“Carol” and “Spotlight” did what they had to do, “Beasts of No Nation” got a big boost and “Room” took a hit in Tuesday’s Film Independent Spirit Award nominations, which seem unlikely to produce another year in which the films that win at the Oscars will have already won the day before at the Spirit Awards.
Todd Haynes‘ “Carol” was one of the favorites going into the nominations, and its six nods — including feature, director and acting for Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara — give it one more than “Beasts of No Nation” and two more than “Spotlight” to make it the most-nominated film.
While the recognition may have helped the understated “Carol” garner some attention from Oscar voters, and kept “Spotlight” in its strong position, “Beasts” needed the push even more. Cary Fukanaga’s brutal drama about a child soldier in Africa suffered from the stigma that it was hard to watch — and it didn’t do well at the box office, with many theater chains refusing to carry the Netflix release because the streaming service made it available online on the same day as its theatrical opening.
Spirit nominations won’t force Oscar voters to notice “Beasts” or pick up its screeners, but at this point every boost helps, and this was a significant one.
Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room,” on the other hand, is presumed to be a strong Oscar Best Picture candidate. But it couldn’t crack the Best Feature or Best Director category, managing only nominations for Best First Screenplay, Best Editing and Best Female Lead Brie Larson.
Combined with its single nomination (for Larson) at the Gotham Independent Film Awards, “Room” has lots of buzz and several audience awards from film festivals, but surprisingly little recognition from the two main indie-film awards voters.
The last two Spirit Award winners for Best Feature, “12 Years a Slave” and “Birdman,” went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture, as did all four acting winners in 2014 and three out of four in 2015.
The Spirit Awards could conceivably have another Best Feature/Best Picture winner, with “Spotlight” the likeliest nominee to turn the trick. But it’s unlikely to have that kind of showing in the acting categories this year — particularly in the Lead Actor category, where the Spirit Award juries went for small indie performances, and many of the top Oscar contenders were ineligible.
So instead of Leonardo DiCaprio for “The Revenant” and Johnny Depp for “Black Mass,” both of which were well over the $20 million budget limit for Spirit Award eligibility, the category gave us Koudous Seihon for “Mediterranea” and Ben Mendelsohn for “Mississippi Grind,” along with Jason Segel for “The End of the Tour,” Christopher Abbott for “James White” and Abraham Attah for “Beasts of No Nation.”
The Film Independent jury that picked the acting nominees also threw a possible wrinkle into the Oscar race by agreeing with the Golden Globes that Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett from “Carol” both belong in the lead actress category. The Weinstein Company has been campaigning for Blanchett in lead and Mara in supporting.
While Oscar voters are free to put acting contenders in whichever category they think is best, a groundswell for Mara in lead would make that category more crowded and open up space in the supporting-actress field.
Overall, the Spirit Awards nominations contained just enough idiosyncratic picks to counter the feeling that the awards have just become Oscars Lite. The strong showings for “Anomalisa” and “Tangerine,” the acting nods for two actresses from the latter film, the inclusion of Marin Ireland for “Glass Chin,” Robin Bartlett for “H.” and Richard Jenkins for “Bone Tomahawk” in the supporting categories, and the odd salute to the horror indie “It Follows” in three different categories were all refreshingly offbeat.
One final takeaway from the nominations: Film Independent needs to figure out its timing. Last year, the full list of nominees was leaked early when a wire service broke the embargo. This year, the list was posted early on the Spirit Awards website, then quickly pulled it down — but not before the full lineup began to spread on the Internet, rendering the official press conference pretty anticlimactic.