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Independent Spirit Awards and Gotham Awards Pull the Oscar Race into Focus

How well do the Gotham Awards and the Indie Spirit Awards predict Oscar success?

by | November 16, 2018 | Comments

During Awards Season, Rotten Tomatoes editor Jacqueline Coley will be reporting on the big contenders, the most important ceremonies, and surprise shifts in the race towards Oscar gold.

If Toronto and Telluride start the awards conversation, the first two big indie awards nominations of the year start to put that chatter into sharper focus – showing which titles are actually going to do more than get people talking. On Friday, November 16, Crazy Rich Asians actress Gemma Chan and Private Life’s Molly Shannon will unveil The Film Independent Spirit Awards 2019 nominees, and later this month, The Gotham Awards will hold their annual ceremony honoring the lifetime achievements of Willem Dafoe, Rachel Weisz, and Paul Greengrass, alongside their category winners. Keep a close eye on the winners. In recent years, indie darlings Moonlight and Spotlight won big at both ceremonies and ended the season with a Best Picture win, beating out bigger-budget commercial frontrunners.  With the Gotham Awards kicking things off later this month and the Independent Spirits holding their ceremony the night before the Oscars, let’s take a closer look at these two indie awards shows that effectively bookend the season and examine how well they signal future Oscar accolades.

Gotham Awards

Roy Rochlin/Getty Images
(Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)

Established: 1991

Nominations Announced: October 18

Ceremony: Monday, November 26, 2018

Voting Body: Contenders are nominated by a jury of film critics, journalists, festival programmers, and film curators; a separate jury of filmmakers, writers, producers, and film crew members vote on the winner. Both juries are primarily composed of New York or Northeastern-based industry folk.

Criteria: Films made with an economy of means, though no specific dollar amount is listed.

Comparable Oscar Categories: Best Feature, Best Documentary, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay

In its early years, The Gotham Awards primarily celebrated films created by Northeastern filmmakers or filmed in the area; thus the awards were aptly named ‘Gotham,’ the unofficial pseudonym for New York City. However, in 2004 The Independent Film Project (IFP), the largest and longest-running not-for-profit dedicated to the promotion of independent film, broadened its scope to include the larger filmmaking community, including international films. Announcing nominees in mid-October, The Gothams hammer down the first stakes on the road to next year’s Oscars. But with nominations proposed by a jury looking to champion hidden gems, the winners don’t always line up with Oscar nominations. Last year, only Jordan Peele’s Get Out earned similar honors at both the Gothams and the Oscars when he took home the prize for Best Adapted Screenplay. Moonlight and Spotlight went on the win Best Picture after winning Best Feature at the Gothams, beating out early front-runners La La Land and The Revenant. On the acting side, Matthew McConaughey and Casey Affleck sprinted off the blocks with Gotham Best Actor wins and crossed the tape with Best Actor Oscars in 2013 and 2016. But since 2013, only Julianne Moore managed to win both a Gotham and an Oscar for her performance in Still Alice. The nomination numbers slightly favor the ladies, with 40% of Gotham Nominees making it to Oscar night, while only 33% of male nominees accomplish the same feat. In the end, the Gothams are a good indication of Oscar potential but not much more than that.

Independent Spirit Awards

Randall Michelson/Getty Images
(Photo by Randall Michelson/Getty Images)

Established: 1984

Nominations Announced: November 16

Ceremony: Saturday, February 23, 2019

Voting Body: Film Independent Members

Criteria: US-Based film for major Categories. Cost of the completed film must be less than $20 million.

Comparable Oscar Categories: Best Feature, Best Director, Best Female Lead. Best Male Lead, Best Supporting Female, Best Supporting Male, Best Screenplay, Best International Film, Best Documentary Feature, Best Cinematography, Best Editing

Held in a tent off the Santa Monica pier on the Saturday before the Oscars, the Independent Spirit Awards are the laid back California cousin to the NYC-based Gothams, or maybe just a boozy, low-budget Oscar pre-party — take your pick. Last year, Frances McDormand sported a pajama-styled dress suit, and Timothée Chalamet arrived decked out in an oversized button-down looking like he’d finished a shift at Kwik Trip. Dress code aside, one thing is sure: the Independent Spirit Awards go hand in hand with Oscar gold. Since 2009, every Independent Spirit Best Feature winner has been nominated for Best Picture, with four of the last five Best Feature winners going on to win Best Picture. Since 2010, the acting nominations are on par with the Gothams, with about 30% of the acting nominees also nominated in comparable Oscar categories. Winning an Independent Spirit, however, significantly ups a nom’s chances, with a staggering 65% of Indie winners winning on both nights.

Still, the awards are known for rewarding performances that don’t get much Oscar love: John Hawkes, Molly Shannon, Mya Taylor, Shailene Woodley, Ben Foster, and Idris Elba all won acting awards at the Spirits without earning an Oscar nomination in comparable categories. Taking all this into account on Friday, November 16th should drop several clues to the films that will shape the season. This year, current Best Picture frontrunner A Star Is Born is ineligible at the Indie Spirits, leaving Netflix’s Roma the presumed favorite among Film Independent voters. But word has it Roma will be relegated to only Best International Film, even though it was produced by and financed by Netflix and Participant Media, two US-based production companies. If Roma pulls any nominations and happens to win when the trophies are handed out in February, don’t rule it out for a Best Picture win. Like La La Land and The Revenant before it, A Star Is Born may be just that – a star that burned bright but fizzled out come voting time. Or it could burn bright. Who knows – it’s not even December. Either way, stay tuned Friday to see who gets a little heat from the Spirit nominations.

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