The 21st Annual Gotham Independent Film Awards were announced this morning and the results must have made the folks at Fox Searchlight very, very happy.  The mini-major landed eight nominations including key best feature nominations for "The Descendants" and "The Tree of Life."  Focus also has to be thrilled with "Beginners" strong showing in the feature and ensemble categories.  "Take Shelter" shows some life by also landing feature and ensemble kudos.  

IFP also announced that Charlize Theron (pushing "Young Adult"), Gary Oldman (pushing "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"), David Cronenberg (pushing "A Dangerous Method") and 20th Century Fox Co-Chairman Tom Rotham will each receive a career tribute. 

Surprising absentees was anyone from "Shame" or "Drive" (seriously selection committee?) and Jessica Chastain (how can she not be a breakthrough contender?). Would have been nice for "Like Crazy" to make the best ensemble or feature categories.  Then again, the Gothams rarely line up to the Oscars unlike their sister Independent Spirit Awards which have been looking more and more like the big show line up every year.

Still, these are all honors that can pump up a limited release opening and early awards season campaign.  So, on a marketing level, the Gothams certainly mean a heck of a lot more than the (cough, cough) Hollywood (cough) Film (cough) Awards* next week.

*AKA the "who can you get to show up to my gala?" event.

Selected by 21 journalists and critics, the awards will be voted by - no joke - up to 230,000 film "fans" worldwide (it's the indie people's choice awards!). With that in mind, here are some early thoughts on who might win this year's Gothams next month.

BEST FEATURE

"Beginners"
Mike Mills, director; Leslie Urdang, Dean Vanech, Miranda de Pencier, Jay Van Hoy, Lars Knudsen, producers (Focus Features)
"The Descendants"
Alexander Payne, director; Jim Burke, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor, producers (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
"Meek’s Cutoff"
Kelly Reichardt, director; Neil Kopp, Anish Savjani, Elizabeth Cuthrell, David Urrutia, producers (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
"Take Shelter"
Jeff Nichols, director; Tyler Davidson, Sophia Lin, producers (Sony Pictures Classics)
"The Tree of Life"
Terrence Malick, director; Sarah Green, Bill Pohlad, Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Grant Hill, producers (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Lowdown:  Searchlight is no doubt surprised "Martha" didn't make this category, but this is between "Tree of Life" and "Descendants" all the way.  This nomination (and ensemble) is a huge boost for "Beginners" which could be a surprise original screenplay player and is gunning for Plummer in the supporting actor category.
 
BEST DOCUMENTARY

"Better This World "
Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega, directors; Katie Galloway, Kelly Duane de la Vega, Mike Nicholson, producers (Loteria Films, Picturebox, Motto Pictures and Passion Pictures; ITVS in association with American Documentary | POV)
"Bill Cunningham New York"
Richard Press, director; Philip Gefter, producer (Zeitgeist Films)
"Hell and Back Again"
Danfung Dennis, director; Mike Lerner, Martin Herring, producers (Docurama Films)
"The Interrupters"
Steve James, director; Alex Kotlowitz, Steve James, producers (The Cinema Guild)
"The Woodmans"
C. Scott Willis, director; Neil Barrett, Jeff Werner, C. Scott Willis, producers (Lorber Films; Kino Lorber, Inc.)

Lowdown: These are not some of the recognizable titles I was expecting.  Your guess is as good as mine.
 
BEST ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE

"Beginners"
Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Mélanie Laurent, Goran Visnjic, Kai Lennox, Mary Page Keller, Keegan Boos (Focus Features)
"The Descendants"
George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Beau Bridges, Robert Forster, Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard, Nick Krause, Amara Miller, Mary Birdsong, Rob Huebel (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
"Margin Call"
Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Mary McDonnell, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, Aasif Mandvi (Roadside Attractions)
"Martha Marcy May Marlene"
Elizabeth Olsen, Christopher Abbott, Brady Corbet, Hugh Dancy, Maria Dizzia, Julia Garner, John Hawkes, Louisa Krause, Sarah Paulson (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
"Take Shelter"
Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Tova Stewart, Shea Whigham, Katy Mixon, Kathy Baker, Ray McKinnon, Lisagay Hamilton, Robert Longstreet (Sony Pictures Classics)

Lowdown: This will likely be for "Descendants." "Beginners" could surprise though.
 
BREAKTHROUGH DIRECTOR

Mike Cahill, "Another Earth" (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Sean Durkin, "Martha Marcy May Marlene" (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Vera Farmiga, "Higher Ground" (Sony Pictures Classics)
Evan Glodell, "Bellflower" (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
Dee Rees, "Pariah" (Focus Features)

Lowdown: Farmiga could win this based on name recognition (especially with 230,000 eligible voters), but I'd expect Durkin to pull this one out.
 
BREAKTHROUGH ACTOR

Felicity Jones, "Like Crazy" (Paramount Vantage)
Elizabeth Olsen, "Martha Marcy May Marlene" (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Harmony Santana, "Gun Hill Road" (Motion Film Group)
Shailene Woodley, "The Descendants" (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Jacob Wysocki, "Terri" (ATO Pictures)

Lowdown: This should go toe other Olsen or Jones as both their films will have been released for a few weeks before voting starts.  Personally, while I think Olsen is fantastic in "Martha," I'd vote Jones all the way. It's a two-lady race. 
 
BEST FILM NOT PLAYING AT A THEATER NEAR YOU

"Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same"
Madeleine Olnek, director; Laura Terruso, Madeleine Olnek, producers
"Green"
Sophia Takal, director; Lawrence Michael Levine, producer
"The Redemption of General Butt Naked"
Eric Strauss, Daniele Anastasion, directors and producers
"Scenes of a Crime"
Blue Hadaegh & Grover Babcock, directors and producers
"Without"
Mark Jackson, director; Mark Jackson, Jessica Dimmock, Michael Requa, Jaime Keeling, producers

Lowdown: Seen none of these, but I know Mr. McWeeny is certainly not a fan of the first.
 
The inaugural euphoria Calvin Klein Spotlight on Women Filmmakers ‘Live the Dream’ grant,($25,000 cash award for an alumnus of IFP’s Independent Filmmaker Labs)

Jenny Deller, director, FUTURE WEATHER
Lucy Mulloy, director, UNA NOCHE
Rola Nashef, director, DETROIT UNLEADED

The 21st Annual Gotham Awards will be held Monday, Nov. 28 in New York City.