behind her is the expected candidate for an Oscar nomination. Both "August: Osage County" and "The Butler" exceeded the Spirit budget cut-off.
IFC Films followed Searchlight with a total of eight noms; "Blue is the Warmest Color"'s best foreign film slot boosts Globes and Oscar chances for newcomer Adele Exarchopoulos. If IFC had Oscar hopes for Noah Baumbach's "Frances Ha" (which landed feature and editing), not scoring a screenplay or an Actress nod for Greta Gerwig is a blow. And left in the dust is one of my favorite films of 2013, David Lowery's gorgeously wrought "Ain't Them Bodies Saints," which didn't even score a cinematography nod. It will be up to the critics to bring it back to life.
Sony Pictures Classics (six noms) nabbed two Female Lead nominations for Oscar frontrunner Cate Blanchett ("Blue Jasmine") and Julie Delpy ("Before Midnight"). Sally Hawkins also landed in supporting actress along with an expected Woody Allen screenplay nomination, but "Jasmine" did not make the Feature or Director cut. In this case the Academy could be more inclusive of the perennial directing and writing nominee. "Before Midnight" also scored a Screenplay nomination but did not land Feature, Best Actor or Director. That suggests that the movie's best Oscar bet is a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination.
Newcomer A24 scored nominations for "The Spectacular Now"'s Shailene Woodley and screenplay, but not feature, director, or Miles Teller. Those who harbored hopes that "Spring Breakers" could possibly appear on Academy radar can kill them now, as the film was cited only for cinematography.
In the crowded documentary category, the five nominees all get a needed boost: frontrunner "20 Feet from Stardom (Weinstein's Radius-TWC), "The Act of Killing" (Drafthouse), "After Tiller (Oscilloscope) "Gideon's Army" (HBO Films) and"The Square"(Netflix).
Of the five international film nominees the only ones getting an Oscar boost are the official submissions from Denmark ("The Hunt," starring Cannes best actor-winner Mads Mikkelsen), Chile ("Gloria") and Italy ("The Great Beauty").