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Trying to predict the Independent Spirits Award nominations (or, sorry, the "IFC Film Independent Spirit Awards") is a bit like trying to capture a live bee with a pair of tweezers. It's a near-impossible task, and you will probably get stung for trying. They're the first full set of nominations for the season, so there are no precursors to guide your ship by. Moreover, the Spirits seem to throw in a good four or five nominees per year that are straight out of left field. And it's a much more satisfying field because of it! Just not if you're trying to predict correctly. In recent years, the Spirits have hewed very close to the Oscar nominations, but in case you haven't heard, 2012 marked the return of Mass-Appeal Movies for Grownups, which means big-budget, big-studio contenders like "Lincoln" and "Argo "and "Flight "are big-time excluded from Spirit consideration.
An added wrench in the Indie Spirit prediction game is their tendency to bend the rules on occasion. $20 million is the budget ceiling, but that figure has been made malleable over the years. Similarly, while films produced outside the U.S. are also not supposed to be eligible, somehow the Weinstein Company ensured that Michel Hazanavicius's "The Artist" swept the awards just last year. So don't expect a $21 million budget to keep Weinstein's "Silver Linings Playbook" out of the running, just to name one example.
What other limbs am I willing to go out on? With the nominations set to be announced tomorrow, here goes...
Predicted Nominees: The biggest boost in terms of the Oscar conversation could be felt by Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom." The beneficiary of some of the best reviews of Anderson's career, "Moonrise" is lurking on the outer edges of the Best Picture race and Best Feature and Best Director nominations at the Spirits could be a huge boost. I'd look for "Beasts of the Southern Wild" to make it into the big race here and bypass Best First Feature. And don't doubt that Harvey Weinstein will get "Silver Linings Playbook" underneath that eligibility limbo pole. As for the other two spots, I'd put my chips on "The Sessions," buoyed by terrific performances by John Hawkes and Helen Hunt, and director David Ayer's "End of Watch".
Potential Spoilers: "Bernie" was a surprising crowd-pleaser, but I think Richard Linklater is a safer bet in Best Director. If there's any film to crack my above-listed Top 5, I'd guess "Middle of Nowhere", which is probably more in need of the publicity boost than any of the other films in contention.
Ineligible: Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" must've shelled out a whole lot for Joaquin Phoenix's chiropractor because it cost way too much to be eligible for the Spirits. Also out? "Magic Mike" and "Zero Dark Thirty" (frugal, but too studio); "The Impossible" and "Cabin in the Woods" (indie, too costly), and "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," "Amour," "Rust and Bone," and "Holy Motors" (wonderful movies, but too not-American).
For Your Consideration: The nice thing about the Indie Spirits is that it will nominate a film that has yet to open in American theaters if it has already played the major festivals. This is how "The Hurt Locker" showed up at the Spirits a full year before it triumphed at the Oscars. I'm hoping they'll choose to exercise that option again, for Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig's sensational "Frances Ha," which isn't due to hit theaters until March. Don't wait for it to be old news next December, Spirit voters. Give "Frances" her due right now.
Predicted Nominees: If "Silver Linings Playbook" is deemed eligible, as I suspect it will be, this group should be led by Bradley Cooper, along with fellow Oscar hopeful John Hawkes ("The Sessions"). I have a feeling that Anthony Hopkins's performance in "Hitchcock" will be edged out by more indie-friendly performances like Jack Black in "Bernie" and Logan Lerman in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower." Finally, with the Best Actor category at the Oscars looking more and more impenetrable, this looks like the one place where Richard Gere's much lauded performance in "Arbitrage" will get its due.
Potential Spoilers: Besides Hopkins, I'd keep an eye out for Thure Lindhardt in "Keep the Lights On" and even Sean Penn in "This Must Be the Place."
Ineligible: It's a pity that "The Master" was so costly, as this would have been the perfect stage for Joaquin Phoenix to show just how much he doesn't care about awards season.
For Your Consideration: Its genre likely keeps it from serious consideration as an "indie," but I would love to see "Chronicle" get some love from the Spirits. Particularly its incredibly talented, sad-eyed lead, Dane DeHaan. This kid is just on the cusp of really taking off (so to speak) , having appeared in "Lincoln" and "Lawless" and upcoming in "The Place Beyond the Pines," "Devil's Knot," and "Kill Your Darlings." It'd be great for the Spirits to get in on the ground floor with him.
Predicted Nominees: Likely Oscar nominees Quvenzhané Wallis" "("Beasts of the Southern "Wild) and Jennifer Lawrence ("Silver Linings Playbook") should face off at the Spirits as well. Though her film won't be released in the U.S. until March, I would expect to see Greta Gerwig show up here for her wonderful performance in "Frances Ha" (the Spirits allow for films that have played the festivals but have not yet opened to compete). For the fourth and fifth slots, there is a LOT of competition, but I'm taking a chance on Emayatzy Corinealdi" "for the well-regarded but publicity-starved" Middle of Nowhere," as well as Melanie Lynskey for the similarly worthy of attention "Hello I Must Be Going."
Potential Spoilers: So many! Helen Mirren for "Hitchcock." Mary Elizabeth Winstead for "Smashed." Of course, the Spirits could go for more lighthearted ladies like Emily Blunt in "Your Sister's Sister," Aubrey Plaza in "Safety Not Guaranteed," Zoe Kazan in "Ruby Sparks," or Gerwig in either "Lola Versus "or "Damsels in Distress." And don't count out the eternally "Consider"-able Melissa Leo for "Francine."
Ineligible: If the Spirits were open to competition from across the pond, this would be an entirely different ballgame. Keira Knightley is dazzling in "Anna Karenina," Judi Dench is her Judi Dench-iest in "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," Elle Fanning continues to ascend to the top of the family heap in "Ginger and Rosa," and Rachel Weisz already won a whole bunch of British awards for "The Deep Blue Sea."
For Your Consideration: Who do I have to ply with a giant bag of coke to get some love for "Bachelorette"? Brushed aside as merely a black-hearted "Bridesmaids" ripoff, there have been few comedies as gutsy and meaningful this year. And it's the best I've liked Kirsten Dunst in "years," and I'm including "Melancholia" when I say that.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Predicted Nominees: Almost zero Oscar crossover in this category, with only a rejuvenated Robert DeNiro ("Silver Linings Playbook") in the conversation. Which makes the other four nominees anybody's guess. I'm fairly confident about Michael Peña in "End of Watch" (critics went nuts for him) and Dwight Henry in "Beasts of the Southern Wild." Despite the fact that "Magic Mike" is sadly out in the cold for Spirits consideration, I'd still expect them to find some way to show Matthew McConaughey some love, for either "Killer Joe" or "Bernie." Finally, reach into your pockets and grab a quarter, because it's a coin flip whether voters will prefer Mark Duplass or Jake Johnson in "Safety Not Guaranteed." Perhaps it comes down to who is considered more "supporting"?
Potential Spoilers: Ezra Miller in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" is probably the most likely of the also-rans, and would be an excellent choice at that. Otherwise, you're looking at the kindly priest played by William H. Macy in "The Sessions" or TV favorite Nick Offerman in "Smashed."
Ineligible: I was all prepared to make a spirited case for Alessandro Nivola in "Ginger and Rosa," but he's just too darn British (well, the movie is; Alessandro's plenty American). Also too bad for Christopher Walken, another American felled by his Brit director in "Seven Psychopaths."
For Your Consideration: "Cabin in the Woods" is probably a shade too pricey for Sprits consideration (and I wouldn't expect Lionsgate to think it worth the effort to fudge the numbers), but Fran Kranz would have made for a "perfect" Indie Spirit selection, don't you think?
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Predicted Nominees: Only Helen Hunt, for "The Sessions," is a contender here and at the Oscars, but considering the Oscar race for Supporting Actress is wide open for those 4th and 5th slots, an Indie Spirit nomination could do an actress a world of good. Like, for example, Nicole Kidman. "The Paperboy" got laughed off of the festival circuit, but even the haters tended to respond to Kidman's grasp of the film's hysteria. Rosemarie DeWitt is fantastic in "Your Sister's Sister "and would represent that film proudly. The hovering specter of lead/supporting categorization hovers over my next two picks, as I've seen "Compliance"'s Ann Dowd mentioned as both a Lead and Supporting contender. Similarly, Brit Marling's performance in "Sound of My Voice" is right on the border. It's much roomier down here in Supporting, which is where I hope they end up.
Potential Spoilers: I don't have incredibly strong feelings for Lauren Ambrose ("Sleepwalk with "Me), Susan Sarandon ("Arbitrage"), or Shirley MacLaine ("Bernie"), though I'd do backflips if any one of those brilliant townies in "Bernie" got a nod.
Ineligible: Somehow, Walter Salles's "On the Road" cost $25 million to make. That's close enough that IFC Films could nudge it under the eligibility ceiling, in which case I'd absolutely pick Kristen Stewart to make the nominated five. Also out in the cold: "The Master"'s Amy Adams, "Ginger and Rosa"'s Alice Englert," "and "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"'s Maggie Smith.
For Your Consideration: "Take This Waltz" is a dirty foreign CANADIAN film, so no dice there, which is too bad, because Sarah Silverman steals all her scenes and would make for a hugely entertaining nominee. Maybe let her host instead?