Gotham Awards: 'Spotlight' Edges 'Carol' in Battle of Indie Oscar Hopefuls (Analysis)

'Spotlight' Cast Gotham Awards H 2015

The 25th Gotham Independent Film Awards, which took place on Monday night in New York, don't indicate, in any real way, what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which awards the Oscars, is thinking. Sure, last year's best feature Gotham winner, Birdman, went on to win the best picture Oscar, and this year's, Spotlight, might well do the same. (That's two Michael Keaton movies, for those of you counting at home!) But it's important to understand why that sort of thing is coincidental, as opposed to correlative.

The Gotham Awards, which are hosted by the Independent Film Project (IFP) and honor low-budget American films, recognize nominees and winners that are chosen by committees of just four or five people — journalists in the first round, filmmakers in the second. So when, say, The Diary of a Teenage Girl lands a field-leading four noms, as it did this year, that is not indicative of the entire indie film community's preferences (rival Film Independent's Spirit Awards are more reflective of that), but rather of the tastes of a small handful of people who happened to be asked to weigh in on a specific category.

That said, it can't hurt to be recognized as a Gotham nominee or, better yet, as a winner, at a time when Academy members — some of whom attend the Cipriani Wall Street affair — still are deliberating about which movies to see and vote for, and that is why so many of the contenders turn up for the event.

In other words, it's clearly great to win at the Gothams, if only for momentum's and perception's sake, but it's far from the end of the world to lose.

Consider the case of Brie Larson. She won best actress at the Gothams two years ago for Short Term 12, but then was ignored by the Academy; and she lost best actress for Room at the Gothams this year to Diary of a Teenage Girl's Bel Powley (who has almost no Oscar momentum), but is widely regarded as the favorite to win the best actress Oscar. 

So what, if anything, should be the takeaway from Monday night's Gotham Awards?

First and foremost, the indie community really loves Tom McCarthy (his Spotlight was presented with a special jury award just in case it didn't go on to win best feature and/or best screenplay, and it ended up winning both). And it also loves Todd Haynes (the Carol helmer who received a Gotham tribute of his own in case his film came up short elsewhere, which it did). Their two films also received the most love in last week's Spirit Awards nominations.

Second,  the indie community really loves the actor — and, more importantly to them, Sundance godfather — Robert Redford and the actress Helen Mirren. But it also wanted to spread its love between New York's two principal indie distributors, Sony Pictures Classics (which is distributing Truth, in which Redford plays Dan Rather, which is why Rather presented Redford with his honor) and The Weinstein Co. (which is distributing Woman in Gold, the mid-year release for which it hopes Mirren will be remembered by voters).

Third, the indie community really likes to reward true indie spirit, which may partly explain, say, the best breakthrough actress win for Tangerine's Mya Taylor (a South Dakota-based trans actress who starred in a movie shot on iPhones — does it get more indie than that?!) as well as the best actor win for Love & Mercy's Paul Dano (whose pedigree also includes Little Miss Sunshine, Meek's Cutoff, Ruby Sparks and so many other indie classics).

And fourth, the doc feature The Look of Silence is a formidable contender — as are the films it vanquished en route to its Gotham prize, which is the same one awarded to Josh Oppenheimer's previous and related doc, 2012's The Act of Killing, which wound up with a best doc feature Oscar nom. (This year's Academy documentary feature shortlist will be announced within a matter of days.)

The bottom line? The Gotham Awards shine an important — pardon the pun — spotlight on indie films. But the Academy has an — again — independent spirit of its own.