The IFP Gotham Awards are on a real golden streak: They honored the same best picture winner as the Academy Awards the past two years — “Spotlight” and “Birdman” — and tipped “The Hurt Locker” before that. They also honored Julianne Moore for her performance in “Still Alice” months before she got her golden statuette in Hollywood and named eventual Oscar documentary winner “Citizenfour” tops at the same ceremony.
Will the Gothams be just as golden this year? Does it even matter?
Regardless how the final trophies match up, one thing is clear: IFP’s awards presentation has come a long way in 25 years. Once decidedly regional and resolutely quirky, it has transformed into a credible Oscar bellwether for independent films.
Joana Vicente, IFP executive director, takes pride in the fact that Gotham winners have gone on to win the biggest Academy Award two years in a row.
“These are amazing films that are artistic, independently made and strong enough to win the Oscar,” she says. “I hope the trend continues.”
Gotham best feature nominees are a predictably eclectic bunch: the category includes higher-profile entries such as “Manchester by the Sea” and “Moonlight,” along with Kelly Reichardt’s elliptical prairie drama “Certain Women” and Jim Jarmusch’s quietly poetic “Paterson.” Richard Linklater’s bro-heavy “Everybody Wants Some!!” rounds out the group.
“You see it every year,” Vicente says. “Last year you had ‘Spotlight,’ and ‘A Woman Walks Home Alone at Night,’” the latter winning the Gotham’s Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award for Ana Lily Amirpour.
Vicente points to the eclectic mix as a sign that the Gotham Awards have not lost their indie spirit even as the show itself has grown into a more traditional affair. It may now include categories such as actor and actress in addition to several breakthrough categories, but it will still shine a spotlight on bigger indies and more esoteric fare alike.
“In a way, we turned 25 and we feel like we’ve grown up, but we still want to have an edge,” she says. “We’re more centered, but we’re trying to do it our way.”
One way the Gothams do that is by including male and female actors in its breakthrough category: “Certain Women” thesp Lily Gladstone will compete against “Manchester by the Sea’s” Lucas Hedges, Royalty Hightower (“The Fits”), Sasha Lane from “American Honey” and Anya Taylor-Joy from “The Witch.” “Moonlight” will also get a special Gotham Jury Award for ensemble performance. This year, a breakthrough series award for shortform has been added to honor web productions including “The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo” and “Sitting in Bathrooms With Trans People.”
On the glossier end, the Nov. 28 IFP ceremony will also pay tribute to Amy Adams, Ethan Hawke, Arnon Milchan, and Oliver Stone at Cipriani Wall Street; Keegan-Michael Key is hosting the festivities. Eleven awards will be disbursed.
At the first Gothams in 1991, by contrast, there was only one winner — Jennie Livingston received the breakthrough director award for “Paris Is Burning” — in a ceremony that included career tributes for a handful of indie filmmakers. Back then organizers focused on indie films made in the Northeast. In 2004, it broadened the scope to indie films made elsewhere, and added the best feature category, breaking out separate actor and actress categories in 2013.
To qualify for a nomination, a film has to be independently made with an economy of means. Even if a studio picks up a movie after it’s made it can still qualify. The IFP draws on input from critics and curators for nominating committees, and then assembles juries from people working in the industry for final selections.
Unlike some of its glitzier counterparts on the awards circuit, the Gothams are not televised, helping to keep a more intimate vibe for a show that has come to be considered the true kickoff to the annual Oscar awards season
“We always used to be a quirky awards show,” Vicente says. “There is a danger there if those changes makes us too much like everyone else. We’re trying to make sure we have that edge.”
What: 2016 IFP Gotham Awards
When: Nov. 28
Where: Cipriani Wall Street, New York