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
The heart of Whale Rider centers on an ancient legend of the Maori (indigenous people of New Zealand) who believe their ancestry dates back a thousand years to a warrior named Paikea. Legend has it Paikea escaped death after his canoe capsized by riding to shore on the back of a whale and since then his male heirs have each assumed the responsibilities as Maori chief. That is until now. Set in the present Whale Rider tells the story of Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes) a feisty 12-year-old girl who lives in the fishing village of Whangara off the east coast of New Zealand with her stern but loving grandfather Koro (Rawiri Paratene) who is a direct descendent of Paikea and her grandmother the kindly Nanny Flowers (Vicky Haughton). Although granddaughter and grandfather have a special bond there is a sadness in Koro. He mourns the loss of his grandson Pai's twin brother who died in childbirth along with Pai's mother. Koro also has a hard time accepting the fact his own son Pai's father Porourangi (Cliff Curtis) has not chosen to follow his destiny but instead has fled Whangara in grief. Though he loves his granddaughter dearly a thousand years of tradition is hard to buck in this unyielding man's eyes; Koro refuses to see Pai as a rightful Maori chief and instead begins to look for an outside heir to the throne by training local village boys. But Pai isn't your ordinary blossoming adolescent girl; she embodies many of the qualities of a great Maori warrior--courage determination wisdom and an irrepressible spirit. Against all odds including the hurtful rejection from her beloved grandfather she finds a way to prove herself as the true heir to her rich ancestry--and your own spirit will soar as she succeeds.
The mostly Maori cast brings truthfulness to their words and actions making the Maori culture come alive. Yet the film solely belongs to Castle-Hughes who is so amazingly poised and beautiful it's hard to believe she's only 11 years old. She simply radiates as Pai showing a depth of emotion rarely seen in a first-time actress especially one so young--she joins a short list that includes Oscar winners Tatum O'Neal (Paper Moon) and Anna Paquin (The Piano). Every scathing word and scornful reproach Pai receives from Koro registers clearly on this little girl's face and it truly almost breaks your heart to watch her. Still it's tremendous strength that shines through in Castle-Hughes' performance. In one particularly heart-wrenching scene Pai gives a speech in the wharenui or the town's sacred meeting house dedicating it to her grandfather who has not shown up. Despite the pain her grandfather has caused her Pai bravely gulps down tears and recounts her family's history. By the end you're in a puddle of your own tears. As the young actress' counterpart the elderly Paratene (Rapa Nui)--one of New Zealand's most prominent actors--also turns in a finely tuned performance as Koro. You really want to hate this man but Paratene makes you understand Koro's grief--and how attached he is to his own deep-seated roots. Koro believes there isn't any other way to be but when the old man finally sees how wrong he has been how Pai is the only true heir to the throne Paratene plays the moment brilliantly as you see his steely resolve dissolve into painful realization.
Having won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival this year Whale Rider has been steadily gaining momentum and has made already made over $2 million playing in only 163 theaters nationwide. Based on a book by Witi Ihimaera who has tribal links to the Whangara community New Zealand writer/director Niki Caro--who is not Maori--had to treat Whale Rider with kid gloves in order to preserve the great Maori traditions while at the same time craft an entertaining film. In adapting the book Caro delicately handles the legend of Paikea but centers the film on the relationship between Pai and Koro giving Whale Rider an emotional core and contemporary feel. Not since the gritty and powerful 1994 film Once Were Warriors which gave audiences their first glimpse inside a modern-day Maori family has a story about the indigenous people of New Zealand been so vividly played out. Caro also had to convince the elders in the Whangara community she was right for the job and that using their town and their sacred Maori grounds was the only way to effectively tell this story. Luckily they agreed. Caro captures the spirit of this rocky and magnificent coastline and its people showing how the rugged surroundings influenced this once-great warrior nation's customs and rituals. In the final scene the men perform a traditional warrior dance while the women chant and the community as a whole heaves off a long Maori boat symbolizing the rebirth of another rangatiratanga--or leader. It's a fitting end to a truly inspiring film.