Sunday, November 27, 2016

Diversity and Innovation: Nominees for 2017 Film Independent Spirit Awards

The Film Independent Spirit Awards nominees were announced last week, with Matt Warren's official announcement at the Film Independent site echoing a lot of what a lot of us are feeling as awards season begins. Warren notes that he understands that the usual anticipation of awards and the hoopla that accompanies them may "seem like an indulgence of attention that most Americans can no longer afford." He continues, "But beyond the glamor of the celebrity carpet, bright lights and pewter awards statuettes, the Film Independent Spirit Awards stand for something much deeper: championing creative independence in visual storytelling and supporting a community of artists who embody diversity, innovation and uniqueness of vision – a mission that is more relevant now than ever before."

Although the Spirit Awards have in recent years tended to look a lot like the Oscars' list, this year their choices demonstrate that touted creative independence and uniqueness of vision, going for smaller, more interesting movies that may or may not find favor with the big Academy boys. By spotlighting and supporting films like American Honey and Moonlight, which each earned six nominations, the Spirit Awards have shown exactly why they exist and why they're important.

American Honey was written and directed by Andrea Arnold, a British filmmaker with an eye for female protagonists. This time, her story involves a reckless and restless teenage girl, played by Sasha Lane, who takes off with a group of rootless kids who travel in a van around the dire vistas of Nebraska and Oklahoma selling magazine subscriptions door to door. A. O. Scott of the New York Times called American Honey "an episodic travelogue, a coming-of-age chronicle and an indictment of grim social conditions, with roughly equal measures of Jack Kerouac, J. D. Salinger and Charles Dickens in its DNA."

Although Moonlight is also a coming-of-age drama, its look and focus are quite different from American Honey, reflecting the fact that their settings – the Walmart-littered landscape of the Great Plains versus the "bold, blue, beautiful darkness" of Miami – look worlds apart. Based on a play called In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight is centered around the pain, struggle and hope that surrounds a young African-American boy named Chiron at three different times in his life, as he tries to figure out who he is and how he fits in. In the Washington Post, Ann Hornaday says that Moonlight is "a perfect film, one that exemplifies not only the formal and aesthetic capabilities of a medium at its most visually rich, but a capacity for empathy and compassion that reminds audiences of one of the chief reasons why we go to movies: to be moved, opened up and maybe permanently changed." This year's Robert Altman Award, given to one film and its director (Barry Jenkins), casting director and ensemble cast, will be awarded to Moonlight.

Here are some of the nominees in major categories:

American Honey
Manchester by the Sea 

Andrea Arnold, American Honey
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Pablo LarraĆ­n, Jackie
Jeff Nichols, Loving
Kelly Reichardt, Certain Women

Annette Bening, 20th Century Women
Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Sasha Lane, American Honey
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
David Harewood, Free In Deed
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Jesse Plemons, Other People
Tim Roth, Chronic

Edwina Findley, Free In Deed
Paulina Garcia, Little Men
Lily Gladstone, Certain Women
Riley Keough, American Honey
Molly Shannon, Other People

Ralph Fiennes, A Bigger Splash
Ben Foster, Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
Shia LaBeouf, American Honey
Craig Robinson, Morris From America

Ava Berkofsky, Free In Deed
Lol Crawley, The Childhood of a Leader
Zach Kuperstein, The Eyes of My Mother
James Laxton, Moonlight
Robbie Ryan, American Honey

Barry Jenkins (screenplay), Tarell Alvin McCraney (story), Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Mike Mills, 20th Century Women
Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias, Little Men
Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water

You'll find the entire list of Spirit Award nominees here. The Awards will be presented February 25, 2017 in a tent on the beach next to the Santa Monica pier. They will also be broadcast on the Independent Film Channel.

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