2016 Independent Spirit Awards predictions: Is ‘Beasts of No Nation’ going to surprise?

Diversity comes to awards season

Want to live in a society where actors of color are represented in the major categories? An awards world where one of the Best Film nominees centers on two transgender characters that are both nominated for their performances?   Welcome to the 2016 Independent Spirit Awards.

The Spirit selection committees had no idea they would pick such a diverse field of nominees compared to the Academy last fall, but Film Independent (who runs the annual event) has to be thrilled of the contrast it provides between the two long running awards shows.  Over the past decade or so, the Spirits were starting to look eerily similar to the Oscars from the nominees list to the actual winners.  That was partially because of the Academy’s tastes getting more independent along with the expansion of the Best Picture field that has brought a lot more attention to films awards season would have overlooked in the past.  Now, the Spirits have a chance to give love to actors such as Abraham Attah and Mya Taylor their moment in the, um, spotlight.

Before making some predictions for tomorrow’s ceremony there are two things you need to remember.

First, anyone who is a member of Film Independent can vote on the winners and anyone can pay to join the organization . That means you have a lot of film fans from across the country that statistically have chosen the movie or nominee from the biggest hit among the field.  There are exceptions, but that’s traditionally been the case over the past 10 years or so.

Second, because of that broad membership a “distributor” such as Netflix will likely have a huge impact.  It’s absolutely possible that more people saw “Beasts of No Nation” on the streaming service than any of the other major nominees including “Spotlight” which grossed over $38 million so far. Will that translate into major wins?  It should but…this is really the first year this scenario has played out.

So, keeping all that in mind…


Best Feature
Award given to the Producer; Executive Producers are not awarded.
“Beasts of No Nation”

Winner: “Spotlight”
Should win: “Tangerine”
Upset: “Beasts of No Nation,” “Carol”
Lowdown: This  is tough. “Spotlight” is the most popular film in terms of box office among the nominees, but “Beasts” likely was seen by more voters on Netflix (maybe).  I’m still going with one of the Oscar favorites even though the entire show may be a lesson in how broad the streaming company’s reach really is.

Best Director
Cary Joji Fukunaga, “Beasts of No Nation”
Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson, “Anomalisa”
David Robert Mitchell, “It Follows”
Sean Baker, “Tangerine”
Todd Haynes, “Carol”
Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight”

Winner: Todd Haynes, “Carol”
Should win: Cary Joji Fukunaga, “Beasts of No Nation”
Upset: Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight”
Lowdown: Fukunaga or McCarthy could easily take this one, but the sentiment from enough voters to reward Haynes for “Carol” (which may go home completely empty handed at the Oscars) should pull him through.

Best Screenplay

Charlie Kaufman, “Anomalisa”
Donald Margulies, “The End of the Tour”
Phyllis Nagy, “Carol”
S. Craig Zahler, “Bone Tomahawk”
Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer, “Spotlight”

Winner: Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer, “Spotlight”
Should win: “Spotlight” or Charlie Kaufman, “Anomalisa”
Upset: Phyllis Nagy, “Carol”
Lowdown: Nagy is the potential surprise here, but if you play the “most popular” game McCarthy and Singer win.

Best First Screenplay
Emma Donoghue, “Room”
Jesse Andrews, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”
John Magary, Russell Harbaugh, Myna Joseph, “The Mend”
Jonas Carpignano, “Mediterranea”
Marielle Heller, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”

Winner: Emma Donoghue, “Room”
Should win: Jesse Andrews, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” or Marielle Heller, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”
Upset: Marielle Heller, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”
Lowdown: A chance for Donoguhe or Heller to get the moment in the sun they both deserve.

Best First Feature
Award given to the director and producer.
“James White”
“Manos Sucias”
“Songs My Brothers Taught Me”
“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”

Winner: “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”
Should win: “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”
Upset: “James White”
Lowdown:  In theory, “Diary” was the biggest hit among the nominees, but “James White” has a very passionate fan base that could help it surprise.

Best Female Lead
Bel Powley, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”
Brie Larson, “Room”
Cate Blanchett, “Carol”
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, “Tangerine”
Rooney Mara, “Carol”

Winner: Brie Larson, “Room”
Should win: Bel Powley, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”
Upset: Cate Blanchett, “Carol” (maybe)
Lowdown: Easiest prediction of the afternoon.

Best Male Lead
Abraham Attah, “Beasts of No Nation”
Ben Mendelsohn, “Mississippi Grind”
Christopher Abbott, “James White”
Jason Segal, “The End of the Tour”
Koudous Seihon, “Mediterranea”

Winner: Abraham Attah, “Beasts of No Nation”
Should win: Christopher Abbott, “James White”
Upset: Jason Segal, “The End of the Tour”
Lowdown: One of the most bizarre major actor fields I’ve ever seen for the Spirits. I mean, it has to be Attah vs. Segal right? 

Best Supporting Female
Cynthia Nixon, “James White”
Jennifer Jason Leigh, “Anomalisa”
Marin Ireland, “Glass Chin”
Mya Taylor, “Tangerine”
Robin Bartlett, “H.”

Winner: Jennifer Jason Leigh, “Anomalisa”
Should win: Mya Taylor, “Tangerine”
Upset: Cynthia Nixon, “James White”
Lowdown: Really hoping Taylor pulls off an upset, but my guess is Jason Leigh gets some “Hateful Eight” love from the voters and wins the first competitive Spirit of her career.

Best Supporting Male
Idris Elba, “Beasts of No Nation”
Kevin Corrigan, “Results”
Michael Shannon, “99 Homes”
Paul Dano, “Love & Mercy”
Richard Jenkins, “Bone Tomahawk”

Winner: Idris Elba, “Beasts of No Nation”
Should win: Paul Dano, “Love & Mercy”
Upset: Paul Dano, “Love & Mercy”
Lowdown:  Elba should duplicate his SAG Awards win here.  Dano certainly has a shot though.

Best Documentary
“Best of Enemies”
“Heat of a Dog”
“The Look of Silence”
“The Russian Woodpecker”

Winner: “The Look of Silence”
Should win: “The Look of Silence”
Upset: “Best of Enemies”
Lowdown: Both “Silence” and “Enemies” have played on Netflix, but “Silence” is the more critically acclaimed of the two and had more publicity during most of awards season.

Best Cinematography
Cary Joji Fukunaga, “Beasts of No Nation”
Ed Lachman, “Carol”
Joshua James Richards, “Songs My Brothers Taught Me”
Michael Gioulakis, “It Follows”
Reed Morano, “Meadowland”

Winner: Cary Joji Fukunaga, “Beasts of No Nation”
Should win: Michael Gioulakis, “It Follows”
Upset: Ed Lachman, “Carol” or Michael Gioulakis, “It Follows”
Lowdown: This is actually a much closer race than you might think.  My gut says Gioulakis could pull it out (remember “It Follows” made $14 million at the box office alone), but the safer bet is on Fukunaga for “Beasts.”

Best Editing
Julo C. Perez IV, “It Follows”
Kristan Sprague, “Manos Sucias”
Nathan Nugent, “Room”
Ronald Bronstein and Benny Safdie, “Heaven Knows What”
Tom McArdle, “Spotlight”

Winner: Tom McArdle, “Spotlight”
Should win: Nathan Nugent, “Room”
Upset: Nathan Nugent, “Room”
Lowdown:  Do Spirit voters love “Spotlight” or “Room” (which wasn’t nominated for Best Film) more?  We’ll find out here.

Best International Film
“A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence”
“Embrace of the Serpent”
“Son of Saul”

Winner: “Son of Saul”
Should win: “Son of Saul”
Upset: “Mustang”
Lowdown: “Mustang” has its fans, but hard to see expected Oscar winner “Son of Saul” losing the popular vote here.

John Cassavetes Award
Given to the best feature made for under $500,000. Award given to the writer, director and producer; Executive Producers are not awarded.
“Christmas, Again”
“Heaven Knows What”
“Out of My Hand”

Winner: This year?  [Shrug].

Robert Altman Award

Kiehl’s Someone to Watch Award
The 22nd annual Someone to Watch Award, sponsored by Kiehl’s Since 1851, recognizes a talented filmmaker of singular vision who has not yet received appropriate recognition. The award includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant funded by Kiehl’s Since 1851.
Chloe Zhao, “Songs My Brothers Taught Me”
Felix Thompson, “King Jack”
Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck, “God Bless the Child”

The following two honors were announced during a celebratory brunch on Jan. 9.

Piaget Producers Award
The 19th annual Producers Award, sponsored by Piaget, honors emerging producers who, despite highly limited resources, demonstrate the creativity, tenacity and vision required to produce quality, independent films. The award includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant funded by Piaget.
Darren Dean
Mel Eslyn – WINNER
Rebecca Green & Laura D. Smith

Truer Than Fiction
The 21st annual Truer Than Fiction Award, sponsored by LensCrafters is presented to an emerging director of non-fiction features who has not yet received significant recognition. The award includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant funded by LensCrafters.
Alex Sichel and Elizabeth Giamatti, “A Woman Like Me”
Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, “Incorruptible” – WINNER
Hemal Trivedi and Mohammed Ali Naqvi, “Among the Believers”

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With over a decade of experience in the movie industry, Ellwood survived working for two major studios, has written for Variety, MSN and the LA Times and co-founded HitFix, Inc. serving as its first Editor-in-Chief and President. Ellwood spends his time relaxing hitting 3’s on the basketball court and following his beloved Clippers.

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