Gothams embrace more 'Sound'

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NEW YORK -- After departing from tradition to embrace studio pictures with its nominations last year, the Gotham Awards on Monday returned to its roots, tapping only indie and specialty films for its annual kudos.

In doing so, it tried another walk down the line between awards-season relevance and indie bona fides.

The Gothams, which are run by the industry group IFP, handed out best feature noms to the New York-centric (Noah Baumbach's "Margot at the Wedding" and Killer Films/Weinstein Co.'s "I'm Not There") and the specialty divisions (Fox Searchlight's "The Namesake" and Paramount Vantage's "Into the Wild").

But notably, it gave the most noms to an ultra-indie, Craig Zobel's music-world satire "Great World of Sound." In addition to best feature, the movie also landed breakthrough director and breakthrough actor spots. (Zobel shared the former with Lee Isaac Chung, Stephane Gauger, Julia Loktev and David Von Ancken; Kene Holliday was nominated for the latter along with Emile Hirsch, Ellen Page, Jess Weixler and Luisa Williams.)

The nomination slate returns the Gothams to a path some say it had abandoned last year, when it nominated two studio films, Warners' "The Departed" and Sony's "Marie Antoinette," for best feature.

By any measure, the size of the nominated movies this year were much smaller. Last year, the top three grossers on the best feature ballot earned a collective $154 million. Of this year's three best feature noms that have been released so far, the take has been just $18 million. (With $18,000, "World" was responsible for roughly 0.1% of that.)

As the first awards ceremony of the season, the Gothams have tried to position themselves as an awards program that can set the agenda for the coming months while also including movies that won't get recognition from other quarters. The balance hasn't always been easy.

The choices announced Monday divided players in the biz -- based largely, it seemed, on whether those players had nominated films. While many said it reflected the proper ethos of inclusion, others say it represented an overcorrection.

"It seems like they got such a backlash from last year that they went too far the other way," said an executive at one studio.

Supporters of the choices, however, said the Gothams are upholding primary values. "There isn't a mission exactly, but there is a spirit and a deeply felt philosophy," ThinkFilm U.S. chief Mark Urman said. "The Gothams specifically have to pay some attention to the achievements that others won't pay attention to."

In a sense, the Gothams are in a no-win situation: When they choose higher-profile movies that could help establish them as a bigger player, they're criticized for losing their way; when they don't, they're criticized for being provincial.

Still, it was noteworthy that two of the biggest New York distributors -- Focus and Miramax, which have as many as seven awards contenders this year between them -- landed just one Gotham nomination, a best ensemble cast nom for Focus' "Talk to Me." ("Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," "The Last Winter," "Margot at the Wedding" and "The Savages" round out the list in that category.)

Paramount Vantage led all nominees with four; IFC First Take, Magnolia and Searchlight each had three.

To strike a balance between the bigger names and the underrated films, the Gothams decided not to institute a budget cap, but the group did add "made with an economy of means" as a criterion for nominees this year, IFP executive director Michelle Byrd saidByrd said that while the term indie remained "fuzzy," it was discussed with nominating committees. " 'Independent film' is such a loaded phrase that we maybe have shied away from that recently," Byrd acknowledged. She said that other, more specific criteria would be added next year.

The Gothams do have a tendency to signal, if not create, awards candidates. While their effect on voting for national awards is modest, last year's big winner, "Half Nelson," went on to garner a best actor Oscar nomination for Ryan Gosling.

And in a season that has gotten extremely crowded with prestige films, awards-campaign experts say the smallest push could mean the difference between a movie getting on or falling off the map.

One candidate that could get a jump-start from the Gothams this year is Todd Haynes' unconventional Bob Dylan biopic "I'm Not There," which is being released by the Weinstein Co., which also earned a nom for the Michael Moore docu "Sicko." (The other documentary nominees include "The Devil Came on Horseback," "Taxi to the Dark Side" and the Sony Pictures Classics releases "Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains" and "My Kid Could Paint That.")

Defenders of last year's choices pointed out that, for all the criticism, the Gothams' nomination of "Departed" accurately foreshadowed the Academy's best picture winner.

The Gotham Awards will be presented Nov. 27 at Brooklyn's Steiner Studios. Film critic Roger Ebert and production designer Mark Friedberg ("Across the Universe," "The Darjeeling Limited") will receive Gotham tributes, along with Mira Nair, Javier Bardem, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and IFC's Jonathan Sehring.

Also Monday, the Gothams announced the noms for Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You, given to the best movie without distribution. They are "August the First," "Frownland," "Loren Cass," "Mississippi Chicken" and "Off the Grid: Life on the Mesa."

A complete list of nominees follows:

Best feature
"Great World of Sound" -- Craig Zobel, director; Melissa Palmer, David Gordon Green, Richard Wright, Craig Zobel, producers (Magnolia Pictures)
"I'm Not There" -- Todd Haynes, director; Christine Vachon, James D. Stern, John Sloss, John
Goldwyn, producers (Weinstein Co.)
"Into the Wild" -- Sean Penn, director; Sean Penn, Art Linson, Bill Pohlad, producers
(Paramount Vantage & River Road Entertainment)
"Margot at the Wedding" -- Noah Baumbach, director; Scott Rudin, producer (Paramount Vantage)
"The Namesake" -- Mira Nair, director; Lydia Dean Pilcher, Mira Nair, producers (Fox
Searchlight)

Best documentary
"The Devil Came on Horseback" -- Annie Sundberg & Ricki Stern, directors; Ricki Stern, Annie Sundberg, Gretchen Wallace, Jane Wells, producers (International Film Circuit)
"Jimmy Carter Man From Plains" -- Jonathan Demme, director; Jonathan Demme, Neda Armian, producers (Sony Pictures Classics)
"My Kid Could Paint That" -- Amir Bar-Lev, producer/director (Sony Pictures Classics)
"Sicko" -- Michael Moore, director; Michael Moore, Meghan O'Hara, producers (Weinstein
Co.)
"Taxi to the Dark Side" -- Alex Gibney, director; Alex Gibney, Eva Orner, Susannah Shipman, producers (ThinkFilm)

Best ensemble cast
"Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" -- Albert Finney, Rosemary Harris, Ethan Hawke, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Brian F. O'Byrne, Amy Ryan, Michael Shannon, Marisa Tomei (ThinkFilm)
"The Last Winter" -- Connie Britton, Kevin Corrigan, Zach Gilford, James LeGros, Ron Perlman (IFC First Take)
"Margot at the Wedding" -- Jack Black, Flora Cross, CiarĂ¡n Hinds, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Zane Pais, John Turturro (Paramount Vantage)
"The Savages" -- Philip Bosco, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Linney (Fox Searchlight)
"Talk to Me" -- Cedric the Entertainer, Don Cheadle, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mike Epps, Vondie Curtis Hall, Taraji P. Henson, Martin Sheen (Focus Features)

Breakthrough director

Lee Isaac Chung, "Munyurangabo"
Stephane Gauger, "Owl and the Sparrow"
Julia Loktev, "Day Night Day Night" (IFC First Take)
David Von Ancken, "Seraphim Falls" (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
Craig Zobel, "Great World of Sound" (Magnolia Pictures)

Breakthrough actor
Emile Hirsch, "Into the Wild" (Paramount Vantage)
Kene Holliday, "Great World of Sound" (Magnolia Pictures)
Ellen Page, "Juno" (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Jess Weixler, "Teeth" (Roadside Attractions)
Luisa Williams, "Day Night Day Night" (IFC First Take)

Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You
"August the First" -- Lanre Olabisi, director; Shawn Alexander, Gabriel "Swede" Sedgwick, Nicky Arzeu Akmal, Lanre Olabisi, producers
"Frownland" -- Ronald Bronstein, director; Marc Raybin, producer
"Loren Cass" -- Chris Fuller, director; Chris Fuller, Frank Craft, Kayla Tabish, producers
"Mississippi Chicken" -- John Fiege, director; John Fiege, Anita Grabowski, Victor Moyers, producers
"Off the Grid: Life on the Mesa" -- Jeremy Stulberg & Randy Stulberg, directors; Eric Juhola, Jeremy Stulberg, Randy Stulberg, producers
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