It's beyond old hat at this point to note that the Independent Spirit Awards used to be way more independent. This is inarguably true, if perhaps not as severe in degree as we like to remember. Looking through the history of Best Film winners at the Spirits, there was always a connection to the establishment Oscars. Hell, Platoon took Best Film at both awards in 1986. Certainly the Spirit nominations used to be more adventurous, but when it came to picking winners, they've long since settled into the habit of picking those who were Oscar-nominated, if not Oscar winners.
This Saturday's ceremony, though, could end up being a historic one for the Spirits. For the first time, we could see all four acting winners at the Spirits (plus Best Film) line up exactly with the winners at the Oscars. Oscar frontrunners Matthew McConaughey, Cate Blanchett, Lupita Nyong'o, and Jared Leto are all nominated at the Spirits and, given the award show's tendency as of late, they're poised to win. This kind of crossover has never come close to happening, and it signals the culmination of years' worth of the indie world mainstreaming itself. It's great news for the filmmakers, who want their work to be seen by as broad an audience as possible. It's less good news if you've been following awards shows since December, watching the same people win the same categories over and over, and you continually look to the Spirits for a breath of fresh air on Oscar eve.
None of this is set in stone, of course, but picking against Oscar nominees in the Spirit acting categories, when they're there, is pretty foolhardy. Fun fact: Since 1985, when the Spirits began, an actor who was nominated for the Oscar has lost to an actor not nominated for the Oscar only five times.*
So who's going to win on the beach in Malibu on Saturday? And where can we look for winners who won't be at the Dolby Theater on Sunday?
* John Hawkes (The Sessions) over Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook) in 2012. Shailene Woodley (The Descendants) over Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs) in 2011. Bill Murray (Rushmore) over James Coburn (Affliction) in 1998. Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) over Marcia Hay Harden (Pollock) in 2000. Anjelica Huston (The Dead) over Ann Sothern (The Whales of August) in 1987.
- 12 Years a Slave
- All Is Lost
- Inside Llewyn Davis
- Frances Ha
Oscar crossover: 12 Years a Slave and Nebraska are the only Academy-blessed entries here.
Best chance to upset: When the Oscar nominations were announced, there was a big ol' outcry from critical types about the omission of Inside Llewyn Davis. This would be the perfect place to express that disappointment and fight the power.
Get real, though: With its toughest Oscar competition—Gravity and American Hustle—out of the way, 12 Years a Slave wins this fairly easily.
- Shane Carruth, Upstream Color
- Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
- Alexander Payne, Nebraska
- Jeff Nichols, Mud
- JC Chandor, All Is Lost
Oscar crossover: Just like in Best Film, McQueen and Payne are repping the 12 Years and Nebraska love-fests.
Best chance to upset: The awards momentum for Chandor's All Is Lost ground to a halt over the last few months, which is a shame, because he's an incredibly exciting new director. Jeff Nichols is a huge Spirits fave, though.
Get real, though: Payne's won this category twice before (for Election and Sideways). He won't make it a third. Steve McQueen takes this in a walk.
BEST MALE LEAD
- Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
- Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
- Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
- Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis)
- Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station)
- Robert Redford (All Is Lost)
Oscar crossover: This category splits evenly between Oscar nominees Ejiofor, Dern, and McConaughey and Oscar snubbees Redford, Jordan, and Isaac.
Best chance to upset: McConaughey's the favorite to win the Oscar, but he's the one most likely to get upended at the Spirits. A 12 Years sweep could clearly pull Ejiofor along. The fact that McConaughey won Best Supporting Male last year for Magic Mike could give voters enough of an excuse to look elsewhere.
Get real, though: Spirits voters love McConaughey, and the same impulse that led the Hollywood Foreign Press, Screen Actors Guild, Broadcast Film Critics, and (possibly) the Academy to vote for him doesn't disappear when it comes to this show. McConaughey wins.
BEST FEMALE LEAD
- Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
- Brie Larson (Short Term 12)
- Julie Delpy (Before Midnight)
- Shailene Woodley (The Spectacular Now)
- Gaby Hoffman (Crystal Fairy)
Oscar crossover: Just Cate Blanchett, as none of her fellow Oscar nominees were eligible for the Spirits.
Best chance to upset: Woodley won Best Supporting Female for The Descendants two years ago. That's ... something, I suppose.
Get real, though: Blanchett's winning this one as surely as she's won everything else this year. Join me in being happy Brie Larson got a nomination at all.
BEST SUPPORTING MALE
- Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
- Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
- James Gandolfini (Enough Said)
- Keith Stanfield (Short Term 12)
- Will Forte (Nebraska)
Oscar crossover: Jared Leto and Michael Fassbender give a preview of their Oscar night showdown.
Best chance to upset: People expecting sentiment for the late James Gandolfini to lead to a posthumous win, this is basically the last chance.
Get real, though: Jared Leto has won everything up to this point. There's no sense pretending that'll stop here.
BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE
- Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave)
- Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)
- Melonie Diaz (Fruitvale Station)
- Yolonda Ross (Go for Sisters)
- June Squibb (Nebraska)
Oscar crossover: Nyong'o, Hawkins, and Squibb all rode their Spirit nominations all the way onto the Oscar ballot.
Best chance to upset: Just as at the Oscars, this is one of the few categories where it would be realistic to throw Nebraska a bone and honor Squibb.
Get real, though: With no Jennifer Lawrence to stand in her way, we know Lupita Nyong'o will win at least one award this weekend.
- Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine
- Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Before Midnight
- Nicole Holofcener, Enough Said
- Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber, The Spectacular Now
- John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
Oscar crossover: Only the Enough Said and The Spectacular Now scripts missed out on Oscar nods. At least one of them, probably both, should have made it.
Best chance to upset: Let's all agree that Woody Allen probably wasn't going to have the votes to win here even before the unpleasantness of the past several weeks. Ridley is the favorite to best the Before Midnight trio for the Adapted Screenplay Oscar, but the Spirits may not want to squander their chance to honor Linklater, Hawke, Delpy, and their indie darling of a trilogy.
Get real, though: ...Actually, I believe I won't. I think Before Midnight takes it.
BEST FIRST FEATURE
- Fruitvale Station
- Blue Caprice
- Una Noche
Okay, the Oscar crossover stops here. Though there's still the phantom arm of Oscar campaigning. Harvey Weinstein may have failed miserably when it came to properly pushing Fruitvale Station to Oscar nominations, but he got it out there enough to let it sail to a win here, at least. Predicted winner: Fruitvale Station
BEST FOREIGN FILM
- Blue Is the Warmest Color
- The Great Beauty
- The Hunt
- A Touch of Sin
Oscar nominees The Great Beauty and The Hunt brush up against the Cannes winner Blue Is the Warmest Color, though I would probably throw a vote to Gloria if I had one. There's not much point in trying to glean anything from the history of an award that's honored The King's Speech and Dancer in the Dark, so I'll go for the (very slight) upset. Predicted winner: Blue Is the Warmest Color
- 20 Feet From Stardom
- The Act of Killing
- After Tiller
- Gideon's Army
- The Square
The three best contenders to win the Oscar—20 Feet From Stardom, The Square, and The Act of Killing—are all represented here, and it'd be a shock if either of the others pulled off the upset. (Though After Tiller is quite good.) The Spirits don't seem to share the Oscars' aversion to formal innovation nor for movies about performers, so I say flip a coin between 20 Feet and Act of Killing. The latter is the cooler, filmmakers' choice. The former would make for a better TV moment. Predicted winner: 20 Feet from Stardom
Best First Screenplay
- Lake Bell, In A World
- Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Don Jon
- Bob Nelson, Nebraska
- Jill Soloway, Afternoon Delight
- Michael Starrbury, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete
Well, I suppose we'll get an early look as to just how beholden this year's Spirits will be to the Oscar ballot with this category. Normally, the star power of a burgeoning filmmaker like Joseph Gordon-Levitt—or even Lake Bell, really—would be too tempting for the voters to pass up. But if they really liked Nebraska ... Predicted winner: Lake Bell, In a World
JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD (best feature made for under $500,000)
- Computer Chess
- Crystal Fairy
- Museum Hours
- Pit Stop
- This Is Martin Bonner
Honestly, a total toss-up. Museum Hours got great reviews but seems a bit remote in its appeal. The Gaby Hoffmann nomination in Female Lead suggests real enthusiasm for Crystal Fairy. But Computer Chess was a surprisingly consistent performer in many a critic's top ten lists. This Is Martin Bonner was super popular too. With my vast awards expertise, I have to say ... eh? Predicted winner: Computer Chess