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Well, it’s that time of the year again: We have our first set of awards season nominations — specifically, for the IFP’s 28th annual Gotham Independent Film Awards — so everyone, of course, is trying to figure out what, exactly, it all means.
The Gothams are designed as a celebration of “American” (at least in part) indie films (made with “an economy of means”) which have a distributor — a criteria vague enough to have resulted, over the years, in best feature nominations for both the micro-budget Ballast and the $90 million The Departed. So does it tell us anything that they nominated The Favourite but not Roma or Green Book for their top prize? And is it weird that big stars whose performances have been widely applauded in indie films — like Can You Ever Forgive Me?‘s Melissa McCarthy and Ben Is Back‘s Julia Roberts — were not nominated, but largely under-the-radar performances, like Regina Hall‘s in Support the Girls and Michelle Pfeiffer’s in Where Is Kyra?, were?
No! Forget it, Jake… it’s the Gothams.
As I feel obliged to mention every year, the Gothams’ nominees and winners are chosen by small committees of “film critics, journalists, festival programmers, and film curators” — many highly reputable, including, this year, The Hollywood Reporter‘s Jon Frosch and Tim Goodman — which makes the Gothams both hard to predict and not necessarily all that predictive of things to come. (Although, oddly enough, the last few best feature Gotham winners went on to best picture Oscar wins, in the case of 2015’s Spotlight and 2016’s Moonlight, or nominations, as with 2017’s Call Me by Your Name.)
With small committees, considerations sometimes come into play that simply don’t with large voting bodies — at least not to the same degree. Sometimes there is a desire to spread nominations around to many different films. And sometimes there is a sense of wanting to help contenders that ‘need’ it, which may explain the total absence of the Netflix-distributed frontrunner Roma, save for a best breakthrough actor nomination for newcomer Yalitza Aparicio (it’s a gender-neutral category). That may also explain why there was no mention of A-listers like McCarthy, Roberts, Vox Lux‘s Natalie Portman, Beautiful Boy‘s Timothee Chalamet, Widows‘ Viola Davis and Destroyer‘s Nicole Kidman. The fact that Roma is not really American in any meaningful sense, apart from its financing source (Participant Media), might have also worked against it; the fact that it’s being distributed by Netflix, to the extent that it is, may not have been a factor, since the streamer’s films scored several other noms.
Green Book, the Universal-distributed winner of the Toronto International Film Festival’s audience award, was not submitted for Gotham consideration, according to the awards’ publicist.
Whatever the case, the biggest beneficiary of Thursday morning’s announcement is undoubtedly The Favourite, which not only snagged a best feature nom (alongside First Reformed, If Beale Street Could Talk, The Rider and one considerably lower-profile indie, Madeline’s Madeline), but also dodged a bullet in the acting categories.
The Gothams do not have supporting acting categories, so lead actors and supporting actors are grouped together, which can lead to confusion with subsequent awards groups about which performers should be considered in which categories. This year, for instance, Can You Ever Forgive Me?‘s Richard E. Grant is nominated for the best actor Gotham, even though he’s being pushed as a supporting actor contender, as is another Gotham nominee, BlacKkKlansman‘s Adam Driver. (That film’s lead, John David Washington, was not nominated at all.) The campaign for The Favourite, which stars three top actresses — Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz — only this week settled on a gameplan of pushing Colman as the film’s lead and Stone and Weisz as supporting actresses, a strategy that could have been very muddled had the Gothams nominated all of them — or any of them other than Colman — for best actress. Instead, the jury overseeing the actor and actress categories decided to take the three out of the running for a competitive award and instead awarded the trio a special jury prize — on top of which Weisz will be receiving a pre-announced personal career tribute. (Other career tributes will go to At Eternity’s Gate star Willem Dafoe and 22 July director Paul Greengrass.) In other words, things couldn’t have worked out better for Yorgos Lanthimos‘ dramedy.
The Gotham committees are divided as follows: one chooses the nominees for best feature, best screenplay and best breakthrough director; another chooses the nominees for best documentary; another chooses the nominees for best actor and best actress; and still another chooses the nominees for best breakthrough actor (or actress). Two things about this strike me as odd: (1) that there is no best director award, only an award for best breakthrough director; and (2) that the same committee that chooses the nominees for best actor and best actress does not choose the nominees for best breakthrough actor, and yet there is never any overlap between the two sets of nominations, suggesting there is clearly some degree of coordination.
The problem with a breakthrough acting nom taking someone out of the running for an outright acting nom is that the breakthrough noms seems secondary to the others. It’s a shame that Aparicio, Eighth Grade‘s Elsie Fisher, If Beale Street Could Talk‘s KiKi Layne and Leave No Trace‘s Thomasin McKenzie, who have given some of the most acclaimed performances of the year, won’t get a chance to go head-to-head with higher-profile Oscar contenders like The Wife‘s Glenn Close and Hereditary‘s Toni Collette even here, at a celebration of indie films. It might well have elevated their profiles even further as they head into other competitions.
The main value of the Gothams, though, is that they put indie films and talent on the radar of the larger Hollywood awards community just as those people are being inundated with screening invitations and screeners. And, after Thursday morning’s announcement, it’s a lot likelier that some of them will elect to check out films like First Reformed, Paul Schrader‘s dark drama starring Ethan Hawke as a Protestant minister, which scored more Gotham noms than any other film, including a best actor mention for Hawke; Private Life, a master class in writing from Tamara Jenkins and acting from Kathryn Hahn, who were nominated for best screenplay and best actress, respectively; and the satirical Sorry to Bother You, which received noms for Boots Riley‘s breakthrough direction and lead actor Lakeith Stanfield‘s colorful performance.
At the very least, these movies deserve to be in the larger awards conversation.
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