What, If Anything, Should We Make of the Spirit Award Nominations? (Analysis)

Keep the Lights On

U.S. Dramatic Competition

Film Independent, the nonprofit arts organization, announced its nominees for its 28th Spirit Awards on Tuesday.

PHOTOS: 2012 Film Independent Spirit Awards Purple Carpet Arrivals

The big headlines:

  • Focus Features' Moonrise Kingdom and The Weinstein Co.'s Silver Linings Playbook lead the field with five nominations each, including best feature, best director and best screenplay. The Spirits Awards' nominating committee -- which is composed of writers, directors, producers, cinematographers, actors, critics, casting directors, festival programmers and other working film professionals, and which considered 299 submissions -- also awarded Silver Linings noms for best actor (Bradley Cooper) and best actress (Jennifer Lawrence) and Moonrise noms for best supporting actor (Bruce Willis) and best cinematography.
  • The inclusion of TWC's Silver Linings Playbook triggered an immediate backlash in the social media where critics charged that the movie, budgeted at about $22 million, should have been ineligible for the indie film competition. There's a popular belief that to qualify for the Spirit Awards a film's budget can not exceed $20 million, but Film Independent co-president Josh Welsh tells The Hollywood Reporter, "The $20 million figure is a guideline that we give to the nominating committee. It's not a hard ceiling that they have to stay below. It is all at the discretion of the nominating committee." Bruce Cohen, one of the producers of Playbook, tells THR: "We asked about the budget cap, and it was explained to us that $20 million was just a guideline and we should submit our top-sheet and then they would decide whether we were eligible or not. So that's what we did, and they decided that we were eligible."
  • The films that most exceeded expectations: Music Box Films' Keep the Lights On, which scored noms for best feature, best director (Ira Sachs), best actor (Thure Lindhardt), and best screenplay (Sachs), and Middle of Nowhere, which scored noms for best actress (Emayatzy Corinealdi), best supporting actor (David Oyelowo), best supporting actress (Lorraine Toussaint) and the John Cassavetes Award for best feature made for under $500,000.
  • Fox Searchlight's Beasts of the Southern Wild was nominated for best feature and best director (Benh Zeitlin), best actress (Quvenzhane Wallis) and best cinematography but was, somewhat surprisingly, denied a nom for best screenplay. Interestingly, the best actress category will offer Wallis a rematch with Middle of Nowhere's Corinealdi, who upset her in the best breakthrough actor category at the Nov. 26 Gotham Independent Film Awards.
  • Fox Searchlight led all studios with nine nominations (the others coming from Ruby Sparks, The Sound of My Voice and The Sessions). The studio with the next highest tally? Somewhat surprisingly, Music Box Films, which scored seven among Keep the Lights On, Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present and Starlet. Focus Features, IFC Films and Sony Pictures Classics each wound up with six, while The Weinstein Co. landed five.
  • Potpourri: Matthew McConaughey, who didn't exactly make his name in art house cinemas, scored two noms: best actor for Killer Joe and best supporting actor for Magic Mike. Ann Dowd, who I think is a real sleeper possibility to score a best supporting actress Oscar nom for her performance in Compliance, received her first official recognition Tuesday in that same category. Linda Cardellini, who has financed her own awards campaign this year for her performance in Return, was rewarded with a best actress nom. And Zoe Kazan and Rashida Jones, who are best known their her work onscreen, were nominated respectively for best screenplay (for Ruby Sparks) and best first screenplay (for Celeste and Jesse Forever, along with co-writer Will McCormack).

COMPLETE LIST: Independent Spirit Awards Nominations

Now, for the pertinent question: Does any of this actually impact the Oscar race? The answer: I'm not so sure.

Historically, very few Spirit Award nominees and winners have gone on to receive Academy Award nominations and wins. Indeed, over the 27 years in which the Spirit Awards have been handed out, only two films, 25 years apart, have won both organizations' top prizes: Platoon (1986) and The Artist (2011). Moreover, only 13 of the 104 performances that have been recognized at the Spirit Awards subsequently won again at the Oscars: Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote, 2005), Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart, 2009) and Jean Dujardin (The Artist, 2011) for best actor; Geraldine Page (The Trip to Bountiful, 1984), Frances McDormand (Fargo, 1996), Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry, 1999), Charlize Theron (Monster, 2003), and Natalie Portman (Black Swan, 2010) for best actress; Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine, 2006) and Christopher Plummer (Beginners, 2011) for best supporting actor; and Dianne Wiest (Bullets Over Broadway, 1994), Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, 2008) and Mo’Nique (Precious, 2009) for best supporting actress.