‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always’ Gets Oscar Boost from Independent Spirit Awards Nominations

Anne Thompson
·5 min read

In recent years, the Film Independent Spirit Awards nominating juries have looked away from the Oscars, and this year is no exception. But in a sign of the times, the Spirits added new television categories this time around. Thus Netflix dominated the 2021 nominations from the Spirit nominating committees, scoring 11 nominations over seven features and documentaries, plus another five for scripted series, for a total of 16 nominations.

Of the conventional theatrical distributors, Focus Features scored 10 nominations over two films, Eliza Hittman’s Sundance, Berlin, and New York Film Critics Circle-winner “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” with seven, and Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman” with three. A24, which led the pack last year with 18 nominations over seven films, followed with nine, six for Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari” and three for Kelly Reichardt’s critics favorite “First Cow” (which won Best Film at the NYFCC). All three were nominated for Best Feature, along with George C. Wolfe’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Netflix) and Chloe Zhao’s “Nomadland” (Searchlight), which both earned five nominations.

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The six Spirit nominating committees of about 50 are a mix of folks from the indie film community, including filmmakers, craftspeople and journalists; this year they comprised 67 percent women and 63 percent BIPOC. See all the nominees here.

According to Film Independent president Josh Welsh, the nominations represent 22 countries; 57 percent of the directing and writing Spirit nominees are women, and 48 percent are people of color. Of all the nominated actors, 69 percent are BIPOC. And of all the nominees, 42 percent are women, and 37 percent are BIPOC.

Last year “The Farewell” won Best Feature, and Best Female Lead winner Renee Zellweger took home the Oscar for “Judy” the next day. The year before, “If Beale Street Could Talk” won Best Feature and Regina King won Best Supporting Actress at both the Spirits and the Oscars. So while the Spirits are not entirely predictive of Oscar attention, their nominations spotlight deserving films and build awards momentum.

The highest-profile Oscar contenders nominated today were “Nomadland,” starring Female Lead nominee Frances McDormand, and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” whose stars Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman are leading their respective Oscar categories. Colman Domingo and Glynn Turman both landed supporting nominations as well. (The rest of the Netflix fall slate, from ”The Trial of the Chicago 7″ and “Da 5 Bloods” to “Mank,” exceeded the Spirits’ $22.5 million budget cap.) But one sign of possible weakness for “Ma Rainey” was no directing or screenwriting nods; Fennell took both slots, which builds momentum for a possible Original Screenplay Oscar nod. Neither Netflix’s “Pieces of a Woman” nor late-breaking “Malcolm & Marie” found any Spirits love.

By giving Amazon’s “One Night in Miami” the Robert Altman Ensemble Award, Regina King’s high-wattage cast — Kingsley Ben-Adir, Leslie Odom, Jr., Eli Goree, and Aldis Hodge — while “winners,” became ineligible for acting nominations and removed from the competitive fray (and, its attendant buzz and boosts). Thus, the movie boasts just that one nomination. Amazon’s “Sound of Metal” scored three nods, for Best First Feature, Best Male Lead (Riz Ahmed) and Best Supporting Male (Paul Raci); both actors are on their way to Oscar nods.

Among the Female Lead nominees, only Davis, Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”) and Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman” will likely factor in the Oscar race. While “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” newcomer Sidney Flanagan won the NYFCC Best Actress award, she remains a long shot for an Oscar nomination, along with Supporting Female nominee Talia Ryder. But these Spirit nominations boost the movie’s chances of being seen by a wider swath of voters and garnering an Original Screenplay nomination for Hittman.

Lower-profile Best Feature nominee “Minari” (A24), which had been overlooked by high-profile critics groups, also needed its nominations for Feature, Director and Screenplay (Chung), Male Lead (Steven Yeun) and two Supporting Females (Yeri Han and Yuh-jung Youn) to become a must-see for Academy voters.

Another supporting female nomination went to “French Exit” comedienne Valerie Mahaffey, one of five nominations for Sony Pictures Classics, including “Nine Days” and “I Carry You With Me,” which are not likely to register at the Oscars. . The Academy Actors branch could respond to Mahaffey’s showstopper performance, but star Michelle Pfeiffer was left out. (European-produced “The Father” was not eligible.)

With a fierce Oscar competition underway among a large number of documentaries, international submissions “Collective” (Magnolia) and “The Mole Agent” (Gravitas Ventures), Netflix’s “Crip Camp” and “Dick Johnson is Dead,” and Amazon’s “Time” continue to nab attention on their way to the documentary and international Oscar shortlist announcements on February 9.

In the foreign feature race, Brazil’s “Bacarau” (Kino Lorber) is not Oscar-eligible this year, nor was festival favorite “The Disciple” (Netflix) submitted by India; the Ivory Coast submission “Night of the Kings” (Neon) will play Sundance 2021, and “Preparations to be Together for an Unknown period of Time” (Hungary) and “Quo Vadis, Aida” (Bosnia and Herzogovina) are also building awareness in the Oscar race.

7000 Film Independent members vote for the Spirit Awards, which will broadcast on the Thursday before the Oscars on April 22, 2020, at 7pm PT, 10pm ET, on IFC.

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