Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Look at the 2015 Spirit Award Nominations

Scene from Birdman
Coming off of the heels of the Gotham Awards a few weeks ago, the Independent Spirit Awards has officially released its nominations. Serving as the premiere award for independent cinema, the award has come to be just as much about recognizing smaller films as it is indicating potential Oscar nominees with last year's winners practically matching the Academy Awards. Still, it is another impressive year with a lot of great films in tow. What were some of the surprises and what are the chances that each film will have of winning? Read more after the jump.

While there is a logical complaint to be lobbied at the Spirit Awards for recognizing "bigger" movies, there's still something fun about them. Yes, they recognize the films that have likely stolen too much attention from smaller films, but they also have special awards for each of these categories. It may not make a difference entirely, but it's something that recognizes the variety of quality work that goes into making film. The following is a look at my thoughts on each category and special award as well as links to previously discussed articles related to the films.

John Lithgow in Love is Strange

Love is Strange

Overall Thoughts: It is a rather solid line-up with three of the films likely to be in the Best Picture race. While Birdman has been an expected favorite during awards season, I have been worried about Boyhood potentially being on the outskirts and avoiding a nomination. I am glad to see its legs holding up after all of this time. I have heard amazing things about Whiplash and while I cannot comment on its quality, gives me hope that this will be a strong list of films that will be present at the Oscars. However, I feel strange, as I am the only one who doesn't seem to fully buy Selma as this great American film. It is good, but I feel like its subject exceeds its execution. Also, the lack of Grand Budapest Hotel on this list overall is a little disconcerting, as it has remained one of the greatest films of 2014 since its release very early in the year.

Miles Teller in Whiplash

Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)
Selma (Ava DuVernay)
Birdman (Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu)
Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (David Zellner)

Overall Thoughts: Another interesting line-up, though it looks to possibly be topped by either Boyhood or Birdman. Both feature varying sides to the flashy direction and are both likely to get Oscar nominations. Birdman seems like more of a favorite because of its gimmick of doing the entire film in a perceived one take. However, I am surprised to see Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter on here not because it is bad, but because it hasn't had an official release yet and I have been really interested in seeing it. Also, Selma feels too maudlin of a choice, as its direction plays too much for sympathies instead of powerful performances.

Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler

Big Eyes (Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski)
A Most Violent Year (J.C. Chandor)
Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy)
Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)
Love is Strange (Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias)

Overall Thoughts: First off, why is there a Tim Burton movie on this list? I am looking forward to the film a lot, but I feel like he is too much of a studio hand to even be near the word "independent." Still, a decent mixture of films. While I am one of the few people who doesn't get the appeal of Only Lovers Left Alive, I think that Love is Strange has some powerful commentary on gay romance in old age. Also, I am a huge fan of Nightcrawler and while it doesn't entirely succeed as Network on speed, it does say a lot of fascinating things about contemporary culture. A decent mix of selections once again. However, I do feel like Grand Budapest Hotel's eloquent profanity would have fit nicely in here.

Jenny Slate in Obvious Child

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Obvious Child
She's Lost Control

Overall Thoughts: As everyone likely knows, I am a big supporter of Dear White People and it is in my Top 10 for 2014. I love the film and find it a powerful, funny commentary on racial issues today. I am so glad to see it get a few nominations. Nightcrawler is another excellent film that I hope does well. I am probably one of the few people who didn't like Obvious Child, which could be because Jenny Slate's juvenile shtick isn't that appealing. I want to see A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, but don't have much to say. Nonetheless, there's at least two really good first features here that I recommend everyone go out and see.

Tessa Thompson in Dear White People

Appropriate Behavior (Desiree Akhavan)
Little Accidents (Sara Colangelo)
The One I Love (Justin Lader)
She's Lost Control (Anja Marquardt)
Dear White People (Justin Simien)

Overall Thoughts: I actually am not familiar with four of these films. It makes me feel bad because for all I know, these are some of the best films of the year. However, I want to once again give a shout out to Dear White People, which is a film that really strikes a nerve and more than the Best First Feature category, deserves to win here for updating the race conversation in relevant and memorable ways.

Gina Piersanti in It Felt Like Love

*Given to best feature for films made for under $500,000

Blue Ruin
It Felt Like Love
Land Ho!
Man From Reno

Overall Thoughts: Unlike most years, I have actually seen two of the films on this list. Of them, I am personally a fan of It Felt Like Love, which also showed up at the Gotham Awards. It is a rather personal and touching film about finding your sexuality as a teenager. Also, Blue Ruin is a nice, tight little film full of Coen Brothers-esque violence and uncertainty as things work out in a surprisingly economic way. I liked these two films and feel like they are definitely warranted in their nominations here.

Marion Cotillard in The Immigrant

The Immigrant (Marion Cotillard)
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (Rinko Kikuchi)
Still Alice (Julianne Moore)
Obvious Child (Jenny Slate)
Only Lovers Left Alive (Tilda Swinton)

Overall Thoughts: I have heard great things about Still Alice and I am personally waiting for the film to make some visual splash before I give it any more judgment. Still, Moore is considered a lock for an Oscar nomination. I have also already said my thoughts on Jenny Slate, who I don't quite agree with on this list. I also didn't care for Tilda Swinton. However, it is great to see Marion Cotillard on this list because I was a big fan of The Immigrant and feel like it was largely because of her performance. It is definitely an underappreciated movie.

David Oyelowo in Selma

Jimi: All Is By My Side (Andre Benjamin)
Nightcrawler (Jake Gyllenhaal)
Birdman (Michael Keaton)
Love is Strange (John Lithgow)
Selma (David Oyelowo)

Overall Thoughts: This is the only category in which I feel like Selma should stand any chance when it comes to awards. It is a film that is predicated on David Oyelowo's performance with everyone else not turning in anything memorable. Otherwise, it is a lot of familiar faces. We have already heard from John Lithgow, who was great in Love is Strange. Also, it seems like a great chance that this is helping to put Jake Gyllenhaal into actual Oscars consideration, which would be nice. No real comments on Michael Keaton, as he does a really good job, even if he wasn't entirely my favorite thing in the film.

Emma Stone

Boyhood (Patricia Arquette)
A Most Violent Year (Jessica Chastain)
Selma (Carmen Ejogo)
Stand Clear of the Closing Doors (Andrea Suarez Paz)
Birdman (Emma Stone)

Overall Thoughts: I am glad to see Patricia Arquette in the discussion. My big worry is that Boyhood would have been shut out of awards season due to its early release. However, Arquette definitely deserves recognition for playing the main boy's mother. It was a rather powerful performance through and through. I am also glad to see Emma Stone on here, who helped to center and make Birdman a rather compelling, funny film. Again, not wild about Carmen Ejogo, but I guess she was find in the film. The other two I haven't seen. Still, from those three, it is a great representation of what will likely prevail at the Oscars.

Left to right: Ethan Hawke and Ellar Coltrane

Nightcrawler (Riz Ahmed)
Boyhood (Ethan Hawke)
Love is Strange (Alfred Molina)
Birdman (Edward Norton)
Whiplash (J.K. Simmons)

Overall Thoughts; With exception to Whiplash, I have seen them all. To start with Boyhood, I want to pose a question: does anyone find it surprising that Ellar Coltrane got shut out of the nominations? He is the one whom the film focused on and made the biggest impact, yet his co-stars are the ones with nominations. I don't have issues with Edward Nortion, who is likely to get an Oscar nomination if this keeps up. I also have been hearing a serious campaign to get J.K Simmons into the Oscar race. If he is as good as you say, I'll take your word on it. 

Scene from A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

The Immigrant
It Felt Like Love
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Overall Thoughts: I still contest that The Immigrant is one of the best looking films of the year. I don't quite feel as strongly about any of the other films in that way. Yes, I think that there's merit in how Birdman was shot and I love its consistency, but I don't come away feeling attachment over the look. Selma, I guess, looked authentic enough to deserve the nomination though I feel it is a bland period piece otherwise.

Jessica Chastain in A Most Violent Year

A Most Violent Year
The Guest

Overall Thoughts: I have only seen two of them and I feel like both approach editing interestingly. Boyhood manages to spend 12 years of narrative into a fluid, cohesive structure that is in part largely thanks to editing. It is probably the most thankless aspect of the film and deserves credit. Nightcrawler by comparison is more generic, but when it hits intensity, it does it correctly in ways that grab you and demand attention. I still think that this is Boyhood's award to beat.

Edward Snowden in Citizenfour

20,000 Days on Earth
Stray Dog
The Salt of the Earth

Overall Thoughts: I must confess that I haven't seen or heard of most of them. Still, I feel like of the ones listed, Citizenfour is going to be one with legs. With a rich subject matter related to American safety, it will be a topic that will draw viewers in and give them a reason to check ti out in ways that I am not sure that the others on this list likely will.

Scene from Ida

Force Majeure
Norte, the End of History

Overall Thoughts: Under the Skin is a film that is in my Top 10 for 2014. I love the look and the overall quality of the surreal nature. However, I am more infatuated with the simplicity of Ida, which turns every shot of the film into something of a painting. It is beautiful and well worth your time if you get the chance. I have also heard great things about Mommy, which I hope to see soon enough. I have also heard great things about Froce Majeure and that it is really funny. Basically, these films need to start being more accessible because they definitely are worth it.

Left to right: Benicio Del Toro and Joaquin Phoenix

Overall Thoughts: Speaking as he has made films that have lobbied him comparisons to Robert Altman in the past, Paul Thomas Anderson receiving this award isn't all that shocking when you put two and two together. I don't exactly know what the qualifications are or if it's just "Closest looking to Altman," but he wins on the latter front. Also, I really hope this movie is as great as the trailers have made it out to be.

Steve Carrell in Foxcatcher

Overall Thoughts: I guess it is special enough that it doesn't need to compete against everyone else? We're entering into a section of awards and nominees in which I don't really have much to say regarding the winners and losers. To me, I really hope that Foxcatcher is as good as I have been made to believe, but I don't know what makes it a distinction from the others here.

* I do not have comments on the rest, so I will just list them verbatim.

18th Annual Piaget Producers Award

The 18th annual Producers Award, sponsored by Piaget, honors emerging producers who, despite highly limited resources, demonstrate the creativity, tenacity and vision required to produce quality, independent films. The award includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant funded by Piaget.

Chad Burris
Elisabeth Holm
Chris Ohlson

21st Annual Kiehl's Someone to Watch Award

The 21st annual Someone to Watch Award, sponsored by Kiehl’s Since 1851, recognizes a talented filmmaker of singular vision who has not yet received appropriate recognition. The award includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant funded by Kiehl’s Since 1851.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
The Retrieval

20th Annual Lenscrafters Truer Than Fiction Award

The 20th annual Truer Than Fiction Award, sponsored by LensCrafters is presented to an emerging director of non-fiction features who has not yet received significant recognition. The award includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant funded by LensCrafters.

Approaching the Elephant
Evolution of a Criminal
The Kill Team
The Last Season

What are your thoughts of this year's nominations? My biggest pro is that Boyhood is making quite a show on here. While it is strange to see Ellar Coltrane getting left out of the race, I am happy to see Patricia Arquette getting some love. I do miss seeing Grand Budapest Hotel on this list, but otherwise, it is a decent year full of some solid surprises. As it stands, I think that this is a small indicator of some films (Selma, Boyhood, Birdman) that will standa  chance at the Oscrs.

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