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Film Independent’s 2008 Spirit Awards took on an international accent as nominees were announced Tuesday.
Best feature noms went to the French-language “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and the Pakistan-set “A Mighty Heart,” while the starring duo of Tony Leung and Tang Wei of the Shanghai drama “Lust, Caution” both figure in the top acting categories.
But Americana also ruled as “I’m Not There,” Todd Haynes’ kaleidoscope deconstruction of the work of Bob Dylan, led the field. With four nominations, including best feature, director and supporting noms for Cate Blanchett and Marcus Carl Franklin, it also was named the inaugural winner of the Robert Altman Award, recognizing Haynes, casting director Laura Rosenthal and the ensemble cast.
While the Spirit Awards focus on American independent film, a film can qualify if at least one U.S. citizen or permanent resident is credited in two or more of the categories of writer, director or producer, which opened the door for this year’s globetrotting noms.
In addition to “I’m Not There,” “Diving Bell,” a film told from the point of view of a stroke victim, and “Mighty Heart,” the dramatization of the search for kidnapped journalist Daniel Pearl, the other contenders in the best feature category are “Juno,” a comedy about an unintended pregnancy, and “Paranoid Park,” the account of a teen who accidentally kills a man.
Four of the best film nominees saw their helmsman nominated for best director: Haynes (“I’m Not There”), Jason Reitman (“Juno”), Julian Schnabel (“Butterfly”) and Gus Van Sant (“Paranoid”). But instead of Michael Winterbottom for “Mighty Heart,” the fifth slot went to Tamara Jenkins — who also was nominated for best screenplay — for the family drama “The Savages.”
“There wasn’t a dominant genre or even a film. It was a mix of emerging filmmakers and veteran filmmakers like Gus Van Sant and Todd Haynes. I felt like it was a wide spectrum of talent in all areas,” FIND exec director Dawn Hudson said at the ceremonies that Lisa Kudrow and Zach Braff hosted at the Sofitel Hotel in Los Angeles.
“You want all these films to gain some momentum,” she added. “There’s such a glut of films this season that you hope that this will shine a spotlight on these lower-budgeted films that are so deserving.”
The best actress contenders are Angelina Jolie for portraying Mariane Pearl in “Mighty Heart”; Sienna Miller, seen as a soap actress facing off with a journalist in “Interview”; Ellen Page, who appears as the pregnant teen in “Juno”; Parker Posey, who finds herself embarking on an affair in “Broken English”; and Tang, who becomes entangled in love and espionage in “Lust.”
Nominated as best actor are Pedro Castaneda, who plays an undocumented farm worker “August Evening”; Don Cheadle, who stars as a radio host in “Talk to Me”; Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose character struggles with an ailing father in “Savages”; Frank Langella, who appears as the older half of a May-December relationship in “Starting Out in the Evening”; and Leung, who plays a spy in “Lust.”
Still, several performances that have excited critics failed to make the cut: Among the missing were Ryan Gosling (“Lars and the Real Girl”), Laura Linney (“Savages”), Nicole Kidman (“Margot at the Wedding”), Keri Russell (“Waitress”) and John Cusack (“Grace is Gone”).
Along with Blanchett, who channels Dylan in “Not There,” the nominees for best supporting female are Anna Kendrick (“Rocket Science”), Jennifer Jason Leigh (“Margot”), Tamara Podemski (“Four Sheets to the Wind”) and Marisa Tomei (“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”).
Best supporting male nominee Franklin plays a young musician who calls himself Woody Guthrie in “Not There.” In the nominees circle, he joins Chiwetel Ejiofor (“Talk to Me”), Kene Holliday (“Great World of Sound”), Irfan Khan (“The Namesake”) and Steve Zahn (“Rescue Dawn”).
Screenplay nominees are Ronald Harwood (“Butterfly”), Jenkins (“Savages”), Fred Parnes & Andrew Wagner (“Starting Out”), the late Adrienne Shelly (“Waitress”) and Mike White (“Year of the Dog”).
In the adjoining category of best first screenplay, the nominees are Jeffrey Blitz (“Rocket Science”), Zoe Cassavetes (“Broken English”), Diablo Cody (“Juno”), Kelly Masterson (“Devil”) and John Orloff (“Mighty Heart”).
The Spirits also recognize films made for less than $500,000 with its John Cassavetes Award. This year’s nominees are “August Evening,” “Owl and the Sparrow,” “The Pool,” “Quiet City” and “Shotgun Stories.”
For best cinematography, the nominees are Mott Hupfel (“Savages”), Janusz Kaminski (“Butterfly”), Milton Kam (“Vanaja”), Mihai Malaimare Jr. (“Youth Without Youth”) and Rodrigo Prieto (“Lust”).
The best documentary competition is shaping up as quite different from the Oscar race. The Spirit nominees are Dan Klores’ “Crazy Love,” Tony Kaye’s “Lake of Fire,” Jennifer Baichwal’s “Manufactured Landscapes,” Pernille Rose Gronkjaer’s “The Monastery” and Petra Epperlein & Michael Tucker’s “The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair.” Only the unflinching abortion study “Lake of Fire” is on the Academy short list.
In the best foreign-film category, Israel’s “The Band’s Visit,” which was disqualified for Academy consideration because it has too much English dialogue, made the list of Spirit nominees. It will compete against Romania’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” and France’s “Persepolis,” which are both Academy entries, as well as France’s “Lady Chatterley” and Ireland’s “Once.”
Among distributors, Fox Searchlight garnered the most attention, picking up 11 noms for an eclectic lineup that encompassed “Juno,” “The Namesake,” “Once,” “Savages” and “Waitress.” Focus, Miramax, Paramount Vantage and the Weinstein Co. all scored five nominations each.
The winners will be crowned Feb. 23 at the group’s annual awards luncheon, which takes place in a tent on the beach in Santa Monica and will be broadcast live by IFC and then rebroadcast by AMC.
To qualify, movies must have budgets of less than $20 million, draw much of their funding from independent sources and display a unique vision.
For a complete list of nominees, turn to hollywoodreporter.com.
Borys Kit contributed to this report.
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