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The one thing you have to realize about the Independent Spirit Awards is that as much as the event exists to reward films that won't get the recognition they deserve from the Oscars, SAG Awards or Golden Globe Awards, they also usually result in some head scratching choices. It's hard to argue with many of this year's nominees, but some of the overlooked had even their competitors questioning the organization's selection process. The selections are actually chosen by committees broken up by American, International, Documentary and other specific categories. Unlike the SAG or Oscars, this is a very small group making arbitrary decisions about the nominees. For example, the American Narrative nominating committee only had 17 people selecting the nods (a much larger membership group gets to vote on the actual winners).
The Spirits are also increasingly effective as a publicity tool for box office and general awards season recognition (that's usually what happens when you've been around for over 25 years). That being said, like any major honor, the Spirits giveth and the Spirits taketh away. Let's review some of those affected by the nominations announcement this morning.
Nicolas Winding Refn's thriller has a lot of quiet support in the industry and it was reflected with four key nods for director (Refn), male lead (Ryan Gosling, a Spirit favorite), supporting male (Albert Brooks, also a NYFCC winner) and best feature. It's the prefect time for FilmDistrict to jump on that overall Oscar campaign. Ready guys?
Loser: George Clooney
"The Descendants" lands four nominations, but, shockingly, the most acclaimed performance in the film does not? No, we don't get it either.
The Summit Entertainment indie surprised with not only a nomination for best first screenplay for Will Reiser, but best feature and best supporting female for Angelica Huston. It may just be the feel good story of the Spirits.
Winner: "The Artist"
We're still sketchy on just exactly how the film qualified (we'd never heard of the U.S. investment before it was picked up at Cannes or that director Michel Hazanavicius is a legal U.S. resident), but it's still a great boost for the Oscar contender after taking the top two prices at the NYFCC.
There's no pussyfooting around it. Drake Doremus' Sundance jury grand prize winning drama was completely shafted by the Spirits. Moreover, the fact even Felicity Jones wasn't recognized in the lead actress category - an award she won at the Gothams Monday night - effectively took the wind out of "Crazy's" award season sails. Great job American Narrative committee.
Loser: "Win Win"
One of the biggest critical and box office hits of the early spring, "Win Win" landed only a best screenplay nomination for Tom McCarthy. And yet, Fox Searchlight stablemate "Cedar Rapids," which found a less positive reception across the board found a best first screenplay and supporting nod for John C. Reilly. Shouldn't "Win Win" have made the feature field?
Winner: "Take Shelter"
No one wants to accuse Sony Classics of abandoning the Sundance favorite during its September release in favor of the less positively reviewed "Carnage" and "A Dangerous Method," but five Spirit nominations prove the picture still has its fans. Moreover, the best male lead nod for Michael Shannon might just kick start his hopes for an Oscar nod.
Loser: Glenn Close
So, Close's co-star, Janet McTeer lands a nomination in best supporting female, but she can't land her own nod in the lead category over little seen Rachel Harris in "Natural Selection" or Lauren Ambrose in "Think of Me"? Very, very odd.
After the surprise best film and best ensemble wins at the Gotham Awards last night, the Focus Features summer dramedy landed an impressive four Spirit nominations including best feature, best director (LA native Mike Mills), best screenplay (Mills) and best supporting actor (Christopher Plummer). The recognition wasn't that surprising, but it was a relief for all the film's fans who were hoping it wouldn't be forgotten amongst the end of year awards season releases.
Winner and Loser: "Margin Call"
On the one hand, the best first feature, first screenplay and Robert Altman Award are something to celebrate (along with the NYFCC best first film win today). On the other hand, shouldn't "Margin" have had enough support to be a best feature and best screenplay nominee?
Winner: "The Descendants"
After a disappointing Gotham Awards, Alexander Payne's critically acclaimed dramedy landed the four Spirit nominations it needed to keep momentum going: best feature, best director, best screenplay and best supporting female (Shailene Woodley). Can it find love from the National Board of Review on Thursday? Fox Searchlight is no doubt crossing its fingers on that one.
Loser: Woody Allen
Allen doesn't have a strong history with the Spirits, but considering "Midnight in Paris" found nominations for best supporting male (Corey Stoll) and cinematography the legendary filmmaker couldn't even land a screenplay nomination (while little known "Footnote" did) let alone director or picture. Sony Classics is clearly scratching their heads on this one.
Winner: Michelle Williams
An expected SAG, Golden Globe and Oscar nominee, this Spirit nomination for "My Week with Marilyn" was only surprising because the film isn't your typical indie. "Week" is a much broader and commercial play than most of the other pictures with Spirit nods. Williams though is a Spirit favorite having already landed three previous individual nods in her career.
Winner: Harmony Santana
The star of "Gun Hill Road" becomes the first transgendered nominee in the history of the event and for any major awards show. She should arguably be in the female lead category, but why quibble? Historic moment.
Not only did the Sundance underdog find itself nominated for the John Cassevetes Award, but landed a surprising best cinematography nod. All for an apocalyptic romantic drama with lots of flame-throwers. Gotta love it.
What did you think of this year's Independent Spirit Awards nominations? Share your thoughts below.
The 27th Independent Spirit Awards will be held on Saturday, February 25.
For year round entertainment commentary and awards season news follow @HitFixGregory on Twitter.
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