It's easy to assume that the Independent Spirit Awards just recognize films the general public haven't heard of, but that's rarely been the case.  Previous best film winners include recognized classics such as "Platoon," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "Brokeback Mountain," "Pulp Fiction," "Fargo" and "Lost in Translation." So, it's no surprise that for the most part this year's Spirit nominees will be pretty recognizable to moviegoers when the awards ceremony is held on Feb. 26.

The major winners were expected and likely a relief for the distributors involved. Roadside Attractions can keep hope alive for bigger prizes after "Winter's Bone" landed a show-high seven nods.  Fox Searchlight's "127 Hours" and "Black Swan" needed the film, directing and acting nods and the Spirits came through.  Focus Features' "The Kids Are All Right" was a lock for the key categories and they are no doubt pleasantly surprised by the love for "Greenberg" as well.

As for the surprises, Lionsgate and the "Rabbit Hole" team have to be rolling their eyes that somehow the acclaimed drama landed two acting nods, a directing nod and a screenplay nod, but somehow didn't get a best film nomination (let alone love for Diane Wiest in a weak, weak, supporting actress field).  The Weinstein Company should be annoyed "Blue Valentine" was shut out except for Michelle Williams turn (the Spirit's one huge embarrassment this morning).  And fans of "I Am Love" are no doubt stunned the indie hit didn't make the foreign film card. 

With those observations in mind, here are some initial reactions and thoughts on the major categories announced this morning.
 

BEST FILM

"127 Hours"
"Black Swan"
"Greenberg"
"The Kids Are All Right"
"Winter’s Bone"

Lowdown: Honestly, only surprise here is that "Rabbit Hole" didn't make the cut after somehow being nominated for director, actor, actress and screenplay.  However, it's worth noting the mildly received "Greenberg" is an LA-centric movie which might have pulled some sway with the committee over the east coast centric "Rabbit Hole."  As for a winner, this will be a tough call on Spirit afternoon.  Any of the films other than "Greenberg" have a shot.

BEST DIRECTOR

Darren Aronofsky, "Black Swan"
Danny Boyle, "127 Hours"
Lisa Cholodenko, "The Kids Are All Right"
Debra Granik, "Winter’s Bone"
John Cameron Mitchell, "Rabbit Hole"

Lowdown: Couldn't have selected it better myself. Aronofosky should win here, but Boyle or Cholodenko could surprise.




BEST SCREENPLAY

Stuart Blumberg, Lisa Cholodenko, "The Kids Are All Right"
Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini, "Winter’s Bone"
Nicole Holofcener, "Please Give"
David Lindsay-Abaire, "Rabbit Hole"
Todd Solondz, "Life During Wartime"

Lowdown: Great to see Holofcener recognized here, but this could be where "Winter's Bone" finds some love.  This should be an eye opener to Fox Searchlight that they have a lot of work to do to land Oscar screenplay nods for "Black Swan" and "127 Hours."



BEST FIRST FEATURE
"Everything Strange and New"
"Get Low"
"Night Catches Us"
"The Last Exorcism"
"Tiny Furniture"

Lowdown: Nice group.  "Furniture" should win as its profile is growing by the day, but the membership will probably go with "Get Low" or, no joke, "The Last Exorcism."



BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY
Diane Bell, "Obselidia"
Lena Dunham, "Tiny Furniture"
Nik Fackler, "Lovely, Still"
Bob Glaudini, "Jack Goes Boating"
Dana Adam Shapiro, Evan M. Wiener, "Monogamy"

Lowdown: Would be great if Dunham was recognized here, but this is a crapshoot category.  



JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD - Given to the best feature made for under $500,000.
"Daddy Longlegs"
"Lbs."
"Lovers of Hate"
"Obselidia"
"The Exploding Girl"

Lowdown: If last night's Gotham Awards were any indication, expect Sundance Film Festival entry "Daddy Longlegs" to steal this one. 




BEST FEMALE LEAD

Annette Bening, "The Kids Are All Right"
Greta Gerwig, "Greenberg"
Nicole Kidman, "Rabbit Hole"
Jennifer Lawrence, "Winter’s Bone"
Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"
Michelle Williams, "Blue Valentine"

Lowdown: Oh me, oh my.  Talk about a preview of the following day's Oscars.  You'd have to expect Portman to win here at this point, but if "Valentine's" profile grows and it can overcome its current NC-17 rating for better box office and theaters, Williams could be a surprise winner. 




BEST MALE LEAD

Ronald Bronstein "Daddy Longlegs"
Aaron Eckhart, "Rabbit Hole"
James Franco, "127 Hours"
John C. Reilly, "Cyrus"
Ben Stiller, "Greenberg"

Lowdown: Wonderful break for Eckhart who could end up being a surprise Oscar nominee, but this should be Franco's chance to enjoy the winner's circle.  On the other hand, the idea that "Blue Valentine's" Ryan Gosling stunning work wasn't recognized here over John C. Reily and Ben Stiller's fine, but unmemorable turns is very hard to justify. 



BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE

Ashley Bell, "The Last Exorcism"
Dale Dickey, "Winter’s Bone"
Allison Janney, "Life During Wartime"
Daphne Rubin-Vega, "Jack Goes Boating"
Naomi Watts, "Mother and Child"

Lowdown: Pretty stunned Wiest didn't get nominated here.  Even Hershey not getting recognized for "Swan" is a bit bizarre.  Not to discredit her fine turn, but Watts will probably win this one just on notoriety.

BEST SUPPORTING MALE

John Hawkes "Winter’s Bone"
Samuel L. Jackson, "Mother and Child"
Bill Murray, "Get Low"
John Ortiz, "Jack Goes Boating"
Mark Ruffalo, "The Kids Are All Right"

Lowdown: Good group.  Hawkes is the underdog here, but if Focus spreads the word Ruffalo has never won a Spirit, let alone any significant acting award, he should win.  The man is due something.


BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Adam Kimmel, "Never Let Me Go"
Matthew Libatique, "Black Swan"
Jody Lee Lipes "Tiny Furniture"
Michael McDonough, "Winter’s Bone"
Harris Savides, "Greenberg"

Lowdown: It's great "Furniture" looks so good on a micro budget, but a nod here is a little ridiculous.  Libatique, Kimmel or McDonough are the favorites here.

BEST DOCUMENTARY (Award given to the director)

"Exit Through the Gift Shop," Director: Banksy
"Marwencol," Director: Jeff Malmberg
"Restrepo," Directors: Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger
"Sweetgrass," Directors: Ilisa Barbash, Lucien Castaing-Taylor
"Thunder Soul," Director: Mark Landsman

Lowdown: Gasp! No "Waiting for Superman"! Those poor kids won't be able to go to the Spirits now.  Oh, well.  Here's hoping "Gift Shop" brings Banksy out of hiding to accept this honor (yeah, yeah, who are we kidding?).



BEST FOREIGN FILM (Award given to the director)
"Kisses
"(Ireland)
Director: Lance Daly

"Mademoiselle Chambo"(France)
Director: Stéphane Brizé

"Of Gods and Men"ʉ۬(Morocco)
Director: Xavier Beauvois

"The King’s Speech"
(United Kingdom)
Director: Tom Hooper

"Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
" (Thailand)

Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Lowdown: Very perturbed "I Am Love" didn't make the cut.  Especially considering how overrated "Of Gods and Men" is (yawner).  "Speech" will win this one anyway and easily.

What do you think of this year's Spirit nods? Share your thoughts below.

Follow Gregory Ellwood and Awards Campaign on Twitter @HitFixGregory

Get Instant Alerts - Awards Campaign with Gregory Ellwood
By subscribing to this e-alert, you agree to HitFix Terms of Service, Privacy Policy and to occasionally receive promotional emails from HitFix.

Follow Gregory Ellwood and Awards Campaign on

RSS Facebook Twitter