Hey movie fans, it's Sandie here to bring you the first of many awards-related posts. The nominees for the Spirit Awards -- formerly known as the Independent Spirit Awards -- were announced today, and the dysfunctional-family dramedy 'Little Miss Sunshine' and gritty relationship-drama 'Half Nelson' lead with five nominations a piece. This is particularly amusing to our team, because four of us here at Hold the 'Fone have been debating (OK, arguing really) which movie is better since we saw them both at Sundance in January. Two of us are firmly in the 'Sunshine' camp and two in the 'Nelson,' but we haven't gone so far as designing "Team ______" shirts ... yet. Alas, the Spirit Award nominations have done absolutely nothing to settle the score.
As it stands, the nominees for Best Feature are: 'Half Nelson'; 'Little Miss Sunshine'; 'American Gun'; the tale of three communities touched by gun violence; 'The Dead Girl,' a crime drama about the female victims of a serial killer; and 'Pan's Labyrinth,' which truth be told, all of us agree is one of the best movies of the year, so perhaps we should forget the Sundance-flick rivalry and root for Guillermo del Toro's Spanish-language fantasy masterpiece instead.
The Best Male Lead category is, in my mind anyway, Ryan Gosling's to lose for his "flawless performance" (Maggie Gyllenhaal's words, not mine) as a junkie junior-high teacher in 'Half Nelson.' His competitors, however, are nearly as impressive: Aaron Eckhart as a fast-talking tobacco lobbyist in 'Thank You for Smoking'; Edward Norton as an uptight scientist in the period drama 'The Painted Veil'; Ahmad Razvi as a Pakistani immigrant in 'Man Push Cart'; and the always amazing Forest Whitaker as a driven inner-city principal in 'American Gun.'
Not only was Gosling recognized, but so was his young co-star, Shareeka Epps, who is a Best Female Lead nominee for her heart-wrenching portrayal of a middle-schooler who gets emotionally attached to her crack-addicted teacher. Her fellow nominees are Catherine O'Hara as an Oscar-obsessed C-lister in 'For Your Consideration'; Elizabeth Reaser as a 1920s immigrant in 'Sweet Land'; Michelle Williams in the Wim Wenders drama 'Land of Plenty' and Robin Wright Penn for her bitter TV exec in 'Sorry, Haters.' Have to admit that I'm a bit dumbstruck that Maggie didn't score a nod for 'Sherrybaby': a. She's the indie "It Girl" b. The film debuted at Sundance and c. It stars Gyllenhaal as a hedonistic ex-convict mama trying to reconnect with her young daughter. If that doesn't merit a Spirit Award, what is the indie world coming to?
The Spirit Awards did manage to acknowledge two of the breakout performances we're thankful for this year in the Best Supporting Male category: Paul Dano, who we loved as the Nietzche-loving brother Dwayne in 'Sunshine' and Channing Tatum as Shia LaBeouf's hot-headed best friend in 'A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints.' Both up-and-comers face 72-year-old Alan Arkin for his role as the foul-mouthed grandpa in 'Sunshine'; Daniel Craig for his very non-Bond role as vulnerable killer Perry Smith in the (other) Capote biopic 'Infamous'; and veteran "That Guy" Raymond J. Barry as an exacting military man in 'Steel City.'
Want to see who else was nominated? Get the complete list of Spirit Award nominees.
And if you're now in the mood for a fix of good indie films, check out our Independent Film Guide, where you'll find reviews of nearly all the nominated actors and films.