Film Independent’s annual Spirit Awards has become less the consolation opportunity for small films and performances destined to lose at the Oscars the very next night, and more like a trial run. Five of the last six winners of the organization’s top prize have gone on to best picture glory, including “Moonlight” last year.
There’s no causality to speak of here. The Spirit Award nominations are determined by anonymous voting committees, while the winners are determined by Film Independent’s 6,200-strong membership (which can include anyone willing to plunk down the $95 annual dues). The only real Oscar boost any of Tuesday’s nominees gets is this very moment in the sun, which could illuminate, say, Robert Pattinson’s brilliant performance in “Good Time” (also nominated for the east-coast equivalent Gotham Awards), or Salma Hayek’s deserving turn in “Beatriz at Dinner,” for this Academy voter or that. Like so many announcements, it’s about the headline, and an added laurel to the campaign machinery.
The headline Tuesday is “Call Me by Your Name.” Luca Guadagnino’s film led the nominations with six, including best film, best director, best actor (Timothee Chalamet), and best supporting actor (Armie Hammer). That’s quality cannon fodder for Sony Classics’ campaign efforts.
Not far behind with five nominations was Universal’s “Get Out,” hot on the heels of the most overblown “controversy” of the season (i.e. the film’s placement in the comedy category at the Golden Globes). Writer-director Jordan Peele’s satire led the Gotham nominations and finds itself on the bubble for serious best picture consideration this year. Keeping the February release on everyone’s radar, whether via Internet Outrage™ or actual awards notices, will be crucial.
One of those “Get Out” nominations went to lead actor Daniel Kaluuya, who deserves to be singled out from the clutter. The lead actor Oscar race is pretty soft at the moment. The only thing everyone really agrees on is that it’s “Darkest Hour” star Gary Oldman’s to lose. But Kaluuya, who was also nominated for a Gotham Award, delivered one of the most nuanced and compelling portrayals in any category this year. Hopefully Academy voters will give him some serious consideration.
There were some interesting omissions that many will seize on as indicative of… something. But spare no tears for actor Willem Dafoe and director Greta Gerwig, passed over for “The Florida Project” and “Lady Bird,” respectively, or for Martin McDonagh’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” which was somewhat surprisingly shut out of the best film category. They’re still very much in the thick of this year’s Oscar race.
It is, however, noteworthy that Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” has again come up short with an independent film awards group. Both the Spirits and the Gothams blanked the film, eligible for both, entirely. It was budgeted at $19.5 million (just under the loose $20 million Film Independent threshold), and del Toro told me recently he even came in under budget by $100,000, officially. Clearly it looks like a movie that cost three times as much, but it’s hard to say why it’s struggling with these particular groups. After all, it’s a critical darling and it generates plenty of passion. Just chalk it up as something to keep an eye on, but my hunch is, while “The Shape of Water” isn’t likely to be the dominant force many expected it to be after winning the Golden Lion in Venice, it won’t find any trouble rallying the passion of its supporters, either.
Plenty of other Oscar contenders showed up in the nominations: Frances McDormand, Margot Robbie, Saoirse Ronan, James Franco, Holly Hunter, Allison Janney, Laurie Metcalf, Sam Rockwell, etc. “Mudbound” was also once again singled out for a cast prize, as it was at the Gotham Awards. But lots of quality work that isn’t likely to register as “Oscar contender” was also given a spotlight, so again, hopefully voters can expand their horizons and maybe take some counsel with this strong and varied lineup.
The question, though, to bring it full circle, is whether the streak of best picture correlation will continue. If you’re eager for an answer, ask yourself if you can envision “Call Me by Your Name,” “The Florida Project,” “Get Out,” “Lady Bird,” or “The Rider” as this year’s Oscar champ.
Well? Can you?