Gotham Awards: Any Foreshadowing of the Oscars Is Purely Coincidental

THR's awards analyst explains why the Gothams' selection process makes them a less-than-reliable predictor of other groups' nominees and winners.
Claire Folger/Courtesy of Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions
Casey Affleck (left) and Lucas Hedges in 'Manchester by the Sea'

There are few events during the annual awards season that are more enjoyable than the Gotham Independent Film Awards, a celebration of American indie films that attracts much of the indie community to Cipriani Wall Street and this year will be held on Nov. 28.

I would love to be able to tell you that the Gothams' set of nominees, the 26th set of which were announced Thursday morning, also offer helpful hints about the highest-profile awards of them all, the Oscars. Their own press release suggests that's the case by touting them as "the kick-off to the film awards season," "the first major awards ceremony of the film season," known for "catapulting award recipients prominently into national awards season attention." What was more interesting is that ...

1. Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea leads the field with four nominations, including for best feature (the Gothams' equivalent of best picture).

2. Barry Jenkins' Moonlight, also a best feature nominee, was voted a special jury award for best ensemble cast.

2. Kelly Reichardt's Certain Women, Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some!! and Jim Jarmusch's Paterson also are nominated for best feature, whereas Mike Mills' 20th Century Women, David Mackenzie's Hell or High Water, Pablo Larrain's Jackie and Jeff Nichols' Loving were not.

3. Matt Ross' Captain Fantastic, Ben Younger's Bleed for This, Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation, Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals, Don Cheadle's Miles Ahead, Alexandre Lehmann's Blue Jay, Antonio Campos' Christine, Chris Kelly's Other People and James Schamus' Indignation, among others, were shut out across the board.

4. Jeff Bridges was nominated for best actor for Hell or High Water, even though he's being considered everywhere else for best supporting actor.

5. Career tributes were voted to Amy Adams (Arrival and Nocturnal Animals), Ethan Hawke (Born to Be Blue), Oliver Stone (Snowden) and producer Arnon Milchan (Rules Don't Apply).

But, while a number of the Gotham nominees will end up in Oscar contention, I feel compelled to point out each year when people read meaning into the Gotham noms, they are a reflection of nothing more than the tastes of several five-person committees comprised of "writers, critics and programmers," not filmmakers; there is no coordination between the individual committees, which results in noms that send conflicting signals; these committee members tend to reward old stalwarts of the indie community even for works that aren't among their best (see Reichardt, Linklater, Jarmusch); and, perhaps most significantly, they make their decisions using rather vague criteria.

What do I mean? To be eligible, a film must be not only American (hence nothing for Ken Loach's British feature I, Daniel Blake, etc.), but also "made with a point of view and with an economy of means." Consequently, past best feature nominees have included everything from Ballast (2008), a micro-budget film with a no-name distributor, to Into the Wild (2007), a $15 million Paramount film, to The Departed, a $90 million Warner Bros. film. Therefore, it's a bit surprising to me that Damien Chazelle's La La Land, which had a budget of roughly $30 million, is not among the nominees.

In any event, despite these oddities and eccentricities, the Gothams serve several important purposes ...

1. They highlight worthy films and filmmakers that are currently on the bubble for Oscar contention (e.g. Loving's Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, Love & Friendship's Kate Beckinsale and Manchester's Lucas Hedges) or unlikely to receive it from any other awards group (e.g. Morris From America's Craig Robinson).

2. They consistently recognize terrific documentaries — it's impossible to argue with Cameraperson, I Am Not Your Negro, O.J.: Made in America, Tower and Weiner.

3. And, while I wouldn't start laying down money on American Honey, The Fits, Southside With You or The Witch to be major players at the Academy Awards, they do offer Oscar-watchers at least a tiny bit of insight into how the New York indie film community might feel about this year's field.

Oh, and they put on a really fun party!