Veterans, unknowns receive acting noms

You don’t need to look hard for the eclecticism contained in this year’s slate of acting nominees for Film Independent’s Spirit Awards. Just glance at the two movies that head the nominations list.

“You’ve got Tolstoy and ‘Precious,’ ” says Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker. “You can’t get any more broad-based than that.”

Sony Classics’ “The Last Station,” a drama about the final year of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, and Lionsgate’s “Precious,” focusing on a pregnant Harlem teenage girl coping with an abusive mother, each received five Spirit Award nods. In the acting categories, Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer were recognized for “Station,” Gabourey Sidibe and Mo’Nique for “Precious.”

The presence of “Precious” seemed a foregone conclusion since its spectacular debut at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, but the love for “The Last Station” took some by surprise.

“I think a lot of people weren’t even sure it’d be eligible, to tell you the truth,” says one publicist, referring to the Spirit guidelines weighted toward American films. “And it’s not exactly a movie that has ‘Independent Spirit’ written all over it. It skews a little older.”

Adds Stephanie Allain, chair of this year’s narrative committee: “None of us knew much about ‘The Last Station,’ so it was a surprise that it hit across the board. Then again, when you have two great actors like Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer, you can’t be that shocked, can you?”

Mirren and Plummer now seem positioned for an Oscar run, as do Spirit lead actor noms Jeff Bridges (“Crazy Heart”) and Colin Firth (“A Single Man”).

“It’s always nice when movie stars do independent movies,” Allain says. “And ‘Crazy Heart’ was a very late entry. It’s great when those passion projects surface and they’re good.”

Notably absent from this year’s Spirit nominees is “The Hurt Locker,” which played at the Venice and Toronto film festivals in 2008 and was submitted for the Spirits last year, receiving two acting nominations for Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie.

“It’s too bad it can’t compete, but the movie seems to be doing real good without us,” says Film Independent board member Mary Sweeney, this year’s foreign committee chair. “This will be one less show those guys have to attend.”

The other lead actor nominees span the Spirit spectrum, including Souleymane Sy Savane making his feature film debut in “Goodbye Solo,” Adam Scott from the family drama “The Vicious Kind” and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the romantic-comedy reinvention, “500 Days of Summer.”

Says Dawn Hudson, exec director of Film Independent, about Gordon-Levitt: “What he does in that movie is just amazing. And Scott takes real risks in ‘A Vicious Kind.’ It’s nice to see him get recognized for that kind of brave acting.”

Joining first-time nominee (and first-time actress) Sidibe and vet Mirren in the female lead category are Gwyneth Paltrow (“Two Lovers”), Maria Bello (“Downloading Nancy”) and Nisreen Faour, who plays the Palestinian single mother who moves to small-town Illinois with her teenage son in “Amreeka.”

“I can’t think of another movie where that longing for home is so beautifully expressed,” says Hudson of “Amreeka.” “Nisreen Faour gives such a sweet performance, showing what you gain — and what you lose — when you leave home. It’s an incredibly moving experience.”

Tip Sheet
What: Spirit Awards
When: March 5
Where: L.A. Live
Watch: Independent Film Channel

THE NOMINEES

Lead Actress
Maria Bello, “Downloading Nancy”
Nisreen Faour, “Amreeka”
Helen Mirren, “The Last Station”
Gwyneth Paltrow, “Two Lovers”
Gabourey Sidibe, “Precious”

Lead Actor
Jeff Bridges, “Crazy Heart”
Colin Firth, “A Single Man”
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “500 Days of Summer”
Souleymane Sy Savane, “Goodbye Solo”
Adam Scott, “The Vicious Kind”

Supporting Actress
Dina Korzun, “Cold Souls”
Mo’Nique, “Precious”
Samantha Morton, “The Messenger”
Natalie Press, “Fifty Dead Men Walking”
Mia Wasikowska, “That Evening Sun”

Supporting Actor
Jemaine Clement, “Gentlemen Broncos”
Woody Harrelson, “The Messenger”
Christian McKay, “Me and Orson Welles”
Raymond McKinnon, “That Evening Sun”
Christopher Plummer, “The Last Station”

TIP SHEET

What: Spirit Awards

When: March 5

Where: L.A. Live

Watch: Independent Film Channel

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