The acclaimed Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea had expectedly strong showings Tuesday as the nominations were announced for the 32nd Film Independent Spirit Awards. But there were plenty of surprises, too, from a pair of obscure titles (Chronic and Free in Deed) showing up in multiple categories to the absence of some heavyweight acting contenders. Here are our six biggest eye-raisers
1. Chronic creeps into Best Feature race. While it’s unsurprising to see indie faves Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, Jackie, and American Honey compete for the best picture prize, there is one wild card here: the little-known drama Chronic. Written and directed by Michel Franco (After Lucia), the film stars Tim Roth as home-care nurse tending to terminally ill patients. Chronic premiered at the Cannes Film Festival back in May 2015, but clearly made a long-lasting impression on Film Independent’s body.
2. Moonlight shines, but where are the acting noms? Barry Jenkins’s drama about a young gay black male coming of age in Miami might be the most talked-about film in Hollywood right now, and it will deservedly be a major player at the Independent Spirit Awards after landing six nominations, including Best Feature and Best Director. But for an ensemble stacked with moving performances, it was surprising to see Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, and Janelle Monae absent from the acting categories. But don’t think it’s an oversight: the film’s cast has already been named the recipient of the Spirits’ prestigious Robert Altman Award, which makes them ineligible for individual acting accolades.
3. American Honey builds up some awards buzz. Andrea Arnold’s 163-minute slow-burner about disenchanted Millennials road-tripping across the Midwest has won its share of fans since also bowing at Cannes (in 2016), but it doesn’t exactly scream “awards bait.” The film tied Moonlight with a leading six nominations, though. Besides Best Feature, it also will compete for Best Director, Best Female Lead (Sasha Lane in her film debut), Best Supporting Male (Renaissance Man Shia LaBeouf), Best Cinematography, and Best Editing.
4. Two acclaimed biographical documentaries miss the cut. Ava Duvernay’s vital and timely mass incarceration doc 13th and the riveting, nearly eight-hour O.J.: Made in America are expected to be repeat nonfiction noms come Oscar time, and here they’re joined by Cameraperson, I Am Not Your Negro, Sonita, and Under the Sun. But left out of the Indie Spirit race were two raved-about depictions of two very different people: Gleason, Clay Tweel’s tearjerker about NFL star-turned-ALS spokesman Steve Gleason; and Weiner, Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s entertaining portrayal of the disgraced politician Anthony Weiner.
5. Oscar contenders get snubbed in acting categories. While there’s good reason why Moonlight‘s most acclaimed performances (Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, and Janelle Monae) aren’t in the running (see No. 2, above), others aren’t so easy to explain. Manchester by the Sea‘s Casey Affleck (Best Male Lead) and Lucas Hedges (Best Supporting Male) showed up on Film Independent’s ballot, as they will many more over the next few months. But shockingly absent is Michelle Williams, considered a strong contender — if not an early favorite — in the Oscar race. Similarly, Loving‘s Ruth Negga will compete in Best Female Lead, but her co-star Joel Edgerton did not feel the love, falling by the wayside for actors in lower-profile films like Tim Roth (Chronic) and David Harewood (Free in Deed).
6. Speaking of… What is Free in Deed, you ask? It’s not uncommon to be unfamiliar with the films competing for Film Independent’s John Cassevetes Award: these are micro-budgeted projects made for $500,000 or less. One of those films, Jake Mahaffy’s Free in Deed, landed an impressive four overall nominations. Like Chronic, Mahaffy’s drama debuted over a year ago at the 2015 Venice Film Festival. There, IndieWire called it a “corrective to the ‘faith-based filmmaking movement'” for its devastating portrayal of a real-life healing attempt that went terribly wrong.
The 32nd Film Independent Spirit Awards take place Feb. 25.