The Oscar Warrior: What do the Indie Spirits Mean?

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The first 24 hours of Oscar’s first official week of awards is in full gear with the announcement of the 2012 Film Independent Spirit Awards, commonly known as the “Indie Spirits,” and while they normally wouldn’t have a huge impact on the Oscars, it’s interesting to see two of the top Best Picture contenders appearing in many categories but also being omitted in others.

Let’s start with Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist, which received five nominations including Feature, Director, Screenplay, Cinematography and Male Lead for Jean Dujardin. What’s thought to be its prime contender, Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, received four nominations but the one that was noticeably absent was a nod for George Clooney in the Lead Actor category, which seems like a fairly major (and possibly telling) omission. We still think it has a good chance in a couple categories such as Screenplay but it’ll only be significant if the tradition of Indie Spirits being seen as a consolation prize for the Oscars proves true. In other words, often a movie that doesn’t have the studio backing or huge box office receipts might win the Spirit Award but then have to be happy just getting nominated for an Oscar.

The other four movies nominated for Best Feature include Nicolas Refn’s Drive, Mike Mills’ Beginners, Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter and Jonathan Levine’s 50/50, although the latter was omitted from the Best Director category, nor did Joseph Gordon-Levitt receive an acting nomination

Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene received three nominations for First Feature and acting nods for Elizabeth Olsen and John Hawkes. Corey Stoll received a supporting nomination for his work in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, but it was otherwise ignored despite being thought of as a serious Oscar contender. Janet McTeer was nominated for Albert Nobbs, but where was Glenn Close? In fact, the Female Lead category was rounded out by a number of indie actresses who haven’t even been mentioned for Oscars except for Michelle Williams who received the one nomination for My Week with Marilyn.

Steve McQueen’s Shame, opening this coming Friday, December 2, was completely snubbed, and that was particularly noticeable by the absence of Michael Fassbender, who already received an honor at the Venice Film Festival for his work.

So what does this mean? Film Independent is a different group from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and their tastes certainly might not mesh, and the Academy will have more bigger budget studio movies to contend with for their awards so movies like War Horse and The Help will be included which will inevitably knock out some of those nominated for Spirit Awards.