Spirit Awards: Indie Community Distances Itself From Hollywood — Sort Of

THR's awards columnist attempts to get to the bottom of the exclusion of 'The Shape of Water,' 'I, Tonya,' 'Mudbound,' 'The Big Sick' and 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri' from the best feature category.
Courtesy of Sundance
'Mudbound'

When the Film Independent Spirit Award nominees were announced Tuesday morning, the five nominees for best feature did not include a water monster movie (The Shape of Water), a dramedy starring Margot Robbie (I, Tonya) and pics from streaming titans Netflix (Mudbound) and Amazon (The Big Sick).

But admirers of those films shouldn't be reacting with as much surprise and concern as they are. Nominations were determined by a few dozen people who served on one of four nominating committees, which, according to Film Independent, "typically include a mix of film critics, film programmers, producers, directors, writers, cinematographers, editors, actors, past nominees and winners and members of Film Independent’s Board of Directors." In other words, the nominations are not a reflection of the entire indie community (more than 6,000 Film Independent members will get to pick the winners from this crop of nominees), but rather of its fiercest protectors, who, understandably enough, would rather highlight movies made by "the little guy" — they gave best feature and director noms to Chloe Zhao's The Rider, a spare character study about a modern-day cowboy living in South Dakota — than nominate the titles listed above for the Spirits' top award, even though all those films were as eligible as any other movie, since they were made for $20 million or less, per the Spirits' guidelines.

While the Spirit Awards may take place in the Los Angeles area, its organizers don't want to go Hollywood — or at least too Hollywood — by turning over their top category to things that don't necessarily feel like indie films. Still, with the exception of The Shape of Water, which may just be too genre for this group, the nominators did offer other forms of major recognition for the highest-profile films overlooked in the top category. Netflix's Mudbound, it was announced, is the winner of the Robert Altman Award, which honors one film's director, casting director and ensemble cast (and went to eventual best picture Oscar winner Moonlight last year). Amazon's The Big Sick received noms for best supporting actress (Holly Hunter) and best first screenplay (for Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon). And Neon/30WEST's I, Tonya, which captured 260 different scenes over just 31 shooting days (talk about indie!), was nominated for two acting awards — one for Robbie, for best actress, and the other for Allison Janney, who may win the best supporting actress prize — plus best film editing.

Among the five films that did receive best feature nominations was Call Me by Your Name, which led the field with six total noms (the others being for best director, cinematographer, editor, lead actor Timothee Chalamet and supporting actor Armie Hammer). Also included was Get Out (in terms of the nom count, that film tied for second-place along with Good Time, with each receiving five mentions, and Get Out earning noms for best director and screenplay for Jordan Peele, lead actor Daniel Kaluuya and editing). A third nominee was Lady Bird, which garnered four noms (the others were for lead actress Saoirse Ronan, supporting actress Laurie Metcalf and Greta Gerwig's screenplay); unexpectedly, though, Gerwig was not among the six people nominated for best director, having been bounced by A Ciambra's Jonas Carpignano and Good Time's Ben Safdie and Josh Safdie. The fourth nominee was The Florida Project (it also got a nom for director Sean Baker but, surprisingly, not for supporting actor Willem Dafoe). And, rounding out the category was The Rider, as mentioned above.

Other strange omissions included Toronto International Film Festival audience award winner Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which received noms for best actress (Frances McDormand), supporting actor (Sam Rockwell) and screenplay (Martin McDonagh), but not for best picture or director (McDonagh). Brooklynn Prince, the 7-year-old who starred in Florida Project, was also overlooked. And even though Call Me by Your Name had a lot to celebrate, it did miss out on noms for Michael Stuhlbarg, who many expected to be nominated alongside co-star Hammer in the supporting actor category, and screenwriter James Ivory.

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