Gotham Awards: Noms Offer No Real Clues About Oscar Potential (Analysis)

Diary of a Teenage Girl
Courtesy of Sundance International Film Festival

The first set of nominations recognizing work during the 2015-2016 awards season arrived on Thursday morning when the Independent Filmmaker Project announced its nominees for the 25th annual Gotham Independent Film Awards, a celebration of indie films, which will take place at Cipriani Wall Street in New York on Nov. 30 — which means it's time for my annual post cautioning people about reading too much into the meaning of this announcement.

It would be nice if I could tell you that the following factoids about this morning's nominations offer us some clues about the Oscar race:

1. The Diary of a Teenage Girl led the field with four nominations, including best feature (the Gothams' equivalent of best picture).

2. Spotlight (widely-regarded as the Oscar frontrunner at this time), Carol (a New York-set movie), Tangerine (a film shot solely on iPhones) and Heaven Knows What (a movie with almost no profile prior to today) were also nominated for best feature, but Room, Love & Mercy, and 99 Homes were not.

3. '71, Anomalisa, Beasts of No Nation, The Danish Girl, The Dark Horse, The End of the Tour, Freeheld, I Smile Back, Irrational Man, Me & Earl & The Dying Girl, Meadowland, Mistress America, Sicario, Shelter, Suffragette, Trumbo and Truth were shut out across the board.

But the reality is that those noms do not offer Oscar clues because Gotham noms (a) are a reflection of nothing more than the tastes of four five-person committees comprised of "writers, critics and programmers," and (b) there is no coordination between these committees, resulting in noms that seem to suggest conflicting things — i.e. Spotlight is nominated for best feature, but nobody involved with its making is nominated for any individual honors. It should be noted, however, that a special jury award was voted to the film's "outstanding ensemble in which every performance, in every role, of every size, is beautifully realized."

Furthermore, the criteria regarding what and who those committees could consider are incredibly vague. To be eligible, a film must be American (hence no Brooklyn, Clouds of Sils Maria, Ex Machina, Son of Saul or Youth) and "made with a point of view and with an economy of means." Consequently, 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. The budget of this year's best feature nominees range greatly as well.

Moreover, the categorization of actors for the Gothams is bizarre. Because the Gothams do not have supporting categories, distributors with supporting contenders must decide whether or not to submit those people for consideration in lead categories (which could confuse Academy members) or not to submit them at all. Cases in point? Broad Green and Roadside Attractions both decided that something would be better than nothing and wound up with lead Gotham noms for 99 Homes' Michael Shannon and Love & Mercy's Paul Dano, respectively, even though they're both being pushed for a supporting nom at the Oscars.

Finally, in terms of the special tributes that will be presented during the show, one can also read between the lines and recognize that bones are being thrown to the two major indie operations based in Gotham: Sony Classics (Truth's supporting actor Robert Redford) and The Weinstein Co. (Carol's writer/director Todd Haynes and Woman in Gold's lead actress Helen Mirren).

In spite of these oddities and eccentricities, the Gothams serve several important purposes. They highlight films and their makers that are on the bubble (i.e. I'll See You in My Dreams' Blythe Danner and Grandma's Lily Tomlin, two sensational seniors) or unlikely to receive it from any other awards group (who had even heard of Heaven Knows What before today?). They consistently recognize terrific documentaries. (I loved Cartel Land, Listen to Me Marlon and The Look of Silence, and can't wait to catch up with Approaching the Elephant and Heart of a Dog.) And, while I wouldn't start laying down money on Diary of a Teenage Girl or Tangerine 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 feels about this year's field.

And they put on a fun party!