Gotham Awards: What to Make of the Nominations

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This morning brought the first high-profile nominations of the season: those for prizes at the 24th annual Gotham Independent Film Awards, which celebrates American indies, and which will take place at Cipriani Wall Street on Dec. 1. And while the announcement has been covered breathlessly by many outlets and studied closely by many industry insiders, I must caution, as I do each year at this time, that they should not be over-analyzed.

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

  • Boyhood led the field with four nominations, while Birdman, Dear White People, Foxcatcher, Nightcrawler and Under the Skin each landed two
  • Boyhood, Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Love Is Strange and Under the Skin were nominated for the best feature Gotham, but A Most Violent Year, Still Alice and Whiplash were not;
  • Chef, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, Fort Bliss, The Homesman (including lead actress Hilary Swank), The Immigrant and Wild (including lead actress Reese Witherspoom) were shut out across the board

But the reality is that they do not because Gotham noms really are a reflection of nothing more than the tastes of three five-person committees comprised of "film critics, journalists, festival programmers and film curators." (Winners are subsequently determined by "separate juries of writers, directors, actors, producers, editors and others directly involved in making films.") There is also no coordination between the different committees, which often results in nominations that seem to suggest conflicting things  — i.e. Love Is Strange is nominated for best feature, but nobody associated with the film is nominated in any other category.

Read more The Oscar Landscape Post-Hamptons, Pre-AFI

Furthermore, the Gothams' nomination criteria are incredibly vague: to be eligible, a film must be American 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. The least expensive, Love Is Strange, had a budget of $1.5 million, whereas the most expensive, Grand Budapest, cost $25 million.

Moreover, the categorization of actors for the Gothams is bizarre. It is left up to films' distributors to determine where they want their films' talent to be considered. The folks behind Boyhood decided that they would like Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette to compete for best actor and best actress, respectively, even though they are being pushed for supporting awards elsewhere, while Ellar Coltrane, who is being pushed elsewhere as the film's sole lead, was pushed here for best breakthrough performance. But the folks behind Whiplash apparently concluded that taking the same course with their young lead Miles Teller and veteran supporting actor J.K. Simmons might confuse people about where to consider their talent for other contests, so they submitted Teller for lead (which worked out) and apparently did not submit Simmons at all (or, if they did and the jury simply decided not to nominate him, that's even crazier).

Nevertheless, in spite of these oddities, the Gothams still serve several important purposes. They shine a spotlight on a number of folks who deserve recognition but might not receive it from any other awards group — i.e. Bill Hader (The Skeleton Twins), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Beyond the Lights, but also being considered elsewhere for Belle), Jenny Slate (Obvious Child) and Tessa Thompson (Dear White People). They consistently recognize terrific documentaries, and this year is no exception — i.e. Laura Poitras' Citizenfour, Steve James' Life Itself and Marshall Curry's Point and Shoot. And, while I wouldn't run and start laying down money on, say, Under the Skin to be a major player at the Academy Awards, they do offer us Oscar-watchers at least a tiny bit of insight into how the New York indie film community feels about this year's crop of contenders.

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg