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David Poland

By David Poland

Indie Spirits

I hate this annual announcement… because it’s always weird and I always like most everyone who is nominated for awards, both the artists and the companies backing them. The indie community means something and it is more about the art than most other awards. That said…

Indie Spirit nominating committees are social clubs in a small social club. They split up the work in odd ways, so arguments people make about other groups about how many nominations for a film or actors not getting in or whatever don’t really apply. But you can basically see the infrastructure settling in a country mile away. This is a cousins’ club. People rotate in and out, but the pool remains pretty much the same, except for a few annual additions. It’s like The Oscars, except the cult is 1/80th the size.

Indie Spirit post-nomination voting is basically an arthouse People’s Choice Award, which doesn’t raise the bar on discerning views. It tends to be a popularity contest. If you want to be a voter, join FIND for $75, get access to a bunch of free movie screenings, and vote. You don’t have to see the nominees. You don’t have to do anything… but pay your fare and join.

So the awards are a bit schizo.

The Nominations

Then add the continuing domination of more expensive indies, mostly from Dependents. Even if they aren’t expensive to make, they have been given a relatively huge marketing push to get them where they are. How does Ira Sachs’ intimate drama of sexuality, Keep The Lights On, get into the group with noms for Picture, director, and screenplay? This year, it’s the cream in the coffee. Every year, there tends to be one. If Searchlight hadn’t picked up Beasts, it probably would have been that coming off its IFC release. The two other filmmakers that pulled off the hat trick? Wes Anderson and David O. Russell.

Richard Linklater must be wondering how Bernie got made, with nominations for Picture and Best Actor, since his script and his directing didn’t make the cut. But that, too, is part of the weirdness, as he’s a 5-time ISA nominee.

Conversely, how do The Sessions, Killer Joe, End of Watch feel about being relegated to the “good actors” slots?

I have found the history of ISA winners to be pretty consistent. Popularity and/or Oscar nominations lead to wins. The one oddity, I think, can be relentless pushing of one particular title that is “good for you” and this year, that’s Beasts of the Southern Wild. It also happens to be a very cinematic movie. If Silver Linings Playbook really heats up, that could end up winning Best Picture instead. Aside from that, the only category I am really not sure about is Best Actor, which is star-laden this year. I expect Matthew McConaughey to take supporting for Magic Mike, so the odds of him winning Lead and Supporting are slim. That leaves Bradley Cooper, Jack Black, and John Hawkes (with easily the showiest performance) duking it out. Also note that I am going Central Park Five only because of timing… it has the heat right now. A hard push by one of the other films or Oscar nods to the exclusion of other films could turn that heat elsewhere.

And note… NOT NECESSARILY MY PREFERENCES. With due respect to my projected winners and the others, this list is based on how ISA tends to vote, not my personal feelings, pro or con.

Picture – Beasts of the Southern Wild
Director – Wes Anderson
Screenplay – Moonrise Kingdom
First Feature – Perks of Being A Wallflower
First Screenplay – Safety Not Guaranteed
Cassavetes – Middle of Nowhere
Female Lead – Jennifer Lawrence
Male Lead – Bradley Cooper/Jack Black/John Hawkes
Supporting Female – Helen Hunt
Supporting Male – Matthew McConaughey
Cinematography – Beasts of the Southern Wild
Documentary – The Central Park Five
International – Rust & Bone

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18 Responses to “Indie Spirits”

  1. spassky says:

    I really really enjoyed watching “Safety Not Guaranteed” but did anyone else have that feeling in spit of the screenplay? The characters I felt were half-drawn with some eccentric glimpses of back story that failed to contribute to an overall theme (I was ready to walk out during that ear bit). Not to mention the expository monologue which opens the film (almost as lazy as ‘Sound of My Voice’ just straight up telling our protagonists’ backstories by an anonymous voice over and found footage montage… ugh).

    Something seems hollow this year.

  2. sanj says:

    hey DP – you should link to all the dp/30’s that are in this race. you must have 80% of them ….

    also why don’t they show this on regular cable tv ?
    mainstream media only care about oscars …

  3. jesse says:

    I also enjoyed Safety Not Guaranteed, and overcame a faira mount of resistance that I was feeling after ten or fifteen minutes; that job interview scene, for example, with the humorless drone interviewer telling Plaza she’s “not a quality hire”… would anyone actually ever say that? If the answer is no (and I’m pretty sure it is), it has to be absolutely hilarious to compensate, and “not a quality hire” isn’t absolutely hilarious.

    So yeah, it was hard for me to tell how much of the movie worked (and it did work — saw it a second time recently and liked it just as much, maybe more) based on performances or direction more than screenplay. On the other hand, the presumed script issues I had pretty much went away after the first 15-20 minutes.

  4. Don R. Lewis says:

    I liked SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED alot the first time I saw it and also had issues with the screenplay and some of the more ticky-tacky stuff. I also didn’t really like nor care for the Jake Johnson storyline.

    But having seen it again, it’s one of my favorites of the year. I’d venture to say the screenplay is *so* good and so refined, you almost don’t realize it because the film has a looseness and charm about it. It’s a really well written film and I hope it finds a bigger audience. It’s a total crowd pleaser as well.

  5. Lex says:

    It was a ripoff how Aubrey never showed her feet in it. At this point, I can’t believe any director doesn’t know the importance of that.

    Also it’s kinda weird how Johnson can just ROLL UP TO A BUNCH OF BORED TEENAGERS and they’re like YEAH LET’S ALL PARTY, and it’s not awkward for anybody or anything. Like, can you INSTANTLY click with and party with totally random strangers? I know Johnson was supposed be “that guy,” but I didn’t quite buy it (though I liked his performance a lot.)

  6. spassky says:

    I guess I’ll have to watch it again. To repeat: I really did like the film, but the screenplay didn’t seem special at all outside of the original concept.

    “I’d venture to say the screenplay is *so* good and so refined, you almost don’t realize it because the film has a looseness and charm about it”

    I just don’t know if you can owe that looseness and charm to the screenplay. And I just feel like looseness and charm do not a good screenplay make. That it pulled off the high-concept story with looseness and charm is admirable, but does this elevate the screenwriting?

    Best line has to go to the “Stormtroopers are blue collar workers line” though. But again, there was some awkward mentioning of stormtroopers by Plaza, which made the set up seem totally forced.

    And, again, I really enjoyed watching the movie, but I didn’t take the writing to be any better than a lot of other deserving first time screenplays (why wasn’t Ruby Sparks counted in the ‘first screenplay’ category anyway?)

  7. jesse says:

    Actually, my question is why was Ruby Sparks counted on any kind of best screenplay category, because that movie was pretty powerfully unpleasant? Maybe 20% because it was confronting some unpleasant issues but 80% because it’s not particularly funny but also not particularly inventive or dramatic or scary or whatever Kazan was going for. And I like her a lot, and I do think Dano’s performance (and the directors that allow it to happen) share some of the blame for Ruby Sparks being a pretty unpleasant sit… but a lot of it is also pretty underwritten while also being pretty obvious and underlined.

    Johnson, I assumed it wasn’t awkward for Johnson, well, yeah, because he’s “that guy” AND because the story just requires that it not be awkward, but possibly also because older people could get the teenagers booze?

    Johnson has spent this year, for me, going from “poor man’s David Krumholtz” to “surprisingly awesome comic persona” given SNG and also his excellent work on New Girl.

  8. jesse says:

    And while I’m bitching about scripts I should also mention that I really liked the writing in Looper, Damsels in Distress, Cabin in the Woods, Seven Psychopaths, Bachelorette, Fat Kid Rules the World, and Lincoln — not all indies, I know, but I’m often with Lex on the “story isn’t actually that important” thing and I do actually value good writing in movies. I just find that a lot of movies can (and must) get along fine without it, or at least with merely adequate writing.

  9. spassky says:

    “Also it’s kinda weird how Johnson can just ROLL UP TO A BUNCH OF BORED TEENAGERS and they’re like YEAH LET’S ALL PARTY,”

    That character totally would have ditched the shoegazer emo-boy tagging along with the two girls also. Not to judge, just trying to be honest to that character.

  10. spassky says:

    Wow, Jesse, now that I think of it, why wasn’t ‘Damsels in Distress’ nominated for writing? Hm.

    Yeah, I actually liked Ruby Sparks a lot (i’m not going to get into why because it’s irrelevant) but I thought the nomination for screenplay was like “it-girl needs to be at the party” kind of thing. I do agree that Dano was so powerfully uncharismatic (I don’t care that that is the thing they were going for), and they should have used Antonio Banderas a lot more, just BECAUSE.

  11. Lex says:

    Guess I’m alone in finding CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER to be a better “indie” movie than most of the above (Ruby, Beasts, Safety, etc.)? Rashida Jones was *incredible* in that and I bawled like a schoolgirl through most of the movie. That and PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER. Liked those a LOT, LOT more than Safety Not Guaranteed. I don’t know, maybe it’s because Perks and Celeste are considered femme-centric, and SAFETY and RUBY have a fantastical element, maybe that’s why “the guys” on blogs are talking those 2 up more… Honestly, kinda forgot about Ruby Sparks almost entirely.

  12. Don R. Lewis says:

    You can’t ditch the emo-boy! It’ll piss off the girls and you’ll look like a jerk becoming persona non-nookie! He’s one of them. C’mon….ya buncha rookies. Ughhh.

    And I rewatched SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED via Red Box for $1.30 so yeah, give it another shot. I may be wrong but I felt like alot of the stuff that seemed tacked on or thrown in (the ear was a biggie) worked better the second time around.

  13. jesse says:

    Lex, you’re not alone — I’d put Celeste and Jesse WAY above Ruby Sparks and Beasts of Southern Wild, and maybe a notch above Safety Not Guaranteed. And I definitely prefer Perks to Ruby/Beasts, too. Most years reading the Indie Spirit nominations is an exercise in getting to a further-back category and saying “wait, if this movie was eligible for Indie Spirits, why was it only nominated for Best Supporting Actor?” (Like Magic Mike, a much better movie than most of their bigger nominees.)

  14. movieman says:

    Count me in the “C&J” fan club.
    I remember thinking at the time (August seems so long ago, doesn’t it) that it just might be this generation’s “Modern Romance.”
    Too bad it underperformed and has–seemingly–been completely forgotten. Except, of course, by the people who loved it.
    P.S.= And I like “Perks” a whole lot better than “Safety” which just felt thin and a tad underdeveloped to me. (And not tying up the Johnson romantic subplot at the end was downright churlish.)

  15. sanj says:

    Celeste and Jesse Forever didn’t get a dp/30 … it’s the one indie movie that got away from DP .. lucky the tv stars ended up on tv to promote their movie . DP got Ruby Sparks – Safety Not Guaranteed and Perks of Being a Wallflower dp/30’s … the actors in the dp/30’s were funny – except for Paul Dano – that dude is always serious and a sad sack guy …. like a Michael Cera type.
    he’s really good at that but i’d like to see Dano in
    more comedies …

  16. Rashad says:

    I liked Safety … as well, and was really glad they didn’t cop out in the end. I would have liked it more if it didn’t have that horrible montage towards the end, when she’s walking in a field or some shit, and contemplating how much she likes Duplass.

    And the Johnson storyline was indeed bad.

  17. Brady says:

    I gotta admit I loved the Johnson character, if only because I related to his realization of past mistakes. It fit nicely with some of the thematic elements of desiring to go back in time. Don’t throw away what you have now. Johnson got broken by the girl he returned to catch up with, she roiled his truth — he was a bit of a dick with bullshit priorities. I loved when he grabbed emo boy and basicly said Fuck You, don’t let life slip through your fingers. Lets go party. I was hit pretty hard when Johmson was chigging the bottle and crying in the go-cart. All the debates aside, I certainly felt every best of that film. Definitely one of my favorites this year.

  18. Don R. Lewis says:

    I agree with Brady, it fits and fit better for me on second viewing. And that ending was the only time in my life I’ve been in a non-festival theater where people erupted into applause. And there was 8 people in there total! It was magical. (the theater moment and the cinematic moment)

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