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Independent Spirit Award Nominations

Taking Stock of the Indie Movie Scene

Above: I had to see the indie horror film "The House of the Devil" in Nashville... what made it better was that it screened on a Friday the 13th. What could be better?!

I am resigned to being the White Rabbit always having to excuse myself for being late. So here – belatedly – are the Independent Spirit Award nominations announced last week along with a few thoughts about the indie movie scene.

Looking over the list of nominees (see the complete list below) I feel bummed that not all of the films have opened here in San Diego yet and some are unlikely to ever open here. I had to travel all the way to Nashville to see “House of the Devil.” Okay that wasn’t my only reason for going to Nashville but I was pissed that the film wasn’t opening here but would open in Nashville and be screening on a Friday the 13th at the Belcourt Theater. So although "The House of the Devil" may have been disappointing as a film (it would have been a great 30 minute short), the experience of seeing Mary Woronov and Tom Noonan on a Friday the 13th in a horror film that got the 70s look down so well and then seeing them on the big screen in an old movie house that also served alcohol – well damn that was fun. I wouldn’t have passed up that experience even if I had known the film was flawed. But I was just jealous that the film didn’t open here as well.

San Diego may have art house theaters (notably Landmark and Reading) but we don’t have any old, cool theaters like the Belcourt that regularly shows movies, the Birch comes the closest to that. We have some great alternative venues -- MoPA (beautiful twinkling lights on the ceiling), Cinema Under the Stars (lovely outdoor setting), San Diego Central Library (ambitious programming)-- but none are dedicated to showing movies 365 days a year with a solid mix of old and new, and none of those venues are old movie houses. On an ironic note, though, the stalls in the ladies bathroom at the Belcourt did rival those at the Ken for being the narrowest I've seen. Okay maybe that's TMI.

"The Vicious Kind"

72nd Street Productions

Above: "The Vicious Kind"

So back to the nominated films. So as with "The House of the Devil," films such as “Cold Souls,” “The Vicious Kind,” and “Easier with Practice” may not open locally either. Again, maybe these won't be great films but I’d still like the opportunity to see them on the big screen and decide for myself. Being in San Diego I sometimes get the feeling that distributors want to gather up awards or accolades first before they even consider releasing them in San Diego, as if filmgoers here can’t decide for themselves if a film is worth gambling on unless others have assured them that it is.

The Spirit Awards have become THE awards show for the indie film community. This year the 2010 Spirit Awards will air live on Friday, March 5th, 2010 at 8:00 p.m. PST/11:00 p.m. EST on IFC. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Awards (hard to believe!). But the Spirit Awards, like Sundance, have been embracing more and more films from major studios. Although a film such as “A Serious Man” is definitely independent minded and a film like “The Last Station” is a first feature, both have studio backing and assurance of marketing support. That’s very different from the genuinely independent and very low budget “Paranormal Activity,” “More Than a Game,” and “Big Fan.” That may be why the Spirit Awards created the John Cassavetes Award to highlight the films that are truly independent in terms of not only style and content but financial backing as well.

That said, "The Last Station,” first time filmmaker Michael Hoffman's film about the last year in the life of Leo Tolstoy, nabbed five nominations and the film will hopefully be opening here in San Diego soon. Also snagging five nods is "Precious" (currently playing at Landmark) while the homefront war drama "The Messenger" (also currently at Landmark) got four. But again nominating people like Woody Harrelson and Christopher Plummer seems like giving nods to very Hollywood establishment people, even if they are working on less than mainstream projects. So I would just like to see the awards really seek out actors, filmmakers, and craftsmen who are not getting recognition anywhere else and who deserve to have their work highlighted.

"(500) Days of Summer"

Fox Searchlight

Above: "(500) Days of Summer"

So here are the nominees:

Best Feature

"(500) Days of Summer"

"Amreeka"

"Precious"

"Sin Nombre"

"The Last Station"

Best Director

Ethan and Joel Coen, "A Serious Man"

Lee Daniels, "Precious"

Cary Fukunaga, "Sin Nombre"

James Gray, "Two Lovers"

Michael Hoffman, "The Last Station"

Best First Feature

"A Single Man"

"Crazy Heart"

"Easier With Practice"

"The Messenger"

"Paranormal Activity"

Best Lead Female

Maria Bello, "Downloading Nancy"

Nisreen Faour, "Amreeka"

Helen Mirren, "The Last Station"

Gwyneth Paltrow, "Two Lovers"

Gabourey Sidibe, "Precious"

Best Lead Male

Jeff Bridges, "Crazy Heart"

Colin Firth, "A Single Man"

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, "(500) Days of Summer"

Souleymane Sy Savane, "Goodbye Solo"

Adam Scott, "The Vicious Kind"

Best Supporting Female

Mo'Nique, "Precious"

Dina Korzun, "Cold Souls"

Samantha Morton, "The Messenger"

Natalie Press, "Fifty Dead Men Walking"

Mia Wasikowska, "That Evening Sun"

Best Supporting Male

Jemaine Clement, "Gentlemen Broncos"

Woody Harrelson, "The Messenger"

Christian McKay, "Me and Orson Welles"

Ray McKinnon, "That Evening Sun"

Christopher Plummer, "The Last Station"

"The Last Station"

Sony Pictures Classics

Above: "The Last Station"

Best Screenplay

Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman, "The Messenger"

Michael Hoffman, "The Last Station"

Lee Toland Krieger, "The Vicious Kind"

Greg Mottola, "Adventureland"

Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, "(500) Days of Summer"

Best First Screenplay

Sophie Barthes, "Cold Souls"

Scott Cooper, "Crazy Heart"

Cherien Dabis, "Amreeka"

Geoffrey Fletcher, "Precious"

Tom Ford, "A Single Man"

Best Foreign Film

"A Prophet," directed by Jacques Audiard

"An Education," directed by Lone Scherfig

"Everlasting Moments," directed by Jan Troell

"Mother," directed by Bong Joon-ho

"The Maid," directed by Sebastián Silva

Best Documentary Feature

"Anvil! The Story of Anvil"

"Food, Inc"

"More Than A Game"

"October Country"

"Which Way Home"

Best Cinematography

Roger Deakins , "A Serious Man"

Adriano Goldman, "Sin Nombre"

Anne Misawa, "Treeless Mountain"

Andrij Parekh, "Cold Souls"

Peter Zeitlinger, "The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans"

John Cassavetes Award

"Big Fan"

"Humpday"

"The New Year Parade"

"Treeless Mountain"

"Zero Bridge"

"A Serious Man"

Focus Features

Above: "A Serious Man"

Robert Altman Award

"A Serious Man"

Acura Someone to Watch Award

Kyle Patrick Alvarez, "Easier With Practice"

Tariq Tapa, "Zero Bridge"

Asiel Norton, "Redland"

Piaget Producers Award

Karin Chien, "Santa Mesa" and "The Exploding Girl"

Larry Fessenden, "I Sell the Dead" and "House of the Devil"

Dia Sokol, "Beeswax," "Nights and Weekends"

Truer than Fiction Award

Natalia Almada, "El General"

Bill and Turner Ross, "45365"

Jessica Oreck, "Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo"

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