The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has struck a blow for so-called independent cinema while uncharacteristically cocking a snoot at a quartet of major studio contenders.
My bet is that come January 15 the Academy’s choices will broadly mimic the pattern – but it has nothing to do with the Globes nominations.
Every year people regard the HFPA’s December selections as the tea leaves at the bottom of the cup when they try to second-guess whom Oscar voters will nominate.
However this perception of the Globes as a chief, if not the chief, Oscar barometer exists by default and has little to do with any pioneering, influential critical selection on the part of the HFPA.
It is voters on the New York Film Critics Circle, LA Film Critics Association, Indie Spirits, Gothams, NBR and AFI who are the trail-blazers. Their earlier declarations happened well before HFPA members submitted their nomination ballots by the December 8 deadline.
By this stage of the season we’ve seen every movie there is to see and we know the heavy-hitters. Because the HFPA splits categories between drama and comedy or musical they cover most of those deserving to be in contention and as a result appear prescient if the Academy broadly follows suit.
The best example are the acting categories. There are make-weights that no Oscar voter will take seriously this season and there are the odd omissions due to the cultural perspective that differentiates the 90-odd non-US HFPA members and the roughly 6,000 mostly American Academy voters.
But by and large the HFPA’s 10 lead actor and 10 lead actress nominees will make up the bulk of, if not all, the Oscar nominees announced on January 15.
What is different this year is the absence of those A-listers whom HFPA members traditionally like to have at their awards show party. There are no nods for Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken; nothing for Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper; a sole best score nod for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar; and not a single nomination for Chris Rock’s Top Five, which Paramount picked up at Toronto.
The prevailing wisdom has it that these studio movies have not earned universal adulation on the circuit this season, although it is hard to see how the Academy will not shower a little more love on some of them, particularly in its technical categories. These are areas where Academy members can spread their largesse. The studios still have time to lobby Academy members and it will be intense.
The Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA) leadership said independent films eared 39 nominations from the HFPA this week. Definitions of what constitutes “independent” will vary.
The list includes Bold Film’s Nightcrawler and Cinelou Films’ Cake. Pathé’s Selma is on there too, although it has the benefit of Paramount’s US distribution infrastructure and deep pockets for awards campaigning. The Imitation Game makes it on to IFTA’s list too, but with the backing of The Weinstein Company you would hardly call it a minnow.
Even IFC Films, the company that bankrolled and released Boyhood, the most overtly “indie” of all this years major contenders, has the backing of a major corporation behind it, although Jonathan Sehring had to lobby hard to justify a $200,000 investment each year for 12 years in Richard Linklater’s audacious family epic.
But let’s not get too pedantic: we all instinctively understand the general philosophy behind an independent film and it is gratifying to see these champions of art earn recognition.
Their vision and daring sets them apart from the more prosaic ambitions of the box office juggernauts and aligns them with risky enterprises that feel like art. Which is surely what awards season should be all about.