As the winds of award show nominations pick up, you won't be surprised to find 12 Years a Slave at the top of every list. But the Academy, the Golden Globes, and the various other captains of the circuit are inclined to overlook some of our smaller, more personal favorites in lieu of the big, grand, and wholly unavoidable awardable pictures like Steven McQueen's American slavery epic. That is not to rob 12 Years of Slave of its due credit — the film absolutely deserves as much awards attention as it is getting. It's simply the sort of movie that you know will get awards attention right out of the gate... whereas pictures just as pristine such as Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig's Frances Ha, likely won't be the center of attention come Oscar night. But that's what the Independent Spirit Awards are for: to recognize the movies that we cherish with intimacy rather than with grandeur. Among them are Frances Ha, new release Nebraska, Robert Redford's nearly wordless All Is Lost (also a viable candidate for the Academy, due to its own dezzling veneer), the Coen Bros' upcoming Inside Llewyn Davis, and, yes, of course, 12 Years a Slave.
Check out the full list of nods below.
BEST FEATURE 12 Years A Slave All Is Lost Frances Ha Inside Llewyn Davis Nebraska
BEST LEAD FEMALE Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine Julie Delpy, Before Midnight Gaby Hoffman, Crystal Fairy Brie Larson, Short Term 12 Shailene Woodley, The Spectacular Now
BEST LEAD MALE Bruce Dern, Nebraska Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years A Slave Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis Michael B. Jordan, Fruitvale Station Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club Robert Redford, All Is Lost
BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE Melonie Diaz, Fruitvale StationSally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years A Slave Yolanda Ross, Go For Sisters June Squibb, Nebraska
BEST SUPPORTING MALE Michael Fassbender, 12 Years A Slave Will Forte, Nebraska James Gandolfini, Enough Said Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club Keith Stanfield, Short Term 12
BEST DIRECTOR Shane Carruth, Upstream Color J.C. Chandor, All Is Lost Steve McQueen, 12 Years A Slave Jeff Nichols, Mud Alexander Payne, Nebraska
BEST FIRST FEATUREBlue Caprice Concussion Fruitvale Station Una Noche Wadjda
JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD Computer Chess Crystal Fairy Museum Hours Pit Stop This Is Martin Bonner
BEST SCREENPLAY Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Richard Linklater, Before Midnight Nicole Holofcener, Enough Said Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, The Spectacular Now John Ridley, 12 Years A Slave
BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY Lake Bell, In A World Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Don Jon Bob Nelson, Nebraska Jill Soloway, Afternoon Delight Michael Starburry, The Inevitable Defeat Of Mister & Pete
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHYSean Bobbitt, 12 Years A Slave Benoit Debie, Spring Breakers Bruno Delbonnel, Inside Llewyn Davis Frank G. Demarco, All Is Lost Matthias Grunsky, Computer Chess
BEST EDITING Shane Carruth & David Lowery, Upstream Color Jem Cohen & Marc Vives, Museum Hours Jennifer Lame, Frances Ha Cindy Lee, Una Noche Nat Sanders, Short Term 12
BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM A Touch Of Sin Blue Is The Warmest ColorGloriaThe Great Beauty The Hunt
BEST DOCUMENTARYThe Act Of Killing After Tiller Gideon's ArmyThe Square Twenty Feet From Stardom
PIAGET PRODUCERS AWARDToby Halbrooks & James M. JohnsonJacob JaffkeAndrea RoaFerderick Thornton
TRUER THAN FICTION AWARDS Kalyanee Mam, A River Changes Course Jason Osder, Let The Fire Burn Stephanie Spray & Pancho Valez, Manakamana
SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARDS Aaron Douglas Johnston, My Sisters' Quinceanera Shaka King, Newlyweeds Madeleine Olnek, The Foxy Merkins
ROBERT ALTMAN AWARDMud
Creating a scent on screen has long been thought to be impossible—but Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is an above-average effort triggering the raw emotions from smell without the gimmicks of 1950's Smell-O-Vision. Based on the best-selling novel by Patrick Suskind Perfume focuses on Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) a weird dude who was born into filth and poverty amid the guts and vomit of an open-air French fish market. Although he has no human scent of his own Grenouille’s world-class sense of smell is able to penetrate people's skin—and he’s attracted to the female scent. Not in a sexual way mind you; he wants only to bottle it. When Grenouille meets fallen (but still legendary) perfumer Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman) the younger sets out to titrate the most elusive perfume known to man: A woman's pheromones. Problem is women won't stay long enough so Grenoiulle can capture their scent and the young man ends up killing them. When Grenoiulle kills a powerful merchant's (Alan Rickman) daughter his execution is planned for a public square. Whishaw is the real star here but playing Grenouille may have proven a challenge for the young British actor since the character is beloved by fans of the best-selling novel. Whishaw is forced to go mute and inert as Grenoiulle his intensity focused inward with quiet gazes and mysterious intensity arousing doubt and fear. Grenouille is a man handsome in his youth but ultimately one we despise--or at least someone we wouldn’t want to hang out with. And for a change of pace a powdered rosy-cheeked Hoffman comes up smelling roses in this period thriller. As Baldini in costume flair the two-time Oscar winner does something quite different no longer just the colorful supporting player he’s been playing in light dramas such as Finding Neverland and Stranger Than Fiction. Baldini isn't one of Hoffman's best roles as Whishaw owns this film but it's a fun performance which pays attention to the actor’s pronounced proboscis. Rickman of Harry Potter fame is an enraged vengeful father. Natch. Perfume is director Tom Tykwer's first major commercial film since his 1998's go-go thriller Run Lola Run--and as a thriller Perfume is built around solid dialogue-driven scenes notably between Grenouille and Baldini. Apparently 57-year-old German writer Patrick Suskind refused for years to give up the rights to his book but producer Bernd Eichinger—the guy behind The Neverending Story's precocious 1980's futurism—finally won out. Nuggets of Suskind’s literary wisdom only enhance the movie's continuity and realism scattered incrementally to remind us we're watching an intelligently conceived film. Perfume is unwieldy at 147 minutes however a bit fatty and unnecessary at the film's cost. Sometimes that happens with novel adaptations especially one as popular as Perfume. In fact the film ends with an unusually bizarre orgy with hundreds of naked people writhing in hormone-driven ecstasy. What smells so lovely Mr. Tykwer?
The lawlessness of street basketball may be unknown to most audiences but it's the backdrop for Crossover telling the struggles of Detroit youth and how they yearn to break out into the mainstream world. Tech (Anthony Mackie) and his best friend Noah Cruise (Wesley Jonathan) are two extremely talented ball players who get pressured by a sleazy bookie and former sports agent (Wayne Brady) to go pro. Cruise wants to become a doctor and his basketball skills are going to get him to pre-med at UCLA on a scholarship. His more hot-tempered and less ambitious pal Tech only wants to pass his high-school equivalency test and beat the local thugs at their game in the underground street match championship. But before they head out to L.A. to pursue their dreams they fall for two local girls (Alecia Jai Fears and Eva Pigford) which changes everything. Mackie is one of the better actors around these days. He truly shines in the upcoming romance island drama Haven and is known as the guy who gets punched out by Morgan Freeman in Million Dollar Baby. But this over-the-top cliché-riddled You Got Served wannabe isn't his best showcase. He plays the role with exaggerated bravado. Also Brady--who's known for his hilarious improv skills on the show Whose Line Is It Anyway?--isn’t at all funny as a creepy self-interested hustler. Smaller vibrant cameos by Lil' J.J. and Philip "Hot Sauce" Champion as fellow players stand out but unfortunately too short on screen time. And as much as the seemingly likable Jonathan tries to make his character the multi-dimensional heart-tugging soul of the story he lacks the chops to carry the movie. Mackie and Jonathan may have street cred as street basketball players but their portrayals of inner-city youth don't have real-life cred. Crossover is sure to have audiences shouting "Show me the basketball!" But where is the dramatic footage of really good game playing like in Glory Road He Got Game or Coach Carter? Yes there's the dramatic drop of the ball at midnight in an old train station where the lawless game takes place but that’s not enough. The game is all about winning and director Preston A. Whitmore II shows that well but the story turns maudlin and the characters act like they’re performing in an overly earnest community theater that just tries too hard. And the whole “girlfriend” thing only proves to be a ridiculous diversion. It's a bad sign when a non-sports fan wants to see more b-ball instead of the unnecessarily heavy dramatic plot lines.
In this Britney-and-Beyonce-obsessed age 'tis a wonder anyone other than an art history buff knows who Rembrandt is let alone that other Dutch painter guy--what'shisname Vermeer. In fact very little is known about the 17th-century painter who died in debt at 43 and left most of his works including his most famous of a young girl wearing a pearl earring shrouded in mystery. Girl With a Pearl Earring is director Peter Webber's adaptation of the 1999 Tracy Chevalier novel that spun a gauzy fiction about the painter's unrequited obsession with a young maid who became his muse and the subject of said painting. The maid in question is Griet (Scarlett Johansson) whose tilemaker father's accident forces their family into poverty and her into servitude--and it's no picnic. Morose henpecked Vermeer (Colin Firth) hides in his studio away from the household which includes the puffy and pampered wife (Essie Davis) he keeps eternally pregnant; her tyrannical domineering mother (Judy Parfitt) who brazenly solicits work for Vermeer from patrons like rich lecher Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson); and a multitude of Vermeer brats. Full-lipped and nubile the servant Griet becomes the artist's secret obsession--he spies on her cleaning his studio teaches her about painting (or at least how to make his paints) and seduces her while painting her portrait behind his wife's back.
With little dialogue to speak Johansson's Griet is a study in silence. Her wide-eyed earnest stares and Mona Lisa smile do the talking for her proving a picture certainly can say a thousand words. She may get more attention for Lost in Translation but this is her vehicle. Johansson's quiet understated performance makes the others look that much more overstated--Wilkinson's vulgar mustache twirling art patron for example and Davis's jealous and ranting Catharina Vermeer for another although they too are very solid turns. Firth's Vermeer fades into the background surrounded by these big personalities understandably and fittingly so; he's the brooding artist who'd be far happier left alone to gaze upon his subject. Although the master and the servant never do much more than exchange looks the sensual energy between them is palpable.
This movie is beautiful absolutely stunning--it's as if cinematographer Eduardo Serra saw Vermeer's life through the artist's eyes and that vision comes through in exquisitely framed and lit shots. Some scenes--of young lovers walking along a tree-lined canal in fall light beaming across the girl's face as she cleans the studio's beveled windows--are literally breathtaking. Just as an artist's work is tactile so does this film feel--in the sounds of a heavy knife chopping vegetables and a spatula grinding pigment into paste…volumes are spoken in the clean white crispness of Griet's bonnet. First-time helmer Webber occasionally allows the camera to hang too long (a lip-licking scene in extreme close-up for example) but he creates a fully enveloping period and confidently leads his cast through this fairly thin story. You can pretty much guess what you're in for with a movie about a 17th-century Dutch master; knowing that if there's any criticism to be made it's that the pic feels every bit of its 95 minutes long. A lovely score by Alexandre Desplat also deserves a mention although it sometimes overwhelms scenes with unwarranted portentousness.
Harrison Lloyd (David Strathairn) is a world-renowned Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist who has it all: a devoted wife two beautiful children and an illustrious career. Although his wife Sarah (Andie MacDowell) is supportive of his career she wishes Harrison would spend more time at home being a husband and father rather than gallivanting around the world taking pictures. Before long Harrison is whisked off overseas to cover bloody ethnic conflicts in Yugoslavia and is presumed dead after the Yugoslav National Army flattens the town he is in. Sarah however is convinced Harrison is still alive because "something would have broken inside if he were dead." She barricades herself into a room with half a dozen televisions determined to uncover something about her husband's whereabouts. Miraculously she sees an image of Harrison in a crowd of civilians being hoarded to the small Croatian town of Vukovar and decides to go there herself and bring him back alive. Despite warnings that war-torn Yugoslavia is not the place for her she manages to dodge bullets and Soviet T-55 tanks while waving around a 5x7 color glossy of Harrison yelling "Have you seen this man?"
As Sarah Harrison's devoted wife Andie MacDowell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) is convincing but irritating. While we feel for her and desperately want her to find her husband alive there is nothing more annoying than watching her traipsing around yelling "Harrison? Harrison!" while the destruction of what was once the breadbasket of the region happens all around her. Adrien Brody (Summer of Sam) plays Kyle Harrison's archnemesis who ends up helping Sarah in her efforts to find Harrison. Brody is probably the most believable and well-developed character in the film despite hokey lines like "We better both pray that some day we find somebody that loves us the way she loves him." No one actually talks like that do they? In the role of Harrison's friend and colleague Yeager is Elias Koteas (The Thin Red Line). His character is supposed to be this famous photographer (we know this because he is credited for that famous photograph of the confrontation between a Chinese student and a T-59 tank during the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstration) but he is completely despicable. He comes off as a pompous know-it-all rather than a good friend to the Lloyds.
Director Elie Chouraqui wants us to believe MacDowell's character is this brave devoted wife but I found it hard to sympathize with her predicament. Sure it's sad that Harrison is missing and all but forgive me if I found myself more troubled by the execution of thousands of innocent men women and children instead. And in Vukovar amidst the dead bodies of Serbs and Croats she still finds time to take pictures and send them back to the press in the United States. The pictures come out crisp and sharp despite the fact that she shoots most of them in the dark--without a flash. Come on! What takes the cake however is the blatant Schindler's List rip-off: We see a little girl in a yellow dress who stops and smiles for a picture only to end up dead later in the film with a photographer exclaiming "It's the girl in the yellow dress!" It is also hard to buy the film's plot when when all we really know about Harrison is that he likes flowers which are the only thing he photographs in color. Overall Sarah's plight to find her husband almost seems petty in lieu of what is going around her.