This year’s Spirit Award nominees for best first feature are poised to take their place among the indie world’s leaders.
Everything Strange and New
Writer-director Frazer Bradshaw
Backstory An accomplished career cinematographer (Babies), Bradshaw earned Gotham Award and San Francisco Critics nominations for his stylish and melancholy portrait of Wayne (Jerry McDaniel), a carpenter father and husband grappling with the heavy burdens of supporting a family in working-class Oakland and the jolting reality of an unrealized American dream. Bradshaw was also the cinematographer and editor of the film, which first screened at Sundance in 2009. Producers: Laura Techera Francia, A.D. Liano.
For fans of Miranda July (Me and You and Everyone We Know)
Director Aaron Schneider
Backstory A 2004 Oscar winner for his live-action short Two Soldiers, Schneider scored a coup in casting Hollywood veteran Robert Duvall (a 1998 Indie Spirit winner for The Apostle) to play a loosely real-life inspired version of Tennessee backwoods recluse Felix Bush Breazeale, who attracted national attention in 1938 for planning his own living funeral. The gothic period comedy, which co-stars best supporting male nominee Bill Murray (a 2004 Spirit winner for Lost in Translation) as a quirky funeral director and Sissy Spacek (a 2002 Spirit winner for In the Bedroom) as Felix’s love interest, also earned Schneider a Chicago Film Critics nomination. Screenwriters: Chris Provenzano, C. Gaby Mitchell; producers: Dean Zanuck, David Gundlach.
For fans of The Polish brothers (Twin Falls Idaho)
The Last Exorcism
Director Daniel Stamm
Backstory Under the tutelage of producer and horror master Eli Roth (Hostel), Hamburg, Germany, native Stamm saw his debut feature rake in more than $41 million during its summer 2010 theatrical run, making it one of the year’s most profitable indies. Stamm’s jarring film tells the story of an exorcism of a teenage girl, Nell, played by newcomer Ashley Bell, whose performance garnered a best female lead Spirit nomination. Screenwriters: Huck Botko, Andrew Gurland; producers: Eric Newman, Marc Abraham, Thomas A. Bliss
For fans of Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez (The Blair Witch Project)
Night Catches Us
Writer-director Tanya Hamilton
Backstory A 2010 Sundance grand jury prize nominee, Hamilton’s coming-of-age debut tells the story of Marcus (Anthony Mackie), a former Black Panther who returns to his old neighborhood after spending many mysterious years away and seeks comfort from his friend Patricia (Kerry Washington). The drama offers a unique spin on the 1970s civil rights scene in Philadelphia amid President Carter’s pledge to give government back to the people. The film, which also earned Hamilton a Gotham Award nomination, features original music by the Roots. Producers: Ronald Simons, Sean Costello, Jason Orans.
For fans of Mario Van Peebles (Baadasssss!)
Writer-director Lena Dunham
Backstory A popular figure in the mumblecore scene, Dunham has enjoyed broad acclaim (she won the Los Angeles Film Critics’ New Generation Award and best narrative feature film at SXSW in 2010) for the dry-witted, coming-home-again comedy she wrote, directed and stars in about a young woman named Aura who struggles to reconcile a worthless film degree, an eccentric mother, a dead-end hostess job and consistently poor romantic choices. Producers: Kyle Martin, Alicia Van Couvering.
For fans of Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse)
Independent Spirit Awards
Saturday, Feb. 26
2030 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica
Airs on IFC at 10 p.m. ET/PT