You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Spirit Awards’ category.

I thought Fast & Furious 6 was pretty fantastic.  The hyperbolic bombast led to a sense of ridiculous fun all too often forgotten in summer blockbusters.  I’ve got plenty of thoughts on the film, but as the opening credits rolled, I came to a surprising realization.  (Caution: one minor spoiler below.)

Guess how many people from the film are proud Spirit Award nominees?

This swaggiest of Hollywood sequels contains at least four!

Director Justin Lin was nominated for the John Cassevetes award for Better Luck Tomorrow.  He lost to the team behind The Station Agent, a film I find quite wonderful.

Michelle Rodriguez won Best Debut Performance for her role in Girlfight.  Other nominees included Rory Culkin, Mike White, and the simply amazing Emmy Rossum.

John Ortiz returns to the franchise in this installment.  He was nominated for the truly horrible Jack Goes Boating, losing out to John Hawkes’s performance in Winter’s Bone.

And Thure Lindhardt was up for Best Male Lead in the most recent Spirit Awards for his turn in Keep the Lights On, also losing out to John Hawkes (The Sessions).

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.

BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE

  • 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.

BEST FIRST FEATURE

  • 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.

SUPPORTING MALE

  • 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.

BEST SCREENPLAY

  • 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.

BEST MALE LEAD

  • 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.

BEST FEMALE LEAD

  • 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.

FIRST SCREENPLAY

  • 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.

BEST DIRECTOR

  • 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.

BEST PICTURE

  • 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.

(Descriptions via the Sundance press release)

Afternoon Delight / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Jill Soloway) —  In this sexy, dark comedy, a lost L.A. housewife puts her idyllic hipster life in jeopardy when she tries to rescue a stripper by taking her in as a live-in nanny. Cast: Kathryn Hahn, Juno Temple, Josh Radnor, Jane Lynch.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Jill Soloway’s first writing credit is for The Steve Harvey Show, so she’s awesome.  I’m a little skeptical that the Spirit Awards will find their way to a “sexy, dark comedy” from someone who wrote and produced for Dirty Sexy Money (which was a great sexy, dark comedy until it went completely off the rails).  That said, with Soloway’s background and a stellar cast (which, according to imdb, also includes Key & Peele’s Keegan Michael Key), count me in.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: David Lowery) — The tale of an outlaw who escapes from prison and sets out across the Texas hills to reunite with his wife and the daughter he has never met. Cast: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Nate Parker, Keith Carradine.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Yes.  It sounds a little maybe a little too adventure-y.

Austenland / U.S.A., United Kingdom (Director: Jerusha Hess, Screenwriters: Jerusha Hess, Shannon Hale) — Thirtysomething, single Jane is obsessed with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice. On a trip to an English resort, her fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman become more real than she ever imagined. Cast: Keri Russell, JJ Feild, Bret McKenzie, Jennifer Coolidge, Georgia King, James Callis.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Nope.  OK, partially because I’m just not a fan of Hess’s work.  But also because it sounds like Lost in Austen and like a parody of a romantic comedy.

C.O.G. / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Kyle Patrick Alvarez) — In the first ever film adaptation of David Sedaris’ work, a cocky young man travels to Oregon to work on an apple farm. Out of his element, he finds his lifestyle and notions being picked apart by everyone who crosses his path. Cast: Jonathan Groff, Denis O’Hare, Corey Stoll, Dean Stockwell, Casey Wilson, Troian Bellisario.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK:  A David Sedaris adaptation about a guy who goes to work on an apple farm and has his “lifestyle and notions picked apart”?  Sounds like the boring pap the Spirits would eat up.  That said, the combination of Denis O’Hare, Corey Stoll, Dean Stockwell, and Casey Wilson sounds pretty ah-mah-zing great.

Concussion / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Stacie Passon) — After a blow to the head, Abby decides she can’t do it anymore. Her life just can’t be only about the house, the kids and the wife. She needs more: she needs to be Eleanor. Cast: Robin Weigert, Maggie Siff, Johnathan Tchaikovsky, Julie Fain Lawrence, Emily Kinney, Laila Robins.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK:  Seems like it has some actressing potential.

Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Francesca Gregorini) — Emanuel, a troubled girl, becomes preoccupied with her mysterious, new neighbor, who bears a striking resemblance to her dead mother. In offering to babysit her newborn, Emanuel unwittingly enters a fragile, fictional world, of which she becomes the gatekeeper. Cast: Kaya Scodelario, Jessica Biel, Alfred Molina, Frances O’Connor, Jimmi Simpson, Aneurin Barnard.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: The description isn’t really giving us a ton to work with, is it?  Maybe it is fantastical in the way Beasts of the Southern Wild is.  It more likely sounds like the type of film that could pick up a stray supporting nom, or maybe Kaya Scodelario turns in something special.

Fruitvale / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Ryan Coogler) — The true story of Oscar, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family and strangers on the last day of 2008. Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz, Ahna O’Reilly, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK:  I know, it is a little weird to see a Chad Michael Murray movie here.  But Michael B. Jordan is something special, and it seems more than a little likely that the Spirit nominators are fans of The Wire and Friday Night Lights.

In a World… / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Lake Bell) — An underachieving vocal coach is motivated by her father, the king of movie-trailer voice-overs, to pursue her aspirations of becoming a voiceover star. Amidst pride, sexism and family dysfunction, she sets out to change the voice of a generation. Cast: Lake Bell, Demetri Martin, Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Ken Marino, Fred Melamed.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Chock full of funny people and with an amusing premise, sounds like a movie I’d want to see.  But no one ever went broke betting against awards love for funny movies.

Kill Your Darlings / U.S.A. (Director: John Krokidas, Screenwriters: Austin Bunn, John Krokidas) — An untold story of murder that brought together a young Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs at Columbia University in 1944, providing the spark that led to the birth of an entire generation – their Beat revolution. Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHann, Ben Foster, Michael C. Hall, Jack Huston, Elizabeth Olsen.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK:  Just like any movie, this one has the potential to miss, but come on.  It is too easy.  I don’t get any points if this one gets award love and I won’t deduct any points if it doesn’t.

The Lifeguard / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Liz W. Garcia) — A former valedictorian quits her reporter job in New York and returns to the place she last felt happy: her childhood home in Connecticut. She gets work as a lifeguard and starts a dangerous relationship with a troubled teenager. Cast: Kristen Bell, Mamie Gummer, Martin Starr, Alex Shaffer, Amy Madigan, David Lambert.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK:  I may have come across this movie a few months ago for reasons entirely unrelated to me imdb-stalking Kristen Bell.  I’ll all for some Spirit love here, but I don’t see it happening.

May in the Summer / U.S.A., Qatar, Jordan (Director and screenwriter: Cherien Dabis) — A bride-to-be is forced to reevaluate her life when she reunites with her family in Jordan and finds herself confronted with the aftermath of her parents’ divorce. Cast: Cherien Dabis, Hiam Abbass, Bill Pullman, Alia Shawkat, Nadine Malouf, Alexander SiddigDAY ONE FILM

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Has potential, unless it runs afoul of the mysterious eligibility requirements.

Mother of George / U.S.A. (Director: Andrew Dosunmu, Screenwriter: Darci Picoult) — A story about a woman willing to do anything and risk everything for her marriage. Cast: Isaach De Bankolé, Danai Gurira, Anthony Okungbowa, Yaya Alafia, Bukky Ajayi.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK:  Geez, could that description be any more generic?  You gotta give me a little more to go on.  Could be a sleeper pick for writing and acting.

The Spectacular Now / U.S.A. (Director: James Ponsoldt, Screenwriters: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber) — Sutter is a high school senior who lives for the moment; Aimee is the introvert he attempts to “save.” As their relationship deepens, the lines between right and wrong, friendship and love, and “saving” and corrupting become inextricably blurred. Cast: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kyle Chandler.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK:  I’m so torn.  Given that the film is written by the guys who did (500) Days of Summer and stars Coach, Envy Adams, and Ramona Flowers, it has the inside track on my favorite 2013 movie.  But it is directed by the guy who did Smashed, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower found its way to a Spirit Award.  Still, I’m going to say this misses.

Touchy Feely / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Lynn Shelton) — A massage therapist is unable to do her job when stricken with a mysterious and sudden aversion to bodily contact. Meanwhile, her uptight brother’s foundering dental practice receives new life when clients seek out his “healing touch.” Cast: Rosemarie DeWitt, Allison Janney, Ron Livingston, Scoot McNairy, Ellen Page, Josh Pais.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK:  I just haven’t been able to get into mumblecore.  Which probably means this will win all the awards.  Though, honestly, I’m not sure the Spirits have really jumped on the bandwagon.  Your Sister’s Sister did manage a nomination for DeWitt, I guess.  Heck of a cast, though.

Toy’s House / U.S.A. (Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Screenwriter: Chris Galletta) — Three unhappy teenage boys flee to the wilderness where they build a makeshift house and live off the land as masters of their own destiny. Or at least that’s the plan. Cast: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Alison Brie.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK:  Anyone mind if we skip the part about three unhappy boys and move along to the bit with Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, and Alison Brie?  This one seems like a no to me.

Upstream Color / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Shane Carruth) — A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives. Cast: Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensenig, Thiago Martins.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK:  I’ve read that description half a dozen times and I still have no idea what this movie is about.  So, yeah, Spirit Awards aplenty.  Especially since Carruth’s prior effort, Primer (which sadly has not yet bubbled up to the top of my Netflix queue), pulled down four Spirit nominations.

Well, kinda.  Last year I predicted how the films picked for Sundance Dramatic Competition would fare at the Spirit Awards, based solely on the summary, cast, and crew provided.  Let’s see how I did on some of them.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: I have absolutely no idea what that description means, but I’m in.  And also considering naming my first-born Quvenzhane.  But sounds a little too out there for the Spirits.

GRADE:  F.  I kinda missed a little here, huh?

For Ellen

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Has to be a favorite.  So Yong Kim has a directing credit on Spirit nominee The Exploding Girl, and Dano, Heder, Malone, and Levieva are chock full of indie cred.  Plus the description has “struggling”, “estranged”, and “custody” in it.

GRADE:  F.  Has received mixed reviews and zero traction.

Hello I Must Be Going

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: I’m smelling an Actress and/or Supporting Actress nomination.  Lynskey seems due (and deserving) and who doesn’t like Blythe Danner?  Louiso, if you don’t know, is the non-Jack Black guy from High Fidelity.  He also directed The Mark Pease Experience which was underwhelming but also about a teenager’s relationship with an adult, so that’s a creepy pattern.

GRADE:  C.  Lynskey was one of the biggest snubs this year, so I wasn’t too off the mark.

Keep the Lights On

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Yes.  Even if they have to make up a new category, this film seems a shoo-in.  Savane already had a Spirit nomination, for Goodbye Solo.

GRADE: A+.  Good job, past Jared!

Middle Of Nowhere

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Seems like a pretty good shot for something.

GRADE: B.  I didn’t quite call how well it would resonate, but this counts as a win.

Nobody Walks

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Seems like it’d be silly to bet against anything Lena Dunham at this point.  Heck of a cast, by the way.  Two Grouch favorites in Thirlby and DeWitt probably means it’ll get shafted, though.

GRADE: B-.

Safety Not Guaranteed

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Nope.  Well, I would have said that about Another Earth, but nope.  That said, I’m already in line for the movie.

GRADE: F.  Spirit Awards like this film a lot more than I did.  A lot.

Save the Date

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Not a chance, but ladies and gentleman, your front-runner for Jared’s favorite movie of 2012.

GRADE: B-.  I guessed right with the Spirits, but I found the film to be just OK.

Smashed

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: This film sounds so good, right?  It isn’t just me?  I’m already excited.  If the film isn’t too funny, I could see it happening.  That’s a really talented cast right there.

GRADE: B.  I haven’t seen the film yet, but not being too funny doesn’t sound to be a problem.

The Surrogate

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Is there somewhere I can put a bet on this movie winning the 2013 Spirit Awards?  I mean, come on.  This one has to be a joke, right?  I dare you to put together a more likely contender.

GRADE:  B-.  The film did pick up a few nominations, but didn’t quite make the splash I expected it to.

 

Not too shabby overall, especially considering the other Sundance selections I didn’t mention above that I correctly dismissed from Sundance consideration.  Anyone know a bookie that accepts Spirit Award bets?  If so, you can look forward to my 2014 picks coming up shortly.

I’m doing the proper internet thing and instead of bravely going out on a limb like Jared to make my own Spirit Awards predictions I will stand on the sidelines and lob grenades.

He’s underestimating Beasts of the Southern Wild, though there are eligibility issues for first films, I believe. So I don’t think it’s eligible for Best Feature but it should be for Best Director… I think?

Bernie should also do very well. If there’s any lock I’d say it’s Jack Black for Best Actor.

If End of Watch does grab that Best Feature nomination he’s predicting, you would think it’d drag along at least one actor with it, right? Probably Michael Pena.

Finally, there’s the John C Reilly Rule, which is that a John C Reilly-type name actor will pop up for a comedy indie people mostly liked but forgot about, often for the film’s lone nomination. Reilly can’t go for the threepeat after pulling this off for Cyrus (for which he won our vote) and Cedar Rapids the past two years as he was in no eligible films. So count on Jason Segel and/or Ed Helms (or Susan Sarandon) for Jeff Who Lives at Home.

By the way, Pitch Perfect comes in under the $20 million budget. Do we dare to dream? And does this seem like a good year to jump on the Rebel Wilson bandwagon and have her host?

Spirit Awards nominations will be announced on Tuesday!  Common, Anna Kendrick, and Zoe Saldana will be reading them off at a press conference at 1 pm (east coast time).  I, for one, am glad that awards season is upon us.

Predicting the Spirit Award nominations is a fool’s errand for a few reasons.  The primary reason, perhaps, is that it isn’t entirely clear which films are eligible.  The rules, basically, are that the film’s budget has to be under $20 million, it has to be an American production outside the studio system, it has to have screened this year, and the producers have to have submitted the film (and not submitted it any prior year).  So we have an educated guess, but no set list.  The other big reason is that there aren’t any meaningful precursors, or really very many established prognosticators that I’m aware of (other than Indiewire’s Peter Knegt).

So, with those caveats in mind, here’s my predicted slate:

BEST FEATURE

  • End of Watch
  • Middle of Nowhere
  • Moonrise Kingdom
  • The Sessions
  • Smashed

BEST LEAD FEMALE

  • Ann Dowd, Compliance
  • Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks
  • Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Smashed
  • A performance in a movie I’ve never heard of

BEST LEAD MALE

  • Mike Birbiglia, Sleepwalk with Me
  • Paul Dano, Ruby Sparks
  • Richard Gere, Arbitrage
  • John Hawkes, The Sessions
  • Matthew McConaughey, Killer Joe

BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE

  • Lauren Ambrose, Sleepwalk with Me
  • Helen Hunt, The Sessions
  • Shirley MacLaine, Bernie
  • Octavia Spencer, Smashed
  • Juno Temple, Killer Joe

BEST SUPPORTING MALE

  • Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • William H. Macy, The Sessions
  • 3 surprises

BEST DIRECTOR

  • Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom
  • Ava DuVernay, Middle of Nowhere
  • Ben Lewin, The Sessions
  • Lynn Shelton, Your Sister’s Sister
  • Whit Stillman, Damsels in Distress

BEST FIRST FEATURE

  • Zal Batmanglij, The Sound of My Voice
  • Mike Birbiglia, Sleepwalk with Me
  • Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • Colin Treverrow, Safety Not Guaranteed
  • Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

We continue with our chat where we reveal our ballot for this year’s Independent Spirit Awards (occurring right as this is posting!). Part 1 is here.

BEST MALE LEAD

The nominees:

  • Demian Bichir, A Better Life
  • Jean Dujardin, The Artist
  • Ryan Gosling, Drive
  • Woddy Harrelson, Rampart
  • Micahel Shannon, Take Shelter

WINNER: Michael Shannon (19 points – 12 from Brian, 7 from John)
Other votes: Jean Dujardin (1 point – Jared)

Jared: So you guys want to talk about your love for Michael Shannon?

John: He’s so intense!

Jared: He really is fantastic

Brian: I can’t imagine anyone else doing that role

John: He’s got the face, the voice, the demeanor for that role

Brian: There were only two categories I really truly cared about — and it was this and Supp. Female — but I didn’t realize you all agreed with me!

Jared: I thought this category was really, really strong, I wavered back and forth on voting for every single nominee.

John: This is all around a good crop of nominees though

Brian: I never considered voting for Gosling but other than that, the strongest batch of the nominees for sure

John: I agree that there wasn’t quite enough for Gosling to work with

Jared: I think Gosling managed to turn a little into a whole heck of a lot. Bichir has a kind of similar argument. Harrelson always seems to create these indelible characters.

John: I wish I liked Rampart more, but Harrelson is good. Dujardin is good. Bichir is good in a more subdued role. Good good good. I was a tad worried about Dujardin winning. Not because he’s not great but because I feel like someone else needs to win the Spirit. That’s why I fought the urge to take points from Shannon when I needed more elsewhere

Jared: I guess I want the best to win, but I see what you are saying.

BEST FIRST FEATURE

The nominees:

  • Another Earth
  • In the Family
  • Margin Call
  • Martha Marcy May Marlene
  • Natural Selection

WINNER: Martha Marcy May Marlene

Jared: I actually kinda liked all of the Best First Feature nominees, not sure I loved any of them, but all are worthwhile films. Our nominee, though, will be Martha Marcy May Marlene.

Brian: Wooooo, that’s who I would have voted for

John: Good movie

John: I can’t believe Margin Call and MMMM are first features. Those are some real up and coming talents

Adam: It was fine. Not great, but had interesting elements

Brian: I fear that Margin Call will be a little bit of a one-trick pony

John: It depends on what Chandor does next. He’s gotta do something different. imdb says his next project is called All Is Lost. “A journey of one man’s fight to survive.” Starring Robert Redford

Jared: I thought MMMM did a good job of maintain tension throughout.

Brian: yes, it was incredibly tense

Jared: So In the Family is a 170 minute film about an gay, ethnically Asian man from Tennessee (completely with drawl) and his battle to cope after his partner dies leaving behind a biological son the two had been raising, and his battle to win custody of said kid. It also is surprisingly watchable.

Brian: I can see the ads now: “Surprisingly Watchable’

Jared: I mean, there’s no way to describe it so it sounds interesting. And the guy is desperate need of an editor or something. But writer/director/star Patrick Wang managed to put together a pretty compelling film.

John: I can see how that would make a compelling movie

Jared: I wouldn’t say to go out of your way to see it, but you probably won’t be disappointed.

BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM

The nominees:

  • A Separation
  • Melancholia
  • Shame
  • The Kid with a Bike
  • Tyrannosaur

WINNER: Shame

John: OUR vote for international film is Shame

Jared: Good thing Adam zoned out an hour ago, otherwise he’d be yelling at you a lot.

Adam: I would, but I am completely unsurprised that John chose the inferior film.

John: I know you all didn’t care for it, but it mesmerized me and it really affected me. I just wanted to curl up in my seat and then go take a shower

Brian: oh god

John: The last 30 minutes or so is so intense

Brian: or pointless

John: It reminds me of the finale to Requiem for a Dream. Just increasingly bleak and awful. I’m talking of the scenes in the lead up to his return home, which I cared for less

Brian: I’d love to hear about Melancholia instead of ragging on John about why Shame is terrible

John: You guys won’t like Melancholia

Brian: so… you loved it?

John: No I did not. I can see how people liked it though. It saves the best for last. The last 20-30 minutes is the impending doom of the apocalypse and it gets increasingly uneasy. So it ends with a tense bang

Adam: It looked absolutely awful

John: But holy hell the first hour is rough. The Kirsten Dunst character is at her wedding and has a serious case of cuntitis. She’s mentally ill, but still

Adam: YES!!!!

Jared: That may be the best line of the year, by the way. [ed note: “cuntitis” is a joke from Cinematography nominee The Off Hours]

Adam: That’s staying in

John: Tyrannosaur is terrific also, by the way

Jared: Adam, I believe Tyrannosaur is done by the guy who played Jason Statham’s partnerish guy in Blitz.

John: I heard some complaints that it was just another British bleak picture, but it has plenty of story and packs a punch

Adam: Oh. Maybe I’ll see that then

John: I also was underwhelmed by A Separation. Two hours of people being stubborn

Jared: That’s disappointing to hear, looking forward to seeing it this weekend.

Adam: John doesn’t know what he is talking about

Brian: thats good to hear, but I’m going with John’s evaluation so my expectations are lowered

Jared: That’s generally my operating assumption.

John: Everyone else seems to love it though so your mileage may vary. I just really expected it to be up my alley

BEST FEMALE LEAD

The nominees:

  • Lauren Ambrose, Think of Me
  • Rachel Harris, Natural Selection
  • Adepero Oduye, Pariah
  • Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene
  • Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

WINNER: Rachel Harris (20 points – Adam)
Other votes: Elizabeth Olsen (9 points- 5 from John, 4 from Brian)
Michelle Williams (7 points – Jared)

Adam: YES!!

John: ha

Brian: Hahahaha

Adam: Clean sweep

Jared: Wanna tell us why you gave her so many points?

John: And here I was worried that someone would outvote Olsen with Williams

Brian: I can support this nomination, but I too want to hear why you loved it

Adam: Sure…I gave her so many points because fuck Michelle Williams

Jared: Hahaha.

Adam: And I like Game Theory

Jared: I was actually really surprised by Harris’s performance. I thought she did a fantastic job.

Adam: I actually agree. I was pleasantly surprised by the movie itself, but she made the movie

Brian: Me too — it could have turned into a Tracey Ullman like parody, but it didn’t. I found this category the hardest, actually

John: Until the last second I was throwing a point to Ambrose. Wish I had left it now!

Jared: John, I almost did the same! I really like Lauren Ambrose and thought she carried the film something fierce. She was playing a tough character and thought she did an admirable job.

John: The movie was meh but I can definitely see why she was nominated

Brian: Agreed

John: Yeah all were good but I never hesitated picking Olsen

Jared: She was a revelation, it is true.

John: Actually, I will say Oduye was a lesser nod to me.

Jared: Agreed. She was fine, but unremarkable.

John: Truth be told I found a few other performances outshone her. Specifically Aasha Davis as her friend and Sahra Mellesse as her sister in a small role

Brian: and Kim Wayans

John: See I wasn’t taken by Wayans

Jared: In Living Color 4 life!

John: Wayans is the mom, right?

Jared: Yup.

John: It’s an uneven movie for acting

Jared: I also have to defend Michelle Williams here. Thought she created a rather memorable Marilyn Monroe…fragile and strong, sexy and insecure and always larger than life.

John: I didn’t like the movie at all but she is indeed good. The big snub for Actress was Liana Liberato for Trust. I was really surpised that film didn’t show up anywhere. She’s so good for a child actress

Jared: I agree with John, people should watch Trust and praise her role

BEST SCREENPLAY

The nominees:

  • Footnote
  • The Artist
  • Win Win
  • Beginners
  • The Descendants

WINNER: The Artist (6 points – 5 from Jared, 1 from Brian)

Brian: I guess I’m not in alone in feeling like the First Screenplay group were much stronger than the Screenplay group.

John: Definitely. And how does Take Shelter get love in so many categories but not screenplay?

Jared: It is a crime that 50/50 isn’t in here.

Adam: I am also surprised that 50/50 is not here

John: I believe that scripts can either be in screenplay or first screenplay, not both. I may not be right about that but I think that’s the case

Jared: Also, how did Midnight in Paris miss?

Adam: Also, while I didn’t always agree with the overall story, Midnight in Paris had some of the best dialogue of any movie this year

Jared: Instead we get Win Win and Beginners.

John: Obviously I would have voted for Midnight in Paris if it had been there, but I can understand spreading the love around, like the way Clooney wasn’t nominated

Brian: I liked Win Win much more than Jared

Adam: I am also fine with Win Win. Beginners should not be here

Brian: Beginners was so trite

John: Beginners is about 40% awesome and 60% navel gazing whiny crap

Brian: with an unoriginal take on the manic pixie dream girl

John: Yeah really. More gay dad please! We want gay dad! We want gay dad!

Brian: Win Win wasn’t anything new either, but well done

John: The weird thing with Win Win is that there isn’t much drama. It’s quite pleasant but that’s about it. Even the sullen teen is a good kid.

Brian: since when do you care about drama?

Jared: Did any of you guys actually like The Descendants script?

Brian: MORE LAND DEALS!

John: I suppose I would have voted for Descendants by default if I had to vote but I clearly didn’t care enough to bother. It has some really great elements but it just doesn’t cohere in a way that I hoped

Jared: Agreed. Maybe Footnote will be really awesome.

John: So weird to me that Footnote is in here

Brian: I guess we should talk about the winner, Jared?

Jared: oh. Everyone already knows The Artist is awesome.

John: I liked the ratatat patter of our winner

Brian: making a screenplay work for a silent movie is no small feat

Jared: And I’m glad people realize that a script is so much more than dialogue. Everything that happens has to be in a script first.

Adam: Says the Aaron Sorkin fan

Jared: [walks down a hallway]

John: Yeah I’d say my problems with The Artist are probably more in execution than in writing. I hope you like stage directions because that script is full of them

Brian: [says self important things]

BEST DIRECTOR

The nominees:

  • Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
  • Mike Mills, Beginners
  • Jeff Nichols, Take Shelter
  • Alexander Payne, The Descendants
  • Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive

WINNER: Jeff Nichols (9 points – 6 from John, 3 from Brian)
Other votes: Nicolas Winding Refn (6 points – 3 from John, 3 from Jared)

John: Oh good. I was worried after that last category that The Artist was ready to sweep our votes. Both Drive and Take Shelter are real directors’ movies. All about execution. I liked Take Shelter better than Drive so I gave it more points, but kudos to both

Jared: I think Drive has the script of a direct to DVD movie, but Refn worked really hard to make every single shot memorable and elevate it to something arthouse.

Adam: Yeah..I agree with that I wasn’t blown away by any of these movies directing. If I had to pick though, it would have been for Drive

John: I agree fully, Jared. If we have issues with it it’s from the script. Refn gives it some real style: Camera work, scene staging, sound, music, editing. And the same could be said for Nichols. I’d say the only problem I have with Take Shelter is the pacing through some of the middle. It could have used some trimming, I think. Nichols is really good at ratcheting up the tension and doom

Brian: Drive was all flash, no substance. I put some of that on the director. Actually I thought he kept getting in the way of the small semblance of plot that was there. But Take Shelter — those visuals were so arresting and haunting

John: Getting in the way, by being too awesome?

Brian: by being distracting. The violence was the definition of gratuitous

Jared: Refn didn’t really seem to try to be invisible, he wanted you to know someone was Directing, dammit.

John: Yes, but that’s literally the point. This was an exercise in stylish violence

Brian: but it was pointless

John: Well, it was the point

Brian: the point was that it was pointless?

John: I don’t disagree for the most part. But the point seemed to be nothing but to do some stylish violence

Brian: how is that in the plus column?

Adam: Wasn’t that one of your complaints about Inglourious Basterds?

John: Yeah it was my complaint about Inglourious Basterds and I have the same complaint about Drive. I’m just saying the violence isn’t pointless, it is the point. As a directorial exercise it’s great. It just needs some more substance

Brian: see I think Basterds and Drive are totally different. the violence in Basterds had a point — it was war and there was vengeance. in Drive — we knew nothing about The Driver

John: Are we talking writing or directing then

Brian: both. the director chooses what to do with the script . he choices he made didnt make much sense to me

Jared: Anyone have anything to say about the other nominees?

John: The Artist is also all about directorial vision. And people seem to like it. I think Mills gets in based on his segues when McGregor is rambling about shit over montages and the talking dog. Otherwise, why the hell is he there. If you think it’s a good movie you probably like it for the writing and the performances. What is there that makes it particularly well directed?

Jared: Nothing, frankly.

John: And Payne… whatever. He picked some nice Hawaiian music I suppose

Jared: Or the music supervisor did.

BEST FEATURE

The nominees:

  • 50/50
  • Beginners
  • Drive
  • Take Shelter
  • The Artist
  • The Descendants

WINNER: The Artist (10 points – Jared)
Other votes: Take Shelter (8 points – John)
50/50 (3 points – Brian)

Jared: Victory is mine again!

John: Jesus if The Artist wins the Spirits too then what’s the point

Jared: The best movie should win best picture.

Brian: yeah John I dont really think your argument makes much sense

Jared: The Artist is a black and white silent film…that seems pretty independent to me.

John: Mostly I just wish it cost a few million more so it didn’t qualify and we could have our own little playground here without The Artist juggernaut to deal with

Brian: made by French people!

Adam: Ugh…notice how I didn’t vote for it at all. Stupid French

Brian: Next time Adam is in charge of the voting so he rigs it

Adam: You realize that’s EXACTLY what would happen

John: Next time Brian doesn’t waste all his points so we can put up a fight against Jared’s taste in Best Feature

Adam: That said, I am more than happy to be in charge of voting

Brian: I’m actually fine with the selection though I’d have preferred Take Shelter or 50/50

John: So did The Artist warm your cold heart, Jared?

Jared: Yes. The Artist was fun and funny and also surprisingly dark and bleak. Also, it has a great doggie.

Brian: UGGGIE!

John: To me it was just too thin. The style wasn’t enough to get me through. I was on board for about 20 minutes

Jared: The movie managed to placate my entire family, which has pretty much never happened. There’s a really interesting story in there, though

John: It needs another viewing I think.

Thanks for reading. We’ll find out tonight if any of our selections won!

Once again this year we are a member of Film Independent, the group that runs the Independent Spirit Awards. That is, the four of us combine to form one voting member with one ballot. I guess we could probably each afford the fee to join, but we had such fun last year wrangling to figure out our one set of votes that we decided to do it again!

Each of us have a certain number of points to assign to the whichever nominees we want. The nominee with the most points for each category gets the Grouches’ collective vote! And in a few categories only one of us saw all the movies and therefore got the sole vote in that category.

Last week just before the deadline we gathered to reveal our votes and discuss the outcome.

BEST DOCUMENTARY

The nominees:

  • We Were Here
  • The Redemption of General Butt Naked
  • The Interrupters
  • Bill Cunningham New York
  • An African Election

WINNER: We Were Here

John: My sole vote goes to We Were Here. It’s a documentary about the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco.

Adam: Booooo

Brian: Boooooo – Bill Cunningham all the way

Adam: I completely disagree with both of you

Jared: Well, it didn’t take very long to turn on John, huh?

Adam: How can you not pick….quick, Jared, what’s another documentary?

Brian: John where is it available? That actually does sound interesting

John: It’s well made and naturally has an emotional impact. But what I found especially interesting is its look at what life was like during that time. What is it like when a mysterious disease is wiping out gay men? When something like a third of the people you know are dying? I think its next stop is DVD. It’s also a Film Fest DC 2011 alum!

Adam: There is an AIDS epidemic in San Francisco? Is it similar in scope to Africa?

Brian: I think he means during the 80s

John: I also rather enjoyed the two films about Africa. One about a militant leader who killed thousands in Liberia but is now a pastor (The Redemption of General Butt Naked). He goes around asking for forgiveness, which sets up some really fascinating encounters. What I really want to see is a follow-up. What do these people think of this guy, General Butt-Naked, when the cameras aren’t following him around? The other African film, An African Election, embeds filmmakers during the 2008 Ghanaian Presidential election. They have an extraordinary amount of access and present a very interesting portrait of a young democracy.

I also have to make one note about The Interrupters. It’s the film everyone is yelling about not even making the Oscar short list, which is also what happened to Hoop Dreams

Brian: Right

John: But it draaaags. The subjects and their work – stepping into street conflicts before they escalate – are really impressive. But after the nth scene where the interrupters do their interrupting, I felt like I got the point

Brian: If John thinks it drags then it must reallllly drag

John: But at least it has a bigger impact than Bill Cunningham 🙂

Brian: wait wait who needs an impact in a documentary? Not every documentary has to be out to solve the world

Adam: “solving the world” and “impact” are two different things

John: No, of course not. But I would like to have had a reason to have watched it

Brian: Sorry, I keep forgetting that you are a robot

John: And as I don’t care about fashion and have no nostalgia for old-timey journalism, Bill Cunningham was a trifle

Adam: wait…what? You went from arguing something didn’t have to have an impact to accusing John of being a “robot”

Jared: Documentary catfight!

Brian: hahaha. I misinterpreted what John meant by impact

John: I think though that you’ll like We Were Here

Brian: I probably will

John: And I know that Brian hates when I talk about this, but it also has a terrific title.

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD

(For features made for less than $500,000)
The nominees:

  • Bellflower
  • Hello Lonesome
  • Circumstance
  • Pariah
  • The Dynamiter

WINNER: Bellflower

Jared: Our (or rather my) pick for the Cassavetes award is Bellflower.

John: Guh. Were the others really that bad?

Brian: Bellflower wasnt bad!

Jared: I really liked Bellflower, it was one of the real surprises of the year for me. It had flaws, no question, but I found it really engaging and found myself thinking about it for days after seeing it.

John: Did you find the first half at all engaging?

Jared: Yes.

Brian: the first half was fascinating

John: What was fascinating about it? It’s a group of shitstain hipsters being insufferable.

Brian: its the latter half that went off the rails

Jared: I didn’t say I wanted to hang out with the characters.

John: I at least appreciated that the last half went so insane. Best tattoo of the year?

Jared: Hahaha.

John: Better than the dragon tattoo.

Brian: Oh I found the latter half just too batshit crazy, but the first half felt very authentic and natural

Jared: And yes, the juxtaposition of the madness of the second half with the hipsterness of the first was really effective, I thought. I really liked how the film mixed things up, careening through genres.

John: So it’s a film about male aggression. But why does it have to be so uninteresting at the front end? And so obnoxiously artsy fartsy to end

Jared: It is more than just male aggression, though. Like any indie film it is about ennui and not having a direction. It is also a love story and apocalyptic.

Brian: and a bromance

Jared: Exactly. Not saying every beat hit or anything. But I admired the ambition and thought it mostly worked. Oh, also, I’m kind of in love with Rebekah Brandes.

John: Had you heard of her before the movie?

Jared: Nope.

Brian: She kept reminding me of Taylor Swift. Then I laughed at the idea of Taylor Swift being in that movie

John: She caught my eye too. For a while I thought she was the best actor in the film

Brian: yes, I’m sure that’s why Jared loves her. For her acting.

John: Haha

Adam: I guess I should put my comment on Bellflower in. I have to admit that this was probably the most powerful movie I saw this year. For whatever reason, I was also thinking about it for days afterwards. However, I just didn’t have the same positive reaction to it that Jared and Brian had. I will say that I still have not fully processed my feelings about the movie.

Brian: I also give Bellflower points for being the most original movie I’ve watched this year. Jared, tell us about the two films we missed

Jared: So Circumstance is eerily similar to Pariah, it is about two adolescent girls in Iran who become more than friends with each other and how they deal with their affection for each other in present day Iran. It was better than I was expecting, but I felt there was something more there to explore than the filmmakers shied away from, maybe because they thought the film was controversial enough.

Brian: was it made in Iran? or made by expats elsewhere

Jared: imdb says it is filmed in Lebanon, but it was in Persian.

Brian: Farsi

Adam: Farsi

Jared: Farsi. Sorry. Actually, no. I’m not sorry. Imdb says “Persian”

John: Since you say it’s similar to Pariah, can I ask if has a similar issue that I had with Pariah? That it feels like a film that tries too hard to be about the Lesbian Experience at the expense of story?

Jared: John, I hear what you are saying and I think that’s one difference between the two films. Probably because there doesn’t seem to be a lesbian culture in Iran to which the girls could escape. It was much more the two of them against the world.

John: I liked Pariah and it was an interesting look into a world I’m not familiar with. But it sort of seemed like they had a list of “bad things that happen to black lesbians” and checked the boxes

Jared: Hello Lonesome tells three stories: a May December relationship between a middle-aged guy who works from home and his elderly neighbor, a voiceover artist who works from home who has alienated his family and doesn’t have friends, and a budding relationship between two people who met online (one of whom is Sabrina Lloyd!) only for one of them to soon find out she has cancer. The stories never meet up at all, which is kind of strange.

John: Hmm, sounds like these people may be LONESOME or something

Adam: That sounds like one of the most boring movies ever

Brian: sounds like something John would love

Jared: It is a little better than boring, but not by a whole lot.

Adam: I was nodding off as I was reading your description

Jared: The filmmaker clearly had something to say about the need for relationships with other people, but couldn’t really figure out a story to tell it.

BEST SUPPORTING MALE

The nominees:

  • Albert Brooks, Drive
  • John Hawkes, Martha Marcy May Marlene
  • Christopher Plummer, Beginners
  • John C Reilly, Cedar Rapids
  • Corey Stoll, Midnight in Paris

WINNER: Corey Stoll (12 points – 8 from Jared, 4 from Adam)
Other votes: John Hawkes (4 points – Brian)
Christopher Plummer (3 points – John)

Brian: Woooo. I’m pleased with that

Adam: Nice!

Brian: but I need a defense from John on Plummer

John: I think you guys are the largest concentration of Plummer haters out there.

Adam: Actually, I would go with Plummer over Hawkes

John: He’s just marvelous. So much so that the movie blows when he’s off screen.

Brian: I think thats more because he was adequate

John: That said, I almost tossed Hawkes and/or Stoll points too. And I figured you guys would outvote me

Brian: Stoll was easily the best “character” of the bunch of the fantasy land folks in Parisian Narnia

Adam: True, and he had better dialogue than the others as well…BUT, he pulled it off fantastically

Jared: I don’t think anyone else dominated the screen the way Stoll did.

John: Yep, true

Adam: Agreed. I can’t believe he got passed over for the Oscars

John: Hawkes is still the master creep. That guy is going to get typecast but he’s so good at it!

Jared: Yeah, if he had more screen time, I’d have considered him, maybe.

Brian: Yes that was my only hesitation in giving him points — was he just being his usually creepy self

Jared: I don’t think he’s like that normally.

John: And don’t say too many mean things about him or he’ll show up at your house, sing you a creepy song, and stab your throat. So there was no temptation to give John C Reilly 35 points, Adam?

Adam: Yes. There was. You have no idea how strong it was. I just couldn’t do that because I felt so strongly about Stoll

Jared: I also want to say I’m glad none of us gave points to Brooks…I have no idea where his Oscar campaign came from.

John: I get it. He’s playing against type and he’s very memorably creepy. But, hell, you’ve got Hawkes doing it better here

Jared: Yeah, absolutely.

Brian: and Ron Pearlman was better in the same role

John: Surprisingly, Brooks has a great voice for being cruel

CINEMATOGRAPHY

The nominees:

  • John Hodge, Bellflower
  • Benjamin Kasulke, The Off Hours
  • Darius Khondji, Midnight in Paris
  • Guillaume Schiffman, The Artist
  • Jeffrey Waldron, The Dynamiter

WINNER: Midnight in Paris (15 points – Adam)
Other votes: Bellflower (4 points – 3 from Brian, 1 from John)
The Artist (1 point – Jared)

Adam: Yes!!! I win

Brian: Wow

John: Haha

Adam: I should have known none of you care about Cinematography. Barbarians

Jared: So maybe you can expound here, Adam?

Adam: Why?

John: I hope you enjoyed watching all these movies just to blow all your points on Cinematography

Adam: I didn’t really like most of the movies

Jared: What did you like about Midnight in Paris‘s cinematography?

John: I loved Midnight in Paris but I don’t recall much about the cinematography. Not that I cared much about this category this year.

Adam: I actually thought Midnight in Paris was well done. Especially the camera work and the dialogue. Just watch the opening scenes again to see what I mean. For me, Cinematography has a lot to do with the composition of the shots. It is hard to explain why one person or movie is able to compose and convey more through their shots than others. Midnight in Paris did it more for me than the others…which were, by and large, nothing special in this category.

Jared: That’s fair, the whole point of this category is visuals.

John: Did you know they built their own camera for Bellflower? That sort of industriousness will earn a point from me. So this category had two really small movies nominated in The Off Hours and The Dynamiter. And none of us can figure out why. I googled some reviews of The Off Hours and several mentioned the cinematography. So it’s not just the nominating committee smoking something

Adam: They ran out of eligible movies.

John: Drive has all sorts of iconic shots. Why not go for that over a where bored people populate a diner?

Jared: Drive was nothing but iconic shots, it seems silly for it not to be in here.

Brian: At least last year, with a movie like Tiny Furniture which I didnt enjoy, I found the cinematography noteworthy. But The Dynamiter – I didn’t get it at all.

John: Exactly. Jared, did you hate The Off Hours as much as us?

Jared: I wouldn’t say I hated it, but I didn’t enjoy it.

John: Jared, why The Artist?

Brian: Emulating an old movie style while also being modern

Jared: I’m not a visual person, so this category doesn’t mean that much to me, but I wanted to vote for something, and I had several vivid memories of shots from the film.

Adam: well that’s stupid

John: I appreciate that filming a black and white film requires different camera and lighting decisions. I think it would have been cooler if they actually used an older style camera instead of just changing it to black and white later

Brian: to quote Adam — well that’s stupid

John: But oh well. It definitely has some interesting visual elements, though I wonder if that’s more directorial

Adam: I would argue more directorial

BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE

The nominees:

  • Jessica Chastain, Take Shelter
  • Anjelica Huston, 50/50
  • Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
  • Harmony Santana, Gun Hill Road
  • Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

WINNER: Jessica Chastain (16 points – 12 from Brian, 3 from John, 1 from Jared)
Other votes: Shailene Woodley (2 points – John)

Brian: Thats hilarious. I thought John was going to Botz me and considering your inexcusable like of Albert Nobbs, I was worried

John: Well, it is the year of Chastain. I can’t pick which of her roles I like best. I generally think Take Shelter, but she’s also great in The Help. And of course I liked her in Tree of Life. But there’s no doubt she’s hottest in The Debt. A guy started talking to me in the bathroom about how much hotter she was in The Debt compared to the Israeli actress in the original

Brian: One of the things that has bothered me about a number of the movies this year is that the wives/girlfriends are harpy, selfish, whiny, or just awful people. But Chastain did a great job with the role of being the supportive mom and wife, while giving her moments to shine through her frustration. There’s no doubt that this was her best performance of the big 3 (Help, Tree of Life, Take Shelter) — and just thought I’d reward her for it.

John: It’s a noticeable, impressive dramatic performance. Does Huston seem like a nomination for being a name actress?

Jared: That is bizarre.

Brian: I thought she was great in 50/50 but…. not in it very much

John: It’s such a small role. But people were certainly talking about it

Jared: I’ll be honest, looking through our spreadsheet, where we just had the movie listed under this category, I assumed it was Anna Kendrick that had the nomination.

Brian: as did I

Adam: I would DEFINITELY have voted for her

John: But if you’re choosing a supporting role from 50/50 I think it has to be Bryce Dallas Howard

Brian: ew no

Adam: No. Once again, John is wrong

John: BDH is the anti-Chastain, racking up great, varied villain roles

Jared: And since John brought up hotness already…how about Shailene Woodley? Hubba hubba.

John: I gave Woodley two honorary points for contributing the two best parts of The Descendants: her gams. Yowza

Brian: Her gams?

Jared: Gams does not mean what you think it does.

Brian: that is not where I thought that was going

John: I don’t mind a movie where Woodley gets to wonder about in shorts or bikinis throughout

Adam: Agreed

Jared: She wore so much fewer clothing than anyone else in that movie. It was a solid choice by the costumer.

John: Haha. Yknow, Hawaii, or whatever

Adam: Do you think that is why they decided to do it in Hawaii?

John: She’s good too. I guess push come to shove I’d pick McTeer over her, but she’s still memorable. Love the swimming pool scene

Brian: you all are a bunch of cads

BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY

The nominees:

  • Another Earth
  • Margin Call
  • Terri
  • Cedar Rapids
  • 50/50

WINNER: 50/50 (10 points – 8 from Jared, 2 from Brian)
Other votes: Margin Call (6 points – John)

Brian: wooo

John: Oh PHEW. I suddenly got petrified you voted for Another Earth. I have a lot of goodwill for 50/50. But it just didn’t hit with me as much as I had hoped

Jared: So 50/50 was, hands down, one of the best screenplays of the year, it is a travesty it didn’t get an Oscar nom.

Brian: I concur. It had a fatal weakness, but was still very strong

Jared: Fatal would mean it died.

John: The weakness being the plot line with Anna Kendrick?

Brian: no. Bryce Dallas Howard

Jared: I actually liked that part.

John: The character?

Brian: the girlfriend was written so unsympathetically and given no chance at all to be a real person

Jared: I strongly disagree.

Adam: I agree with Jared…about strongly disagreeing

John: I hate to say it but I think it probably played out pretty realistically

Adam: Absolutely

John: A lot of young people bail on relationships when one gets sick

Adam: Brian, you are an idiot

Jared: It was made very clear the relationship had severe problems before the cancer diagnosis, and then she’s forced to deal with handling a guy she doesn’t really love having cancer.

Brian: sure

John: I liked that she kept trying to justify it to herself

Adam: Yep and yep

Jared: So where’s the weakness?

Brian: but from her being a mooch, to being a bad artist, to making out with a gross hippie, just layer upon layer of her sucking as a person, they could have had her just being a shitty person by bailing on him

Adam: Which is COMPLETELY realistic. You are just biased because you hang out with awesome people like us. Those type of people exist in spades

John: Ha, forgot about the hippie

Jared: She was in a bad spot and felt a need to escape.

Brian: she didn’t need to be a bad person in every realm of her life and she was

John: I really didn’t care for the romantic plot. Dating your patient is icky.

Jared: I don’t think they made her a horrible person, just not a completely successful one. And I agree with John, romancing Anna Kendrick was kinda icky and forced.

Brian: also agreed

Adam: But it was Anna Kendrick

Jared: Oh yeah. Don’t get me wrong, if she were my doctor, I’d fall in love with her.

Adam: Exactly

Brian: and if Joseph Gordon-Levitt were your patient? you’d probably fall in love with him

John: I mean, you have a film about a young person with a serious illness combined with a mildly profane comedy. That’s enough. Why also shoehorn in a basic romantic plot?

The only twist to the basic movie romantic plot was that she is his therapist, which just makes it worse. Or just make her a random person or a fellow patient. There’s a lot of stuff to mine there. But, like I said, it still worked for me in the illness half of the film and it really packs a wallop with the occasional scene or line of dialogue

Jared: I hate to agree with John about romance, but I think you are spot on. Could you talk a little about the Oscar-nominated Margin Call?

John: Margin Call just enthralled me. It’s got a great structure of a workplace drama with big stakes taking place over a limited period of time. And it also fits into my political wheelhouse, which made me just love it even more. It could have easily been just about sleazy bankers, which is rote at this point. But instead its point, such as it is, is more subtle: that the whole system is kind of ridiculous. Like the way characters occasionally marvel at how much they make or how little they know.

Jared: I would have liked to have focus more on the number crunchers. Number crunchers seem like the true heroes in today’s society.

Brian: I really appreciated how the “villain” kept shifting further and further up the ladder

Jared: That was a neat conceit. Which ties into what John was saying, I think.

John: Yep. And the further up the chain you go the less in tune they are to the actual market. These guys make so much money and I just don’t really get why it isn’t competed away. They get paid like professional athletes for much more common skillsets. It could have been fine as an Occupy Wall Street screed, but it happened to present an outlook that I share so it really hit home for me.

Jared: I agree that Margin Call’s structure was unique, I just found the dialogue uninspired

Brian: and I found the character development was too sparse other than Spacey

John: That’s true re: character development. But I think it’s fine to let that slide as it’s meant to be about intense developments in a large organization over the course of about 24 hours.

I want to talk about Terri quickly because the movie it reminds me of the most is Please Give. The “ships passing in the night” thing that Brian talked about last year

Brian: I forgot about Please Give!

Jared: I don’t see that comparison at all.

John: You’ve got interesting characters. A few things happen over the course of a week or two. A few things are somewhat resolved, many are not. Movie over.

Jared: Isn’t that a lot of movies?

Brian: I thought Terri was fine and all, but I dont see the connection either

Jared: Like, you just described The Descendants.

Brian: And A Better Life

John: It’s that the plot revolves around these people crashing into each other and that’s about it. Descendants, Better Life, etc have more plot threads

Brian: I found Terri to be much more difficult to watch than Please Give and not nearly as well written

John: Please Give and Terri are really nothing more than creating some characters and letting them interact with a minimum of story points

Jared: Please Give also had lots of jokes. Terri…did not.

Brian: and Please Give has Catherine Keener!

John: It’s just interesting that all our opinions are flipped. I forgot about Please Give immediately and you guys loved it. The opposite for Terri

Brian: maybe because the movies aren’t similar

Jared: Terri just seemed so proud of itself for coming up with the idea of a hulking kid in high school having trouble fitting in, and then never went anywhere.

Brian: but Terri does have one thing in common with Cedar Rapids

Jared: Can we all agree Cedar Rapids was atrocious?

John: No

Brian: yes! Speaking of movies that don’t have jokes

John: All comedies seem to have to be hard R, romcoms, or kiddie movies these days. I liked that here was one that is just a basic comedy for adults. Amusing, entertaining, and isn’t going for anything more

Jared: It had exactly one funny joke.

John: Now, I’m not saying I need to see it again, but it hit a niche I feel like we don’t see any more. Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of edgier movies. But now that they are the trend we’re getting a lot of bad ones and it’s nice to have something like Cedar Rapids which is content as it is

Jared: I wish it weren’t content not being funny.

John: It was humorous. Gives you some good chuckles but your spleen ain’t splitting. Oh and Another Earth: Awful or really awful?

Brian: neither

Jared: Another Earth was fine. I would have liked to explore the sci-fi aspects a little more.

Brian: I thought it was a fine premise with good characters but I concur with Jared about the sci-fi parts

John: Another Earth has a boring domestic drama and a barely used sci-fi element. The sci-fi seems like all a build up for the final shot, which does pack a punch. But woo boy did I not care by then

Brian: I thought it was just a backdrop

John: Yeah but why bother if you’re hardly going to use it?

Brian: That didn’t bother me as much as the fact that if the Another Earth was that close. How come the waves weren’t affected?

John: Haha yeah really. There have been a number of movies this year where I thought “Why aren’t the tides affected?” Another Earth, Melancholia, Transformers

Stay tuned for when we cast our votes for the other categories!

Still talking about the 2012 Spirit Award nominations?  Man, how lame are you.  All the cool kids are talking about the 2013 Spirit Awards!

The Sundance Film Festival just announced the films that’ll be playing next year.  Which is relevant because about half the films that played in the Dramatic Competition last year ended up with Spirit nominations.  So let’s handicap the upcoming crop of films, based solely on the plot descriptions and cast from the Sundance website.

Beasts of the Southern Wild / U.S.A. (Director: Benh Zeitlin, Screenwriters: Benh Zeitlin, Lucy Alibar) — Waters gonna rise up, wild animals gonna rerun from the grave, and everything south of the levee is goin’ under, in this tale of a six year old named Hushpuppy, who lives with her daddy at the edge of the world. Cast: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: I have absolutely no idea what that description means, but I’m in.  And also considering naming my first-born Quvenzhane.  But sounds a little too out there for the Spirits.

The Comedy / U.S.A. (Director: Rick Alverson, Screenwriters: Rick Alverson, Robert Donne, Colm O’Leary) — Indifferent even to the prospects of inheriting his father’s estate, Swanson whiles away his days with a group of aging Brooklyn hipsters, engaging in small acts of recreational cruelty and pacified boredom. Cast: Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim, Kate Lyn Sheil, Alexia Rassmusen, Gregg Turkington.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: A film about ennui in New York?  Those are two pretty huge check marks.  And it would help if that title is ironic.  Big problem, though.  That Tim and Eric in the cast list?  That’s THE Tim and Eric of Awesome Show, Great Job fame.  So it is hard to see much Spirit love.

The End of Love / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Mark Webber) — A young father unravels following the loss of the mother of his child. Cast: Mark Webber, Shannyn Sossamon, Michael Cera, Jason Ritter, Amanda Seyfried, Frankie Shaw.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Well that’s an unhelpful yet decidedly Spirit-friendly description.  I’m absolutely in love with that cast, though, and the Spirits aren’t necessarily afraid of nomination younger actors.  Seems like it has Spirit potential.  Plus, Mark Webber is Stephen Stills from Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World.

 

Filly Brown / U.S.A. (Directors: Youssef Delara, Michael D. Olmos, Screenwriter: Youssef Delara) — A Hip Hop-driven drama about a Mexican girl who rises to fame and consciousness as she copes with the incarceration of her mother through music.Cast: Lou Diamond Phillips, Gina Rodriguez, Jenni Rivera, Edward James Olmos.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: One thing you should know about me is that one year for my birthday my brothers got me a three pack of Lou Diamond Phillips DVDs.  I cannot tell you how excited I would be for him to be nominated.  This one sounds unlikely to hit, but if it does, Edward James Olmos is a prime supporting actor candidate.

The First Time / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Jonathan Kasdan) — Two high schoolers meet at a party. Over the course of a weekend, things turn magical, romantic, complicated and funny, as they discover what it’s like to fall in love for the first time. Cast: Brittany Robertson, Dylan O’Brien, Craig Roberts, James Frecheville, Victoria Justice.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Not unless they let me be on the nominating committee.

For Ellen / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: So Yong Kim) — A struggling musician takes an overnight long-distance drive in order to fight his estranged wife for custody of their young daughter. Cast: Paul Dano, Jon Heder, Jena Malone, Margarita Levieva, Shay Mandigo.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Has to be a favorite.  So Yong Kim has a directing credit on Spirit nominee The Exploding Girl, and Dano, Heder, Malone, and Levieva are chock full of indie cred.  Plus the description has “struggling”, “estranged”, and “custody” in it.

Hello I Must Be Going / U.S.A. (Director: Todd Louiso, Screenwriter: Sarah Koskoff) — Divorced, childless, demoralized and condemned to move back in with her parents at the age of 35, Amy Minsky’s prospects look bleak – until the unexpected attention of a teenage boy changes everything. Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Blythe Danner, Christopher Abbott, John Rubinstein, Julie White.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: I’m smelling an Actress and/or Supporting Actress nomination.  Lynskey seems due (and deserving) and who doesn’t like Blythe Danner?  Louiso, if you don’t know, is the non-Jack Black guy from High Fidelity.  He also directed The Mark Pease Experience which was underwhelming but also about a teenager’s relationship with an adult, so that’s a creepy pattern.

Keep the Lights On / U.S.A. (Director: Ira Sachs, Screenwriters: Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias) —An autobiographically inspired story of a passionate long-term relationship between two men driven by addiction and secrets but bound by love and hopefulness. Cast: Thure Lindhardt, Zachary Booth, Julianne Nicholson, Souleymane Sy Savane, Paprika Steen.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Yes.  Even if they have to make up a new category, this film seems a shoo-in.  Savane already had a Spirit nomination, for Goodbye Solo.

LUV / U.S.A. (Director: Sheldon Candis, Screenwriters: Sheldon Candis, Justin Wilson) — An orphaned 11-year-old boy is forced to face the unpleasant truth about his beloved uncle during one harrowing day in the streets of Baltimore. Cast: Common, Michael Rainey Jr., Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Of course one of these films had to be “harrowing”.  Maybe if it counts as a first feature?  Or has lots of Orioles references.  I hear Spirit voters love that.  I could see it, but the fact that Common is in it makes me a little skeptical.  Love the guy, but I watched Just Wright.

Middle Of Nowhere / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Ava DuVernay) — When her husband is incarcerated, an African-American woman struggles to maintain her marriage and her identity. Cast: Emayatzy Corinealdi, David Oyelowo, Omari Hardwick, Lorraine Touissant, Edwina Findley.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Seems like a pretty good shot for something.

Nobody Walks / U.S.A. (Director: Ry Russo-Young, Screenwriters: Lena Dunham, Ry Russo-Young) — Martine, a young artist from New York, is invited into the home of a hip, liberal LA family for a week. Her presence unravels the family’s carefully maintained status quo, and a mess of sexual and emotional entanglements ensues. Cast: John Krasinski, Olivia Thirlby, Rosemarie DeWitt, India Ennenga, Justin Kirk.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Seems like it’d be silly to bet against anything Lena Dunham at this point.  Heck of a cast, by the way.  Two Grouch favorites in Thirlby and DeWitt probably means it’ll get shafted, though.

Safety Not Guaranteed / U.S.A. (Director: Colin Trevorrow, Screenwriter: Derek Connolly) — A trio of magazine employees investigate a classified ad seeking a partner for time travel. One employee develops feelings for the paranoid but compelling loner and seeks to discover what he’s really up to. Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Karen Soni.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Nope.  Well, I would have said that about Another Earth, but nope.  That said, I’m already in line for the movie.

Save the Date / U.S.A. (Director: Michael Mohan, Screenwriters: Jeffrey Brown, Egan Reich, Michael Mohan) — As her sister Beth prepares to get married, Sarah finds herself caught up in an intense post-breakup rebound. The two fumble through the redefined emotional landscape of modern day relationships, forced to relearn how to love and be loved. Cast: Lizzy Caplan, Alison Brie, Martin Starr, Geoffrey Arend, Mark Webber.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Not a chance, but ladies and gentleman, your front-runner for Jared’s favorite movie of 2012.

Simon Killer / France, U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Antonio Campos) — A recent college graduate goes to Paris after breaking up with his girlfriend of 5 years. Once there, he falls in love with a young prostitute and their fateful journey begins. Cast: Brady Corbet, Mati Diop, Constance Rousseau, Michael Abiteboul, Solo.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Seriously, what it is with the French and young prostitutes?  I’m guessing no, but that’s based on connection “killer” and “fateful journey”.  But if there’s more ennui and self-discovery, maybe.

Smashed / U.S.A. (Director: James Ponsoldt, Screenwriters: Susan Burke, James Ponsoldt) — Kate and Charlie are a young married couple whose bond is built on a mutual love of music, laughter and… drinking. When Kate decides to get sober, her new lifestyle brings troubling issues to the surface and calls into question her relationship with Charlie.Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Octavia Spencer, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: This film sounds so good, right?  It isn’t just me?  I’m already excited.  If the film isn’t too funny, I could see it happening.  That’s a really talented cast right there.

The Surrogate / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Ben Lewin) — Mark O’Brien, a 36-year-old poet and journalist with an iron lung, decides he no longer wishes to be a virgin. With the help of his therapist and the guidance of his priest, he contacts a professional sex surrogate to take him on a journey to manhood. Cast: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Is there somewhere I can put a bet on this movie winning the 2013 Spirit Awards?  I mean, come on.  This one has to be a joke, right?  I dare you to put together a more likely contender.

The Spirit Awards nominations were announced this morning.  The press had Anthony Mackie and Kate Beckinsale reading the list, while us mere mortals waited breathlessly for the official twitter feed to update.  Seems like a tossup to me.  In any case, the Spirit Award nominations are officially the start of Oscar season!  Yay!  It was so kind of them for wait until I bought a new laptop.

As a reminder/disclosure, the Grouches vote for the Spirit Awards.  So if anyone representing some of the harder to see films (especially for us out in DC) wants to send us a screener, we won’t complain!

You can find the nominees here.  As the tweets started rolling out, I sent a confused message to John: The Artist was eligible?  A point you’ll also find made in this quite excellent take on the biggest surprises of the nominations.  Frankly, it is pretty silly that no one quite knows which films are and aren’t eligible for the Spirit Awards.  If the Oscars can make such a list available, you can too, Spirit Awards.

The Grouches were surprised at how mainstream, relatively speaking, the nominations seemed to be.  Naturally, there were the out of left picks picks that have become the signature of the Spirit Awards – I doubt pretty much anyone had heard of Think of Me, I’m a fervent Lauren Ambrose supporter and I hadn’t heard of it.  But a significant majority of the noms are at least in the Oscar conversation.

There’s also a lot of overlap between categories, there aren’t very many films with a single nomination.  Even three out of the five nominees in the John Cassevetes category (films made for under $500,000) received a nomination elsewhere.  I’m not sure what to make of that.  Maybe the committee got it right.  But it seems unimaginative at best and lazy at worst.

The article I linked above hit the major snubs: Clooney, Close, Like Crazy, Midnight in Paris for most categories.  There are always going to be snubs, this batch seems relatively tame.

But enough negatives!  Oscar season has kicked off with an intriguing bunch of movies.  They may not all turn out to be winners, (cough, Cedar Rapids) but it is going to be a lot of fun exploring them.

And in case you are wondering, I’m actively ignoring the New York critics awards that were also announced this morning.  New York bias aside, their refusal to wait until all 2011 likely eligible films had, you know, BEEN COMPLETED was absurd.  I realize this whole process is ridiculous, but to me, if you are naming best in class without having at least the chance to see the whole class, you’ve completely abandoned any pretense that you are interested in the movies.

May 2017
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