My 2015 Film Independent Spirit Award Selections
Late in 2013 I became a member of Film Independent. One of the great privileges of that membership is the opportunity to vote in the Independent Spirit Awards. This is my chance to support and celebrate the industry I so enjoy, and to be an active participant in a way writing reviews can never allow.
For the second straight year, I am publishing my votes (now that voting is closed). I do this because I am of the opinion that voting for this sort of thing should be transparent; besides, I’m vocal with my opinions on social media, so why wouldn’t I be equally so here?
Below are the categories and nominees. My votes are as indicated, along with an image from that film and my thoughts. Certain selections are linked to my reviews.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Love Is Strange
My Vote: Selma
My Thoughts: The months that led to and included the marches from Selma to Montgomery, championed by Martin Luther King, Jr. and done in the name of voting rights equality, mark a pivotal point in our nation’s timeline. This film captures that piece of history like few historical films I’ve seen before.
Damian Chazelle, Whiplash
Ava DuVernay, Selma
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
David Zellner, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
My Vote: Ava DuVernay, Selma
My Thoughts: While I have respect for the other directors and their technical efforts, DuVernay commands with her storytelling skills above all else. She masterfully constructs the story of one defining moment by using a collection of smaller, more intimate tales – tales ranging from the political to the marital – to arrive there. The film is never about one person – not even Dr. King – and yet it’s about all of them. To tell this story that way is a gift.
BEST FEMALE LEAD
Marion Cotillard, The Immigrant
Rinko Kikuchi, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Jenny Slate, Obvious Child
Tilda Swinton, Only Lovers Left Alive
My Vote: Julianne Moore, Still Alice
My Thoughts: The gap between the quality of the film Still Alice and the quality of the performance by its lead, Julianne Moore, is so great, it’s as if Moore is in another better film contained within this lesser one. Without her work here, this film never finds a theater.
BEST MALE LEAD
André Benjamin, Jimi: All Is By My Side
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
Michael Keaton, Birdman
John Lithgow, Love Is Strange
David Oyelowo, Selma
My Vote: Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
My Thoughts: As a two-bit thief who devolves into a raging sociopath, Gyllenhall manages to devour every scene without looking like a glutton. He has the all the memorable attributes of a great character performance with the confidence and heft of a lead.
Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski, Big Eyes
J.C. Chandor, A Most Violent Year
Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler
Jim Jaramusch, Only Lovers Left Alive
Ira Sachs & Mauricio Zacharias, Love Is Strange
My Vote: Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler
My Thoughts: The might of the story is just as formidable, if not more so, than its contemporaries, but its smaller moments are as memorable as its larger ones, it drips neo-noir, and if you tweak a few details here and there, it plays just as well as a Corporate America tale as it does a local TV news one.
BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year
Carmen Ejogo, Selma
Andrea Suarez Paz, Stand Clear of the Closing Doors
Emma Stone, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
My Vote: Emma Stone, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
My Thoughts: It’s easy to forget how good an actress Emma Stone is because she is immeasurably adorable as one of those celebrities who “gets it” and never takes herself too seriously. Then she dazzles with her performance as the young daughter/personal assistant tasked with managing the business and emotions of an actor looking to feed his ego by recapturing his past glory and sooth his soul by repairing his reputation. She also goes toe-to-toe with the great Edward Norton and never flinches.
BEST SUPPORTING MALE
Riz Ahmed, Nightcrawler
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Alfred Molina, Love Is Strange
Edward Norton, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
My Vote: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
My Thoughts: Whatever the opposite of anthropomorphism is, Simmons delivers it. His performance is one of human-as-cobra: lithe and sinewy, slithering around the room and around his musicians, and perhaps most fearsome when he is still because you never know what will set him off or who he will strike. (Click HERE for my full SoF review.)
BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY
Desiree Akhavan, Appropriate Behavior
Sara Colangelo, Little Accidents
Justin Lader, The One I Love
Anja Marquardt, She’s Lost Control
Justin Simien, Dear White People
My Vote: Desiree Akhavan, Appropriate Behavior
My Thoughts: Each of the screenplays nominated is about, or deals with, relationships. Akhavan’s first effort, though, is the only one that feels natural, that feels real. The others, all varying degrees of good, feel like stories intended to be made into movies; Appropriate Behavior feels like a story intended to be a story that happened to be made into a film.
Darius Khondji, The Immigrant
Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Sean Porter, It Felt Like Love
Lyle Vincent, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Bradford Young, Selma
My Vote: Bradford Young, Selma
My Thoughts: This was probably the toughest category to vote on, but in the end, Young’s cinematography manages to simultaneously set and capture the tenor of each scene to such an amazing degree, you can watch this film with no sound and at least understand the mood of the moment.
Sandra Adair, Boyhood
Tom Cross, Whiplash
John Gilroy, Nightcrawler
Ron Patane, A Most Violent Year
Adam Wingard, The Guest
My Vote: Tom Cross, Whiplash
My Thoughts: Tom Cross’ editing is as important to the success of Whiplash as every other aspect of the film. Without his precision cuts, the film fails. (Click HERE for my full SoF review.)
20,000 Days on Earth, Directors: Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard, Producers: Dan Bowen, James Wilson
Citizenfour, Director/Producer: Laura Poitras, Producers: Mathilde Bonnefoy, Dirk Wilutzky
The Salt of the Earth, Directors: Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and Wim Wenders, Producer: David Rosier
Stray Dog, Director: Debra Granik, Producer: Anne Rosellini
Virunga, Director/Producer: Orlando von Einsiedel, Producer: Joanna Natasegara
My Vote: Virunga, Director/Producer: Orlando von Einsiedel, Producer: Joanna Natasegara
My Thoughts: This riveting documentary finds itself at the intersection of three tremendous competing forces: animal poachers, political rebels, a greedy corporation. Documenting life, war, and money in a part of the world most of us know little-to-nothing about, Virunga is the only doc to grab you by the lapels and refuse to let you go.
BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM
Force Majeure (Sweden)
Norte, The End of History (Philippines)
Under the Skin (United Kingdom)
My Vote: Ida (Poland)
My Thoughts: Pawel Pawlikowski’s devastating drama is not only my choice for Best International film, it’s my overall #1 film of 2014. Click HERE for my SoF review.
BEST FIRST FEATURE
Dear White People, Director/Producer: Justin Simien, Producers: Effie T. Brown, Ann Le, Julia Lebedev, Angel Lopez, Lena Waithe
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Director: Ana Lily Amirpour, Producers: Justin Begnaud, Sina Sayyah
Nightcrawler, Director: Dan Gilroy, Producers: Jennifer Fox, Tony Gilroy, Jake Gyllenhaal, David Lancaster, Michel Litvak
Obvious Child, Director: Gillian Robespierre, Producer: Elisabeth Holm
She’s Lost Control, Director/Producer: Anja Marquardt, Producers: Mollye Asher, Kiara C. Jones
My Vote: Nightcrawler, Director: Dan Gilroy, Producers: Jennifer Fox, Tony Gilroy, Jake Gyllenhaal, David Lancaster, Michel Litvak
My Thoughts: Completely without gimmick and loaded with gritty confidence, Nightcrawler keeps you riveted despite trying to make you look away with its unflinching look at the depths of one man’s depravity. You will never watch your local news in the morning – hell, at any time of day – the same way again.