30 years ago, a motley crew of producers, directors, actors and writers gathered in a restaurant in Los Angeles, the night before the Academy Awards, to inaugurate the Independent Spirit Awards. While Sydney Pollack was picking up a Best Director Oscar for the stately and staid Out of Africa, the Spirit Awards were keeping it real, giving theirs to Joel Coen for Blood Simple. Instead of a phallic statuette, the trophy was a glass pyramid filled with shoestrings – symbolising their nominees’ measly budgets.
But since 1984, the Spirit Awards have tended toward the Oscar’s centrifugal, curatorial force (and their statuette’s become more traditional). In the last few years, the big winners were films like The Artist, 12 Years a Slave and actors like Matthew McConaughey, leading some to question the award’s value. It’s an irony not lost on the hosts. Andy Samberg, hosting the awards two years ago:
That said, the Spirit Award nominees – which were announced yesterday – are way more interesting than the Oscar’s ever will be. Rather than dwell on the obvious contenders (Birdman, Boyhood and Nightcrawler lead) here are some others things the nominations have taught us.
WE SHOULD KEEP OUR EYES ON THE ZELLNER BROTHERS
David and Nathan Zellner discussing Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter. Source.
The Best Director nominations seemed predictable and respectable – Damien Chazelle for Whiplash, Linklater, Iñárritu etc. – until we spotted a certain David Zellner for Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter….Who? A quick Google reveals this to be Zellner’s third feature: it’s been darting across the festival circuit – Berlin, SXSW, Sundance – and picked up ‘Most Original Film’ at Toronto After Dark festival. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is about a lonely Japanese woman who abandons her structured life in Tokyo and journeys to America: searching for the money that’s buried at the end of Fargo. Rinko Kukuchi picked up a nomination for Best Female Lead too, suggesting this apparently beautifully photographed film is more than its kooky premise.
IT'S BEEN A GREAT YEAR FOR INTERNATIONAL CINEMA
Image Courtesy Films We Like
One of our favourites from TIFF, Force Majeure, got a much-deserved nomination for Best International Film (read our interview with the director here), but the competition’s tough. Other nominees include Xavier Dolan’s gush-inducing Mommy, Pawel Powlikowski’s box office smash Ida, Andre Zvyagintsev’s satirical epic Leviathan, and Brian Glazer’s Under the Skin (it’s ‘international’ not foreign-language). These films were all rightly evaluated as the some of the year’s strongest. The only outlier is Norte, The End of History, a four hour crime drama that we described as a “tapestry as grand as a Dostoevsky”. It’s the Philippines’ official entry at the Oscars; let’s just hope the Academy voters, if following Hitchcock’s maxim, have cast-iron bladders.
THERE'S A CATEGORY CALLED 'THE JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD'
It’s given to the best feature made for under $500,000 and one of our favourite films of the year’s got a shot: Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin. He’s already working on his third feature (which boasts Sir. Patrick Stewart as a Neo-Nazi), but Blue Ruin – a Coen Brother-indebted criminal farce – was one of our highlights from Rotterdam. Aaron Katz’s Icelandic comedy Land Ho! (which made us think about why everyone wants to film in Iceland these days) is another nominee, as is TEST, a Kickstarter-funded account of AIDS and dance in 1980s San Francisco.
THE BEST FIRST FEATURE AWARD IS AS DIVERSE AS IT SHOULD BE
Long gone are the days when this award indulged the solipsism of white men (previous winners include Crash and Garden State). This year’s nominees include Ana Lily Amirpour’s devilish act of genre appropriation A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Justin Simien’s depressingly timely satire Dear White People and Gillian Robespierre’s well-intentioned abortion comedy Obvious Child. In fact, dear white men, the only white guy you’ve got on your side in this category is Jake Gyllenhaal’s mercury-eyed parody-capitalist from Nightcrawler. In other words, your days are numbered. (If it wasn’t for centuries of invisible, entrenched and self-perpetuating white supremacy, I mean.)
ROBERT ALTMAN WOULD BE PROUD OF WHO'S WINNING HIS AWARD THIS YEAR
The Robert Altman award is given to one director and ensemble cast, and this year it’s going to Altman’s very own dauphin Paul Thomas Anderson for Inherent Vice. Anderson’s earlier cast-led affairs were undoubtedly continuous with films like Short Cuts and Nashville. The two titans were friends toward the end of Altman’s life, and PTA even acted as stand-by director on his last film Prairie Home Companion. In Altman: The Oral Biography, Anderson describes the final day of shooting on Prairie Home Companion: “[Altman] was staring at the monitor and he looked really sad that it was ending...I remember sitting there thinking, "Fuck, do it again, do it...do more, do more." I wanted to do more – not cause it wasn't good, but I wanted to keep shooting...He was so indestructible for so long".
The Independent Spirit Awards will be shown on IFC on 21 February 2015.