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Spirit Awards Analysis: ‘All Is Lost,’ ‘Fruitvale Station,’ ‘Short Term 12’ Join Must-See List

“12 Years a Slave” and “Nebraska” may have earned the most nominations for the Indie Spirit Awards, but the biggest beneficiaries could be films including “All is Lost” (pictured), “Blue Jasmine,” “Before Midnight,” “Enough Said,” “Fruitvale Station” and “Mud.”

“Slave” and “Nebraska” were already high on the radar of voters for other awards, notably Oscars, and deservedly so. But multiple noms for “All is Lost” and “Blue Jasmine” (four and three, respectively) serve as a reminder that these are not just one-man vehicles for stars Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett.

“Fruitvale Station” and “Short Term 12” earned three noms apiece, which boosts the profiles of these “little” films. Also earning three was “Inside Llewyn Davis” from the Coen brothers, but any offering from that Oscar-winning team is a must-see for Academy voters; “Fruitvale” and “Short Term,” which each have fervid supporters, are now must-sees as well.

The Indie Spirits are not reliable bellwethers of Oscar. However, kudos attention from the Film Independent (and other year-end voting groups) help guide Oscar voters as they sort through dozens of screeners. In a year with so many rich possibilities, a nom from the Spirits is a way of saying “You need to see this film before you cast your ballot.”

“Mud” and “Before Midnight” opened earlier in the year; as recent awards conversation has focused on the usual suspects, these films re-enter the conversation with two bids each. Also with two noms apiece are “Dallas Buyers Club” (Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto) and “Enough Said” (Nicole Holofcener’s script and, in a bittersweet and pleasing nom, James Gandolfini). All four films are good bets to earn more attention in subsequent groups’ nominations.

PHOTOS: 2014 Film Independent Spirit Awards Nominees

Every year, many industry people get confused over what is eligible for a Spirit and what isn’t. Here’s an explanation of Film Independent’s rules, while below are some hopefuls that were or weren’t possibilities.

Eligible but not nominated: “Kill Your Darlings,” “Philomena” (in the international category), “The Place Beyond the Pines” and “The Way Way Back.”

Ineligible: Several high-profile contenders were absent from today’s roster, due to the org’s rules about a $20 million budget cap or other considerations. The list includes “American Hustle,” “August: Osage County,” “Her,” “Labor Day,” “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “Lone Survivor” and “Out of the Furnace.”

Last year, only two of the five Indie Spirit contenders went on to best pic noms: “Beast of the Southern Wild” and “Silver Linings Playbook.” The directors of those films were the only Spirit nominees who became Oscar contenders as well, Benh Zeitlin and David O. Russell, respectively.

In screenplay, last year there were two crossovers, Russell and Wes Anderson/Roman Coppola for “Moonrise Kingdom.” In acting, John Hawkes won last year for “The Sessions” and wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar (though he should have been). Jennifer Lawrence won both the Spirit and Oscar for “Silver Linings.”

While pundits always use Oscar’s editing nominations as a clue to the best picture winner, there are no clues here: In its first year of editing noms, the org saluted five low-budget indies.

Of course, it’s always worthwhile to spotlight smaller films and performances for their own merits, not just as a gauge for other kudos.

But the noms raise the question: What IS an indie? The lines continue to blur. Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska,” for example, is from a major studio, but it retains an indie spirit in terms of budget and sensibility. The film is the polar opposite of the four-quadrant/test-marketed film that some equate with Hollywood studios.

So the Spirit Award nominations reflect the fact that the definition of an indie these days is a film that should be made, without considerations of merchandising or franchises.

The awards will be handed out March 1 at ceremonies on the beach in Santa Monica, with Patton Oswalt hosting and IFC airing.

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