Oscars 2020: Independent Spirit Award Nominations

As I wait for them to announce the NBR winners (which is really the only thing I care about today), they dropped the Independent Spirit Award nominations. So let’s go over those now.

Most people know I have a passive disinterest in these as they relate to the Oscars. On their own, they’re pretty great. They acknowledge films made in the true independent sense (most of the time. There were a few years there where it was clear the studios had gotten in there with their Oscar choices and even now a few questionable ones still get in) and do an awards show the way it’s supposed to be done — with everyone getting drunk in a tent on the beach. At this point, independent film is one of the only things keeping interesting movies going. So even though I dismiss these nominations as they relate to what the Oscars are gonna do (which reminds me of when Olivia Colman won Best Actress and said, “My kids are at home watching. Well, if you’re not then, well done.” It’s not like in the end that’s a good thing a lot of the time), I do love everything they’re about.

So anyway, here are the nominees this year:

Best Feature

First Cow

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom


Never Rarely Sometimes Always


How does Ma Rainey count as an independent movie? It’s a $20 million Netflix movie. The other four, absolutely. But Ma Rainey… not sure I buy that one.

But anyway, solid category. You knew Nomadland and First Cow would be here. I’m happy Never Rarely Sometimes Always actually got the big nomination. That always felt like they’d nominate it for Actress and Screenplay and ignore the rest. So I’m happy to see that here. And Minari is nice to see as well. I’m curious to see how the season plays out, because both Minari and Nomadland feel like slam dunk winners for this, and it’s all gonna depend on which way the winds blow in the next two months.

My gut now tells me Minari almost gets shut out and Nomadland takes it. But a lot can change in two months.

Also worth noting that this category has three female directors, an Asian director and a Black director. And these are all critically-acclaimed films, so it’s not like they reached just to make the statement. That’s great to see.

Best Director

Lee Isaac Chung, Minari

Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman

Eliza Hittman, Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Kelly Reichardt, First Cow

Chloe Zhao, Nomadland

So four of the five Picture nominees, but with Emerald Fennell instead of George C. Wolfe.  Also, four female directors and an Asian director. That’s pretty awesome.

Honestly I feel like they can hardly go wrong with this category (even if I’m not the biggest First Cow fan). Zhao probably takes this would be my guess, but honestly… doesn’t matter who wins, because the category is so goddamn progressive.

And already, can’t you just feel the Oscars nominating almost none of these people?

Fortunately this year is loaded with non-white male choices, so I feel like maybe the most the Oscars will do is Fincher and Sorkin. I mean, maybe it’s Greengrass or Nolan, but that doesn’t feel right to me at this juncture. Spike’s right there too. So they might luck into an actual progressive category for once. But again, I’ll just wait and see. You’ll pass out holding your breath for the Oscars to be both progressive and have good taste at the same time.

Best Male Lead

Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal

Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Adarsh Gourav, The White Tiger

Rob Morgan, Bull

Steven Yeun, Minari

Love Chadwick, not sure that’s an independent movie. White Tiger also just came out. That’s an interesting pull for them. I also have not seen Bull, but I’ve heard of it. Either way, unless they’re going all in on Chadwick (which is a legitimate possibility and even probability), you have to assume they’re either gonna go Riz or Yeun. Either feels like a good choice, but I can just as easily see either of them not winning as much as winning. So I guess we’ll see which way the seasonal winds blow.

Best Female Lead

Nicole Beharie, Miss Juneteenth

Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Sidney Flanigan, Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Julia Garner, The Assistant

Frances McDormand, Nomadland

Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman

I’m glad there’s six nominees here. This year was stacked for great female performances.

And aside from the one film not feeling like a true indie (not to mention the fact that Davis feels like a supporting part in that movie to me), I can’t really disagree with any of these choices. They all feel great.

The question is whether they go Frances or Carey. Good for them for going elsewhere, but those have to feel like the big contenders here. Will they go Frances for a third time (and two wins in four years)? Carey’s only been nominated here twice, and somehow not for An Education (Wildlife in 2018 was the other one). This’ll be an interesting category, especially since I feel like this show doesn’t do sweeps for Oscar favorites the way it used to.

Best Supporting Male

Colman Domingo, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Orion Lee, First Cow

Paul Raci, Sound of Metal

Glynn Turman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Benedict Wong, Nine Days

Double Ma Rainey nominations. Nice for the actors… still don’t think that’s a true indie. I know it’s splitting some hairs, but they tried so hard to get away from what they were a decade ago when there were studio ‘independent division’ movies dominating this show. But sure, nice.

Nine Days isn’t even out yet, nor will it be out for some months here, so not sure what to make of that past — I love Benedict Wong.

I suspect Orion Lee takes this pretty handily, with the vote split out for Turman and Domingo, no one really having seen Wong’s film and Raci just sort of being there to be nominated.

Best Supporting Female

Alexis Chikaeze, Miss Juneteenth

Yeri Han, Minari

Valerie Mahaffey, French Exit

Talia Ryder, Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Yuh-jung Youn, Minari

Double Minari nominations.

Remember when I said the Oscars should’ve done the double Asian nominees last year and they didn’t do it? Wouldn’t it be funny if that somehow actually happened this year? I mean, I know them, it won’t, but that would be funny.

French Exit I haven’t seen yet, but assuming Mahaffey is fine and won’t win, this is an interesting category. If they can rally around Chikaeze, that could happen, though I’m thinking most likely option is Yeri Han.

Best Screenplay

Bad Education


The Half of It

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Promising Young Woman

Bad Education only got on HERE? What the fuck. Just leave it off entirely at that point and we’d have assumed you didn’t consider it to be independent. Shit, if you’re gonna do this, now I gotta get mad that Hugh Jackman isn’t here.

Aside from that piece of bullshit (great choice for a nominee, just… come on, guys), the other four are great choices. Love the Half of It love… though again… Netflix.

I feel like Promising Young Woman should win this, but I expect Minari to probably win (though maybe Bad Education?).

Best Editing

I Carry You With Me

The Invisible Man

Never Rarely Sometimes Always



Residue I don’t know, I Carry You with Me isn’t out yet and there’s no fucking way Invisible Man is an independent movie. Fuck right the hell off. Just because they made it cheap for Blumhouse and Universal does not make it an independent movie. Honestly, if you’re gonna cherrypick, just fucking go back to what you used to do. That’s some real bullshit right there.

Also, though, kudos to them for not nominating Elisabeth Moss this year. For either Invisible Man or Shirley. And Aubrey Plaza for Black Bear. I honestly didn’t think they could help themselves with those, and they showed immense self-restraint. Good for them.

Don’t care what wins, Invisible Man is not an independent movie.

Best Cinematography

The Assistant


Never Rarely Sometimes Always


She Dies Tomorrow

She Dies Tomorrow gets on. And honestly? Deserves it. That movie looked incredible for its budget level. Nomadland wins this pretty easily, but otherwise, good category.

Best First Feature

The Forty-Year-Old-Version

I Carry You with Me

Miss Juneteenth

Nine Days

Sound of Metal

Oh, right, Sound of Metal is a first feature. Well, good luck to everyone else there. Juneteenth and Forty-Year-Old-Version are great entries though.

Best First Screenplay

The Assistant


Miss Juneteenth

Palm Springs

Straight Up

Palm Springs is a first? Oh boy. That’s a hell of a first. Juneteenth is great too. As is The Assistant. The Assistant might be the best script on this entire list.

Don’t know what Lapsis is and don’t know what Straight Up is, but good for them for being on here.

Best International Feature

Bacurau (Brazil)

The Disciple (India)

Night of the Kings (Ivory Coast)

Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time (Hungary)

Quo Vadis, Aida? (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

I’ve heard of two of these. Have no idea what the other two are. So I’ll refrain from commenting past saying — people tell me Bacurau is awesome and I should see it.

Best Documentary


Crip Camp

Dick Johnson Is Dead

The Mole Agent


I wanna see Mole Agent so badly. Otherwise, I’ll see probably all five of these at some point, assuming they all make the Oscar shortlist (which, seeing as how often I’ve heard of these, they probably will).

John Cassavetes Award

The Killing of Two Lovers

La Leyenda Negra

Lingua Franca


Saint Frances

Cool. Loved Saint Frances, happy to see that win. Otherwise I’m happy for everything that makes it on this category.

Robert Altman Award

One Night in Miami

Cool. So I guess, congrats Regina King.

(Also kinda glad they didn’t nominate it anywhere else.)

Someone to Watch Award

David Midell (The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain)

Ekwa Msangi (Farewell Amor)

Annie Silverstein (Bull)

Cool, cool.

Truer Than Fiction Award

Cecilia Aldarondo (Landfall)

Elegance Bratton (Pier Kids)

Elizabeth Lo (The Stray)

Also cool.

Producers Award

Kara Durrett

Lucas Joaquin

Gerry Kim

And sweet.

There’s TV awards too, but fuck that. I don’t do TV here and it would just be a waste of time.

Overall, reasonable list of nominees with some great stuff on there. I majorly question the inclusion of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and that one Invisible Man nomination. Bad Education I might quibble with too, but at least there I know that movie premiered and then got picked up by HBO, which feels more independent than two movies that were bankrolled by studios.

But this all goes back to my usual refrain — love this show, love independent movies… means nothing for the Oscars other than window dressing and getting to see everyone get drunk in a tent the day before the Oscars.

And we don’t even know if they’re gonna be able to get drunk in the tent this year.

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