Think of the Independent Spirit Awards nominations as the Iowa caucuses of the annual awards season race.
Tuesday morning’s announcements of the 2010 Spirit nominees (as announced by Jeremy Renner and Eva Mendes), culled from the standouts among the 220 independent film submitted for consideration, shined a klieg-sized spotlight on a number of non-Hollywood studio films and performances. Along with the prestige of potentially claiming Film Independent’s honors, the resultant profile bump for this year’s crop of contenders – “Winter’s Bone,” “Black Swan,” “127 Hours,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “Greenberg” and “Rabbit Hole” chief among them – positions the nominees well when it comes to their chances in other major awards derbies, including the Golden Globes and Academy Awards.
“Winter’s Bone,” the widely praised drama about an Ozarks teen navigating a bleak criminal landscape in hopes of saving her troubled family, led the Spirit pack with seven nominations, including Best Feature, Best Director (Debra Granik), Best Screenplay (Granik and Anne Rosellini, from Daniel Woodrell’s novel), Female Lead (Jennifer Lawrence), Supporting Female (Dale Dickey), Supporting Male (John Hawkes) and Cinematography (Michael McDonough).
Joining “Winter’s Bone” among the Best Feature contenders were the ballet-set psychodrama “Black Swan,” the harrowing true-life ordeal “127 Hours,” the sperm-donor comedy-drama “The Kids Are All Right,” and the funny/painful dramedy “Greenberg.”
Best Director nominees are Granik, Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan”), Danny Boyle (“127 Hours”), Lisa Cholodenko (“The Kids Are All Right”) and John Cameron Mitchell (“Rabbit Hole”).
Actors ranging from established A-list Hollywood stars to newly discovered breakouts also found their footholds in the overall awards race with Spirit nominations.
In the Spirits’ first-ever six-woman field of contenders, the Best Female Lead category includes Lawrence, Annette Bening (“The Kids Are All Right”), Greta Gerwig, (“Greenberg”), Nicole Kidman (“Rabbit Hole”) and Michelle Williams (“Blue Valentine”). Vying for Best Male Lead are James Franco (“127 Hours”), Ben Stiller (“Greenberg”), John C. Reilly (“Cyrus”), Aaron Eckhart (“Rabbit Hole”) and Ronald Bronstein (“Daddy Longlegs”).
For supporting roles, the Best Supporting Female nominees are Dickey, Ashley Bell, (“The Last Exorcism”) Allison Janney (“Life During Wartime”), Naomi Watts (“Mother and Child”) and Daphne Rubin-Vega (“Jack Goes Boating”), while Best Supporting Male noms include Hawkes, Samuel L. Jackson (“Mother and Child”), Bill Murray (“Get Low”’), Mark Ruffalo (“The Kids Are All Right”) and John Ortiz (“Jack Goes Boating”).
Other Spirit Awards categories include Best First Feature, Best Screenplay, Best First Screenplay, the John Cassavetes Award (given to the best feature made for a budget under $500,000), Best Cinematography, Best Foreign Film, Best Documentary, and the Robert Altman Award, given to one film’s director, casting director, and its ensemble cast (this year’s honoree is “Please Give”).
The 26th annual ceremony takes place Feb. 26, 2011 at 2 p.m. on the beach in Santa Monica, airing exclusively that night on IFC at 10 p.m. ET/PT.