Spirit Nominations and Awards from All Over

Taylour Paige in Janicza Bravo’s Zola (2020)

If you’ve been keeping one eye on the steady flow of best-of-2021 lists, polls, and awards, and you’re already beginning to tire of seeing the same handful of titles pop up again and again, the nominations for the thirty-seventh Film Independent Spirit Awards are here to shake it all up for you. If a film costs more than $22.5 million to make, it doesn’t qualify, so that somewhat clears the field. Janicza Bravo’s Zola, which we haven’t heard a whole lot about since the summer, takes the lead with seven nominations: best feature, director, female lead (Taylour Paige), supporting male (Colman Domingo), screenplay (Bravo and Jeremy O. Harris), cinematography (Ari Wegner), and editing (Joi McMillon).

Based on a Twitter thread from A’Ziah-Monae King, aka Zola, a then-nineteen-year-old waitress at a Hooters in Detroit, Bravo’s second feature after Lemon (2017) tells the story of a nightmarish road trip to Florida. “Every moment in Zola pulsates with life, as Bravo fuses seemingly incompatible tones and styles to capture the wild mood swings of her protagonists in states of emotional and physical extremis, in turn freeing her actors to boldly plumb their characters’ hidden and idiosyncratic depths,” writes Chuck Bowen at Slant. “Think of Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience with the swing of Sean Baker’s Tangerine and you’re halfway there, though Bravo goes further than either of those films.”

Lauren Hadaway’s debut feature The Novice, the winner of three top awards at Tribeca this summer, has scored five Spirit award nominations. Opening on Friday, the film centers on Alex (Isabelle Fuhrman), a college freshman who joins the university rowing team and becomes relentlessly obsessed with making it to the top varsity boat. “Hadaway leans on her own lived experiences to put Alex through the psychological wringer with a sport that seems so tame from an outsider’s perspective,” writes Jared Mobarak at the Film Stage. “Between her constant use of pulse-pounding visual montages with in-close cinematography and Alex Weston’s anxiety-inducing score, her character’s trajectory moves straight towards oblivion.”

Following close behind with four nominations each are Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter and Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr.’s Wild Indian, both of them debut features. With the latter, Corbine has created “a fascinatingly conflicted antihero of Ojibwe heritage who seems entirely distinct from previous Native American protagonists,” write the Guardian’s Phil Hoad. “As played by Michael Greyeyes with a mixture of breathy-mouthed arrogance and abject vulnerability, corporate high-flyer Michael is a kind of First Nations version of Patrick Bateman; a dark, inverted icon of his community’s generationally transmitted trauma, repression and self-loathing.”

Latest Awards

This past weekend, the European Film Awards for best film, director, and actress went to Jasmila Žbanić’s Quo Vadis, Aida? Jasna Đuričić plays a teacher in Srebrenica who, in 1995, fights to save her family when the Serbian Army under the command of Ratko Mladić begins slaughtering Muslims. “Women always have to fix the mess made by men,” said Žbanić as she accepted the top award. “They taught us how to turn destruction into love.” Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Flee, depicting one man’s escape from Afghanistan to Europe, won both best documentary and animated feature.

Justin Kurzel’s Nitram, a reimagining of events that led to the 1996 mass shooting in Port Arthur, Tasmania, swept the awards presented last week by the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA), winning best film, director, screenplay (Shaun Grant), editing (Nick Fenton), actor (Caleb Landry Jones), actress (Judy Davis), supporting actor (Anthony LaPaglia), and supporting actress (Essie Davis). “The intense discomfort of this nitroglycerine meditation on what makes a mass murderer is exactly that of watching a lit firework burn down in your hand toward its gunpowder base, unable to let go of it, transfixed by its snapping sparks,” wrote Jessica Kiang for Variety when Nitram premiered in competition at Cannes this summer.

More Nominations

A very different sort of discomfort was felt by many in the industry when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association reemerged on Monday morning to announce the nominations for this year’s Golden Globes. Since last year’s waves of scandals and accusations of financial and ethical lapses, the HFPA has promised to reform, but the reformation will not be televised. NBC’s decision as to whether or not they’ll broadcast the 2023 ceremony is still pending.

As for this year’s round of nominations, “instead of the usual bonkers choices, the Globes gave a set of film nominations that were shockingly un-embarrassing,” writes Vulture’s Nate Jones. In the film categories, Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast and Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog lead with seven nods each. Pointing out the “quintessentially Globes choice of Emma Stone in Cruella,” Jones notes that the Globes “wouldn’t be the Globes if they just nominated everybody that awards pundits expected. (That’s what the Critics Choice Awards are for.)”

Speaking of which, those nominations are out as well, and Belfast and Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story lead with eleven each. The HFPA and the Critics Choice Association have both scheduled their awards ceremonies, the seventy-ninth and the twenty-seventh, respectively, for the evening of Sunday, January 9.

City by City

Since the New York Film Critics Circle announced its awards earlier this month, critics groups across the country have been gathering and voting. Ryusuke Hamaguchi is the clear favorite in Boston, with Drive My Car winning awards for best picture, director, and actor (Hidetoshi Nishijima) as well as for the screenplay Hamaguchi cowrote with Takamasa Oe. The Power of the Dog has pulled off a near clean sweep in Philadelphia, and Atlanta critics have split their votes between Campion’s adaptation of Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza.

Campion and her cast—especially Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst—have been faring well with other organizations, too, even when voters have selected different titles for best film. In Washington, D.C., it’s Belfast; in Detroit, Joe Wright’s Cyrano. Reviewing Cyrano for the Los Angeles Times when the latest adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play premiered in Telluride, Justin Chang wrote that Peter Dinklage “makes an inspired Cyrano de Bergerac, his bristling intelligence and marvelous way with words both expressing and concealing his character’s love for the elusive Roxanne (an excellent Haley Bennett). As an unfashionably sincere tribute to that love, Cyrano has its banal stretches; it also has a solid supporting cast (an endearingly tongue-tied Kelvin Harrison Jr., a suitably villainous Ben Mendelsohn); affecting music and lyrics by the National; and Wright’s characteristically deft mise-en-scène.”

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