'Hight Art' close behind

“Affliction,” filmmaker Paul Schrader’s nightmarish descent into madness based on the Russell Banks novel, led the field for the 14th Independent Spirit Awards.

The Lions Gate release received six nominations including best picture and citings for Schrader for direction and screenplay. Other best picture nominees were “Gods and Monsters,” “Velvet Goldmine,” “A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries” and the Cannes-preemed “Claire Dolan,” which has yet to secure U.S. distribution.

October’s “High Art” was among the nominees for best debut feature and trailed “Affliction” with five spots on the ballot. Its competition in the first film category includes “Buffalo ’66,” “The Opposite of Sex,” “Pi” and “Slums of Beverly Hills.”

The Spirits, sponsored by the Independent Feature Project/West, received a record 159 submissions, and 22 American indies made the cut in 11 juried categories. Eligibility for the annual honors requires that pics play theatrically during calendar 1998 or were screened at one of six designated film festivals and have significant American participation in key artistic areas.

An 11-member committee determines the ballot, with the IFP national membership voting in the final round. Winners are announced March 20 at an awards ceremony held on Santa Monica beach.

“It was a very enlightening experience,” said nomination committee member Vondie Curtis Hall. “It just reminds you of the diversity of movies being made, the different voices and passions being expressed.”

Nomination guidelines include consideration of budget (generally under $10 million) and the percentage of funding coming from indie sources.

Other highly regarded films on the ballot include “The Spanish Prisoner,” “Smoke Signals,” “Happiness,” “Slam,” “Rushmore” and the Showtime features “The Baby Dance” and “Blind Faith,” which qualified as a result of fest exposure. Among the omissions were such titles as “American History X,” “Next Stop Wonderland,” “Two Girls and a Guy,” “Henry Fool,” “Your Friends and Neighbors” and “Men With Guns.”

“This is just the greatest,” said “Opposite of Sex” writer-director Don Roos. “I almost feel like I don’t deserve it. After all, I got to make the picture I wanted, it was a great shoot, the critics were kind and people went to see it.”

The nominees:

Best Feature (award to producer): “Affliction,” Linda Reisman, Lions Gate, Claire Dolan, Ann Ruark; “Gods and Monsters,” Paul Colichman/Gregg Fienberg/Mark R. Harris, Lions Gate; “Velvet Goldmine,” Christine Vachon, Miramax; “A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries,” Ismail Merchant, October

First Feature (award to director; producer): “Buffalo ’66,” Vincent Gallo; Chris Hanley, Lions Gate; “High Art,” Lisa Cholodenko; Dolly Hall/Jeff Levy-Hite/Susan A. Stover, October; “The Opposite of Sex,” Don Roos; David Kirkpatrick/Michael Besman, Sony Classics; “Pi,” Darren Aronofsky; Eric Watson, Trimark; “Slums of Beverly Hills,” Tamara Jenkins; Michael Nozik/Stan Wlodkowski, Fox Searchlight

Director: Wes Anderson, “Rushmore”; Todd Haynes, “Velvet Goldmine”; Lodge Kerrigan, Claire Dolan; Paul Schrader, “Affliction”; Todd Solondz, “Happiness”

Screenplay: Bill Condon, “Gods and Monsters”; David Mamet, “The Spanish Prisoner”; Frank Military, “Blind Faith”; Don Roos, “The Opposite of Sex”; Paul Schrader, “Affliction”

First Screenplay: Darren Aronofsky, “Pi”; Sherman Alexie, “Smoke Signals”; Lisa Cholodenko, “High Art”; Tamara Jenkins, “Slums of Beverly Hills”; Matthew Weiss, “Niagara, Niagara”

Female Lead: Katrin Cartlidge, “Claire Dolan”; Christina Ricci, “The Opposite of Sex”; Ally Sheedy, “High Art”; Robin Tunney, “Niagara, Niagara”; Alfre Woodard, “Down in the Delta”

Male Lead: Dylan Baker, “Happiness”; Ian McKellen, “Gods and Monsters”; Nick Nolte, “Affliction”; Sean Penn, “Hurlyburly”; Courtney B. Vance, “Blind Faith”

Female Supporting: Stockard Channing, “The Baby Dance”; Patricia Clarkson, “High Art”; Lisa Kudrow, “The Opposite of Sex”; Lynn Redgrave, “Gods and Monsters”; Joely Richardson, “Under Heaven”

Male Supporting: James Coburn, “Affliction”; Charles S. Dutton, “Blind Faith”; Gary Farmer, “Smoke Signals”; Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Happiness”; Bill Murray, “Rushmore”

Debut Performance: Evan Adams, “Smoke Signals”; Anthony Roth Costanzo, “A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries”; Andrea Hart, “Miss Monday”; Sonja Sohn, “Slam”; Saul Williams, “Slam”

Cinematography: Maryse Alberti, “Velvet Goldmine”; Matthew Libatique, “Pi”; Tami Reiker, “High Art”; Paul Sarossy, “Affliction”; Mark Sayeed, “Belly”

Foreign Film (award to director): “The Celebration” (Denmark), Thomas Vinterberg, October; “The Eel” (Japan), Shohei Imamura, New Yorker; “The General” (Ireland), John Boorman, Sony Classics; “Central Station” (Brazil), Walter Salles, Sony Classics; “Fireworks” (Japan), Takeshi Kitano, Milestone

Truer Than Fiction: “Dear Jesse,” Tim Kirkman; “Dying to Tell the Story,” Kyra Thompson; “Moment of Impact,” Julia Loktev; “Paulina,” Vicky Funari; “Regret to Inform,” Barbara Sonneborn

Someone to Watch (director); Tony Barbieri, “One”; Lynn Herschman Leeson, “Conceiving Ada”; Eric Tretbar, “Snow”; David Williams, “13”

Producers Award: Margot Bridger, “The Delta”; Gill Holland, “Hurricane Streets”; Andrea Sperling, “Nowhere, Doom Generation”; Susan Stover, “High Art,” “Sticky Fingers of Time”

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