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The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart (and I, at least, have impeccable taste), we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

Best Production Design

The nominees are:

  • Anna Karenina
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  • Les Miserables
  • Life of Pi
  • Lincoln


Meerkat island aside, what part of Life of Pi earned it a nomination in this category? The look and feel of the lifeboat? The precise level of surreal air given to any particular scene surrounded by vast open sea? But the Art Directors Guild gave it the win in the fantasy film category so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about.

I specifically saw Les Miserables on a larger screen because I thought the sets would be fun to see, but they were underutilitzed in the film. Director Tom Hoopers constant closeup shots didn’t bother me as much as it did others, but it certainly made it hard to appreciate the backdrops. The film also lacked the epic air I expected it to have, part of that due to uninspired (and overly-digital) period sets.

Lincoln and The Hobbit both have very effective production design that subtly help establish their settings without getting in their way. They are also both somewhat unmemorable and The Hobbit‘s sets aren’t really breaking any new ground. There are a few new castles, but otherwise much of the film takes place outside or in settings first created for Lord of the Rings over a decade ago.


That leaves me with Anna Karenina. I love the creative use of sets in this film. Many scenes take place in an old theater that is constantly shifting to represent different settings, from a horse race to a train station to a ballroom. The film notably loses its luster in its second half when it moves away from the theater more often. I am somewhat conflicted, however, because I’m not sure it’s much more than a gimmick. I pilloried the nomination Nine received in this category a few years back because it was basically creative use of scaffolding and I don’t want to be a hypocrite. But, hell, the production design by itself greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the film so I’ll roll with it, even if the “living life on a stage” allegory is a little trite.

There were several films with really interesting production design that would have made for a stellar list of nominees. What about the various spacecraft of Prometheus? The numerous time periods – particularly the future dystopia – of Cloud Atlas? And, especially, Skyfall for its villain lair, Shanghai skyscraper, gloomy London offices, and creaky Scottish estate?



I haven’t been able to bring myself to see The Hobbit, so I won’t submit a vote, but I wanted to a say a few words on behalf of Anna Karenina, my clear favorite among the other four nominees. Granted, I’m not sure the production design was used as well as it could have been (I’m putting that more on Joe Wright). But I can vividly remember the sets from the film (no small feat), a wide array of different settings. And different levels, really, thanks to the odd play within a movie effect that Wright seemed to be going for, some of the time. Those meta-sets were all extremely clever. I also thought the design team put together some pretty impressive sets which were a little more traditional. Oblonsky’s workplace and home, the cottage in the field, Vronsky’s apartment, really, just about everywhere felt heightened without going over the top, a large range of different types of sets, all of which enhanced the feel of the movie.

Best Costume Design

The nominees are:

  • Anna Karenina
  • Les Miserables
  • Lincoln
  • Mirror Mirror
  • Snow White and the Huntsman


mirrormirror2As usual, this category is dominated by fantasy and period pieces. Lincoln, Anna Karenina, and Les Miserables all have flashy period costumes, but I’m a little tired of frilly frocks taking this prize year after year. Plus, as advocates for more contemporary designs often point out, a lot of period costumes can simply be rented. Not to deride the costumes in these films – all are notable and interesting in their films – but none feel vital to their films or their visual designs except that they are period-appropriate.

mirrormirror1The Snow White films do more. In Snow White and the Huntsman, I’d say Cherlize Theron’s Evil Queen wardrobe really drove the nomination and her clothing, in turn, helped set the tone for the character. But Mirror Mirror takes only about five minutes to win the battle of the Snow Whites and, therefore, this category. The late Eiko Ishioka designs a wide range of bizarre yet delightful designs that contribute to the film’s fun, campy tone. An animal-themed costume party and the seven dwarfs’ slinky pogo pants are two standouts for me.

Looking at some other films that might have made an impact here, how about combination of period clothing and Andersonian design for Moonrise Kingdom? Or the bizarre fashion and dystopian look of The Hunger Games?

And by “Grouches” I mean me and John.  Proud members of Film Independent, we get a vote for the Spirit Awards and take it very seriously.  I won’t get into John’s clever system of earning and assigning points, all you need to know is that for the categories where we both saw all the nominees, you’ll see each of our picks along with how much we weighted that pick.  Whoever’s pick is weighted higher gets our vote.  And now, join us as we discuss this year’s crop.


  • Rosemarie DeWitt, Your Sister’s Sister
  • Ann Dowd, Compliance
  • Helen Hunt, The Sessions
  • Brit Marling, Sound of My Voice
  • Lorraine Toussaint, Middle of Nowhere

John: Ann Dowd (7)
Jared: Rosemarie DeWitt (6)

John: Phew!

John: I upped it a time or two to fight you off and it worked.

Jared: Well played, I had fiddled with my points there a bunch.

John: Not that I have anything against DeWitt, but Dowd is so good. People find Compliance a hard sit because it requires a lot of characters to be continuously stupid, but with Dowd especially you can understand how she could be fooled.  She makes it feel very real.

Jared: Completely agree with you. This was a tough category for me because I thought all of the actresses were top notch. I thought Dowd did a very good job and it is impressive she is receiving notices because it isn’t very showy role.

John: It’s too bad her awards campaign didn’t take off more.

Jared: I thought DeWitt did a lot with a little. It is a sparse script and movie and she created an engaging, complex character.


John: Ha, I put Bernie on netflix for background noise while we chat and he just shot shirley maclaine. fantastic

John: I rather liked Your Sister’s Sister. Very interesting characters in a movie where not a ton necessarily happens. All the performances are good but I’d agree that DeWitt stands out.

Jared: Yeah, it is a movie I should have hated, but I kinda liked it.

John: Maybe she’s good in fucked up family roles, remembering that we loved her in Rachel Getting Married.

Jared: Haha. True.  Also, everything.


John: Since it’s only the two of us I realized I should only vote for one person per category, but I would have tossed Hunt some votes too.

Jared: We both ranked Hunt second, she was very solid.

John: I’d want her to be my sex therapist.

Jared: I mean, I guess I’d want to know the options first.

John: Also, I’ve said Greta Gerwig is my indie movie kryptonite, but Brit Marling may now be a close second. I didn’t hate Sound of My Voice as much as Another Earth, but it was still not a pleasant experience.  I guess she’s been good in both, but she wrote both and BOTH have intriguing premises that go nowhere.

Jared: It didn’t measure up to my expectations, but I kinda liked her in the role.  Definitely agree there. Maybe she should get some different people helping her with the scripts after she comes up with the idea.


  • Fill the Void
  • Gimme the Loot
  • Safety Not Guaranteed
  • Sound of My Voice
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Jared: My vote goes to The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  Safety Not Guaranteed wasn’t good and Sound of My Voice was half baked.  Gimme the Loot is a pretty fun little flick.  The two leads, Tashiana Washington and Ty Hickson are quite winning and carry a good chunk of the movie on their shoulders.  Still, it was a pleasant surprise.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of my favorite movies of the year.  The first maybe two-thirds of the film is good, if not particularly noteworthy.  But that last third, man.  Chbosky knocks it out of the park.  John and I have raved about the acting performances all over the place.  The script is very solid and deserved a better awards run than it received.  For whatever it is worth, as Peter Knegt is keen to point out, the film is actually Chbosky’s second feature. His first was called The Four Corners of Nowhere and it played Sundance.


  • Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike
  • David Oyelowo, Middle of Nowhere
  • Michael Pena, End of Watch
  • Sam Rockwell, Seven Psychopaths
  • Bruce Willis, Moonrise Kingdom

John: My vote goes to Michael Pena, though I gave careful consideration to Matthew McConaughey.  Pena (and Gyllenhaal) give very natural performances in End of Watch. It’s a movie that strives to insert the viewer into the world of the LAPD and their performances are a big part of that.

Jared: I’m looking forward to seeing End of Watch. Until then, McConaughey is at the top of my list.

John: Also, Bruce Willis should play more sadsacks.

Jared: Yes! He’s got great range, when he’s able to give it a shot.


  • Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom
  • Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks
  • Martin McDonagh, Seven Psychopaths
  • David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
  • Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias, Keep the Lights On

Jared: Seven Psychopaths (7)
John: Ruby Sparks (3)

Jared: And I just realized I gave a movie with “Seven” in the title a 7.

John: Oh jeez. Did you have any idea what the hell was going on in Seven Psychopaths?

Jared: Yes.  Actually, my complaint was that the script wasn’t anywhere near as clever as it thought it was.  I didn’t really love the script, the relatively high weight was to avoid one of the other scripts showing up.

John: Given the McDonagh family’s past successes, the talent of the people involved in this movie, and the premise, Seven Psychopaths is one of my biggest disappointments of the year.

Jared: I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with that.  I thought the film had some funny scenes and generally did a good job utilizing the actors, but the script was certainly no In Bruges or The Guard.

John: So you voted defensively? I thought you liked some of the other movies.

Jared: In this case, yes. I really didn’t want to see Moonrise Kingdom or SLP in there.

John: I enjoyed Moonrise Kingdom, though certainly part of that was Anderson’s aesthetic, which didn’t annoy Jared this time.

Jared: Ugh.  I can’t stand the guy.

John: I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Anderson’s best movies are the ones Noah Baumbach had no part of.

Jared: You just hate Noah Baumbach with a fiery passion.

John: I didn’t even realize beforehand. But I hated Zissou and Fantastic Mr Fox, and both had Baumbach’s grubby paws on them.

John: Also, did you know he wrote Madascar 3? I didn’t until much later but it’s bad.

Jared: Whoa. Weird.  Actually, that does sound familiar now that you mention it.

Jared: I liked Ruby Sparks and had it second. Liked it better as a Twilight Zone episode, but it was a generally fun watch.

John: I don’t think Ruby Sparks amounts to anything revolutionary, but it has a really good and intense climax. Hated the last scene though.  I guess a lesson about trying to change people isn’t very deep, but it does it in an interesting way.  As best I can tell this is Zoe Kazan’s first screenplay. I wonder if her nomination here made her ineligible for the Best First Screenplay category.

Jared: I was under the impression that the Spirits don’t let you into both, to get more nominees, but I haven’t researched that.

John: See, I thought it would go the other way. Her first screenplay would make her ineligible for this one.  It is pretty funny that Paul Dano writes a manic pixie dream girl just for himself and he can’t even keep her. It’s a funny concept even if it drags a bit in the middle. If they just chilled out things would’ve been much easier.  And Keep the Lights On was a good film about destructive relationships.

Jared: I appreciated the lesson in Keep the Lights On, even if I don’t think it told a particularly interesting story.

John: And the worst part of Silver Linings Playbook is the script. It was rotten from the very beginning.

Jared: Agree 100% there.  It is a joke it got the Oscar nom and the Independent Spirits should have known better.

John: Well get ready, I suspect it’ll clean up at the Spirits.

Jared: Booo.

John: If you are having mental issues, please see your psychologist and take your medications. Do not self-medicate via “trying to change” and dance.

Jared: Hey man, that shrink totally got on board, once he started hanging out with Bradley Cooper at football games and then showing up at Cooper’s house to just chill.


  • Jack Black, Bernie
  • Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
  • John Hawkes, The Sessions
  • Thure Lindhardt, Keep the Lights On
  • Matthew McConaughey, Killer Joe
  • Wendell Pierce, Four

Jared: Matthew McConaughey (3)
John: John Hawkes (2)

Jared: I’ll be honest, this was the toughest category for me. I would have been happy giving any of these actors my vote.

John: Tough category. I had Hawkes, McConaughey, and Lindhardt all in a bunch.  But I do think Hawkes should have gotten a nod at the Oscars. He’s really transformed, not just physically.

Jared: I thought McConaughey was so good in the film, just dominating every scene he was in. And that last scene, wow. A masterpiece. I had Hawkes a very close second here.

John: Yep. In fact, I may have moved off McConaughey in Supporting Male because he was so good in Killer Joe.  I love the sinister twist on his “all right all right all riiiight” act.

Jared: For opposite and yet similar reasons. Hawkes had to do so much in The Sessions with so little physical movement and yet he’s such a force throughout the entire film.

John: I love Bernie a lot. It’s so far my favorite film of the year. But I’m not sold on Jack Black.  There are certain emotions he just doesn’t do well. Bernie’s charming and flamboyant moments are fantastic. The sadder stuff, not so much.

Jared: Really? I thought he gave an interesting performance, even if it was kinda like all the other Jack Black performances.  Maybe that’s it. Black is at his best when he gets to go broad.

John: I’m watching it right now and he’s crying on the witness stand. It’s not very convincing. Unless the point is that he’s fake crying on the stand, but I really don’t think that’s the case.

Jared: No, I don’t think so.  I don’t know if anyone has seen Four. I liked Wendell Pierce in it a lot, but it almost felt like more of a supporting role.

John: I didn’t really get the character so it was tough to figure out my thoughts on his performance. Like, why is he going through all this trouble for a hook-up? Unless this is just part of the game while committing statutory rape?

Jared: Well, when you put it like that…I would imagine getting virginal young boys you’ve never met in person to sleep with you takes a little bit of time to calm their nerves.

John: I’m amazed that Perks of Being a Wallflower was eligible but didn’t pop up in more categories, particularly in this category for Logan Lerman. Who I thought gave one of the best lead performances of the year.

Jared: No disagreement here. I would have found room for Ezra Miller too.


  • Linda Cardellini, Return
  • Emayatzy Corinealdi, Middle of Nowhere
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
  • Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Mary Elizabeh Winstead, Smashed

(neither of us saw enough nominees, so we didn’t vote)

John: Who would you have voted for in female lead?

Jared: Jennifer Lawrence. The only thing that’s remotely close is Mary Elizabeth Winstead sight unseen based on reviews and how much I heart her. But I thought Lawrence was unspeakably fantastic in her role, elevating a subpar script almost singlehandedly into something worth watching.

John: Oh. Well, I guess that would be a good reason

Jared: You?

John: I guess Cardellini, but I don’t care very much

Jared: I love that Cardellini got some awards love. I’m not sure she would have been my pick here, but that’s more the role than her. I hope this leads to more stuff for her. And here’s where I’ll plug The Thrilling Adventure Hour, where she’s made appearances as Rebecca Rose Rushmore.


  • Rama Burshtein, Fill the Void
  • Derek Connolly, Safety Not Guaranteed
  • Christopher Ford, Robot & Frank
  • Rashida Jones and Will McCormack, Celeste and Jesse Forever
  • Jonathan Lisecki, Gayby

John: My vote goes to Celeste and Jesse Forever.  But I admittedly don’t think particularly highly of its competition. All four that I saw – Safety Not Guaranteed, Robot & Frank, and Gayby are the others – start with interesting premises but don’t do enough with them. Like they weren’t fully developed to make much of an impact. Celeste and Jesse does the same but actually goes somewhere. Great characters, truly funny jokes, some earned heartfelt moments.

Jared: For whatever it is worth, I really didn’t like Safety Not Guaranteed (and my family still hasn’t forgiven Jared for dragging them to see it in theaters). And I like Gayby, but I agree. Felt more like the pilot of a TV show.

John: Gayby was amusing but not much more than that.


  • Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom
  • Julia Loktev, The Loneliest Planet
  • David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
  • Ira Sachs, Keep the Lights On
  • Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Jared: Julia Loktev (6)
John: Wes Anderson (4)

John: While I expected you not to vote for Anderson, I didn’t think you’d go for Loktev. While watching The Loneliest Planet, I kept thinking, “Jared is going to HATE this movie”.

Jared: You know, I watched it last night, so it is possible there is bias here. But while I was watching it, I kept thinking similar thing, that I should be hating this movie. There isn’t a ton of dialogue, instead there are a lot of scenes of just pretty backgrounds.  But I thought Loktev did an amazing job turning that into a cohesive story that was surprisingly interesting to follow. It also helped, I think, that I knew there was a scene at some point where “everything would change”, so I enjoyed the anticipation of waiting for that to happen.

John: I’ll agree that I enjoyed it more than I probably should have. There are a couple of important moments in the film that are quite impactful and not much in between. But somehow it was moderately interesting

Jared: And I’ve got to attribute that to the director in large part.

John: I just wish there was a bit more going on there. Even if it was just a few more conversations. Still, if we’re just talking direction, I suppose she helps keep it watchable.

Jared: Yeah, I wouldn’t have voted it Best Picture or anything, and certainly not the screenplay, but I thought the direction was very good.

John: Other years I would have split between Anderson and Zeitlin.

Jared: I am very glad neither gets our vote.

John: I feel like you can say similar things about Zeitlin as about Loktev, just that he did it all better. More interesting visuals, etc

Jared: I’d concur the visuals are probably more interesting. I felt that Loktev worked to flesh out a thin story, where Zeitlin just didn’t care about the story at all.


  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Bernie
  • Keep the Lights On
  • Moonrise Kingdom
  • Silver Linings Playbook

John: Bernie (9)
Jared: Bernie (3) 

Jared:  We agreed on something!

John: Hooray!  Now I feel bad about wasting all those points on it.

Jared: I really did not love the nominees here. Bernie was the only one I actually kind of liked. Which is sad, because I liked a decent amount of nominees in other categories.  Yeah, you could have won a couple more categories if you had distributed better.

John: Bernie just tickled me from start to finish. A really neat portrait of a small town, really interesting characters, inventive narrative structure.  I wish it had gotten more love, particularly for Linklater in Best Director.

Jared: I’m surprised he didn’t pick up a nomination there.  The film just couldn’t find any big awards traction this year.

John: I dug Moonrise Kingdom, too. Perhaps children are a better vessel for Anderson’s… mopiness?  Whatever it is he does

Jared: He treats children as adults and adults like children. So maybe?

John: So any overall impressions this year?

Jared: There are still a few more films I need to get to, but the movies seemed…bigger, more mainstream this year. I really liked Perks of Being a Wallflower, but I was going to see that anyway. Loneliest Planet was a pleasant surprise, I suppose, but not like I’m watching that again. A lot of great acting, I think that may be the highlight for Jared. Maybe a down year for films overall and scripts, but some great acting.

John: Well, I like that there’s less Oscar overlap, though I still think Silver Linings will clean up here.  I’m not sure that anything was a true revelation. The films I liked the best (Bernie, Ruby Sparks, Celeste and Jesse Forever) I probably would have seen anyway.

Jared: I don’t know if that means we are branching out and getting to more films or if the Spirit Awards aren’t being indie enough.

John: I guess I should add End of Watch to that list.  I know the LGBT film scene has long been part of the indie community, but this is the biggest showing we’ve seen. There were three (maybe 2.5, depending on how you want to categorize Four) nominated this year. And Keep the Lights On got a bunch of nods.

Jared: Huh, that’s an interesting point.

John: I wonder if it’s a good year for LGBT films or Indie Spirits or paying more attention or what. Because there’s certainly a community of people making gay films for gay audiences that the Spirits hasn’t seemed to acknowledge as much.  I’m not sure Gayby was a good recipient of this added attention, though

Jared: Keep the Lights On played in competition at Sundance, so it wasn’t like that necessarily came out of nowhere.  There was Beginners last year, that sorta counts.  And Pariah got a couple of nods.

John: The Spirits spread the love around this year, too. Which is nice compared to the Oscars, which I think has one of the smallest total number of films nominated

Jared: Yeah. On the one hand, you want to see the most deserving things get nominated. On the other, it seems a little unlikely that the best everything of the year would only be concentrated in a handful of movies.

John: And I think we can’t finish without acknowledging how frustrating it is to have no way to see Middle of Nowhere, which racked up a bunch of nominations

Jared: I remain stunned that we didn’t get a screener for it.  And that when it came back to DC, it only played for a week with a single screening at like 2 pm.

John: I don’t understand how we don’t have the ability to stream nominees yet, particularly for an awards body that wants to highlight lower profile movies.

Jared: I can’t figure it out, unless it is some sort of legal thing with rights. Or maybe people just really want to pirate two hour long movies about people trekking through the country of Georgia.

John: My understanding is that the films themselves cover the costs of the screeners.  Still, there must be some sort of solution.  In our three years doing this, we’ve received a grand total of one link to an online stream

Jared: Which is absurd. If even the Spirit Award voters can’t see the films, how on earth does Film Independent expect to get people around the country to see these movies?

John: I plan on seeing Middle of Nowhere when I can because I hear it’s very good.  It would be a shame to find out it would have won some of our votes.

February 2013
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