Thanks to some surprising inclusions and omissions, the Indie Spirit nominations should put an end to last year’s worries that the honors were overlapping too much with the Oscars.
Indie Spirit support for “Birdman” and “Boyhood” was not a surprise, but Tuesday’s nominations will give a leg-up to “Selma,” “Nightcrawler,” “Whiplash” and “A Most Violent Year,” among others. That’s because the attention from Film Independent keep those titles in the Oscar conversation, in a year when there are few certainties and a lot of contenders.
But many other films perceived as Oscar contenders were shut out. That list includes “The Imitation Game” (Weinstein Co.) and “Wild” (Fox Searchlight).
Since it’s not American, Focus Features’ “The Theory of Everything” was eligible only as an international film but it didn’t make the cut.
Sony Classics’ heavyweight “Foxcatcher” was also ineligible because of its budget, but was given a special award because the Film Independent honchos and the 40 members of the nominating committee were impressed. Also getting a special award was Warner Bros.’ “Inherent Vice,” also ineligible due to budget.
With “Foxcatcher,” “Whiplash” and “Still Alice,” among others, Sony Classics led all the distributors, racking up 14 nominations.
Oscar contenders who were MIA shouldn’t worry too much. The Spirits are not a reliable Oscar bellwether — for the past two years, only two of their five best-picture contenders also scored an Academy Award nomination. However, at a time when Oscar voters are flooded with possibilities to watch, the Spirit attention can steer them to films that have a lower awards profile than the bigger studio fare.
In general, a film must be predominantly American and budgeted under $20 million to qualify.
Other absentees included “St. Vincent” (Weinstein Co.), “Begin Again” (Weinstein Co.) “Black or White” (Relativity), “Cake” (Cinelou Pictures), “Chef” (Open Road), “The Fault in Our Stars” (Fox), and “The Homesman” (Roadside Attractions/Saban Films.
Most of the studios’ big hopes (“Interstellar,” “Unbroken,” etc.) were ineligible, due to Film Independent’s $20 million ceiling on budgets.
Tuesday morning’s announcement of nominations brought the annual confusion about why some films are eligible but others aren’t. A major-studio affiliation doesn’t necessarily KO a film; factors include budget and nationality of the key contributors.
Here’s a quick rundown of Film Independent criteria:
In 2006, the board determined a budget ceiling of $20 million, including post-production work. (Before that, budgets went as high as $22 million.) The rules state that any variations are at the sole discretion of the nominating committee and Film Independent.
The org does not define “independent” solely on financial terms. A studio film can be considered an indie “if the subject matter is original and provocative,” according to Film Independent. In terms of financing, the org looks for “economy of means” and “percentage of financing from independent sources.”
The film needs to be American, which means it has a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in at least two of three categories: director, writer and producer. Alternately, a film can be considered American if it is set primarily in the U.S. and at least 70% financed by U.S.-based companies. Everything else is considered international.
To be eligible, a film needs a commercial run in the calendar year or to have screened in one of the org’s six designated festivals: Los Angeles Film Fest, New Directors/New Films, New York Fest, Sundance, Telluride or Toronto.
Nominations are made by committees for three areas: American narrative films, international narratives and documentaries. The committees include filmmakers (directors, producers, actors, etc.), film programmers and critics, past nominees and members of the org’s board of directors. The final awards are voted on by the entire Film Independent membership.
Last year, “12 Years a Slave” and “Nebraska” scored well with the Indie Spirits, and went on to hefty Oscar attention. The other three Indie contenders, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “All Is Lost” and “Frances Ha,” got three Oscar noms between them, all in artisan categories.
And, despite comparisons with the Academy Awards, many of Tuesday’s nominees have not made Oscar attention a high priority: The Indie Spirit nom is its own reward. That includes such films as “Kukimo, the Treasure Hunter,” “Dear White People” and “Only Lovers.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated that “Foxcatcher” was shut out in the nominations. But the film was ineligible because of its budget, and is being given a special award. The headline and story has been updated accordingly.