Analysis: Spirit Awards accent youth

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   Nov. 30, 2004 at 7:50 PM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 30 (UPI) -- "Sideways," a comedy about great expectations and disappointing outcomes in the lives of its characters, led the way with six nominations Tuesday when nominees were announced in Los Angeles for the Independent Film project's upcoming 20th IFP Independent Spirit Awards.

"Maria Full of Grace," a drama about a young woman who agrees to smuggle drugs as a way of escaping from Colombia to the United States, had five nominations. Four films -- including the biography of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey -- had four nominations each.

In addition to a nomination for Best Feature, "Sideways" also earned acting nominations for Paul Giamatti, Thomas Hayden Church and Virginia Madsen, a directing nomination for Alexander Payne and a screenplay nomination for Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor.

Giamatti is best known for his performance as comic-book writer Harvey Pekar in last year's "American Splendor." Payne previously directed the 2002 Jack Nicholson feature "About Schmidt," which he co-wrote with Taylor.

Playing in limited release since Oct. 22, "Sideways" has grossed just less than $10 million at the U.S. box office.

Despite the presence of such veterans as Kevin Bacon, Jeff Bridges, Jamie Foxx and Liam Neeson, the list of Independent Spirit Award nominees mainly features relative newcomers to the entertainment industry. Dawn Hudson, executive director of IFP/Los Angeles, said this year's nominees continue a tradition of honoring filmmakers who are just beginning to make their mark in the film business.

"Six of the nominated films haven't even received theatrical distribution, and several more have had only the most-narrow distribution," she said. "We're proud to recognize the outstanding work done by independent veterans alongside the exciting new voices in film."

"Maria Full of Grace" also earned a directing nomination and a first screenplay nomination for Joshua Marston, as well as acting nominations for Catalina Sandino Moreno and Yenny Paola Vega.

"Kinsey" was nominated for Best Feature, and its writer-director, Bill Condon, was nominated for Best Screenplay. Neeson earned a nomination for Best Male Lead for his performance as Kinsey, and co-star Peter Sarsgaard was nominated for Supporting Actor.

"Kinsey" -- which has been playing on just a handful of U.S. screens since it opened Nov. 12 -- has grossed $2.5 million.

Mario Van Peebles earned three nominations for "Baadasssss!" -- a tribute to his father Melvin Van Peebles' landmark 1971 film, "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song." In addition to a Best Feature Nomination, the picture earned a directing nomination for Mario Van Peebles and a screenplay nomination for Van Peebles and co-writer Dennis Haggerty.

"Primer" -- first-time writer-director Shane Carruth's story about four people whose friendship is tested by their business relationship -- earned four nominations, including Best Feature, Director, Debut Screenplay and Debut Performance (David Sullivan).

In addition to Moreno, the nominees for Best Female Lead are Kimberly Elise, "Woman Thou Art Loosed"; Vera Farmiga, "Down to the Bone"; Judy Marte, "On the Outs" and Kyra Sedgwick, "Cavedweller."

Elise -- who appeared earlier this year in "The Manchurian Candidate" -- was nominate for her performance as a woman struggling with her history of abuse, addiction and poverty. Farmiga was singled out for her performance as a woman with a secret drug habit and an unhappy marriage.

Marte was also nominated for her work as a young woman struggling with drug issues, and Sedgwick earned her nomination for her performance as a musician who returns to her hometown to confront an abusive ex-husband and the daughters she abandoned.

In addition to Giamatti and Neeson, the list of nominees for Best Male Lead included Bacon, Bridges and Foxx.

Bacon was nominated for his performance as a man struggling to overcome his impulses and rejoin society following a stretch in prison for child molestation. Bridges was nominated for his turn as a children's book author whose marriage has been tested by tragedy.

Foxx, who has been getting considerable Oscar buzz for his performance as Ray Charles in "Ray," was nominated for the Independent Spirit Award for his work as Stan "Tookie" Williams -- the founder of the Crips Los Angeles street gang who turned to writing children's books and promoting nonviolent conflict resolution and went on to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Among independent film distributors, Fox Searchlight had the most nominations, with 14 -- with "Sideways" accounting for nearly half that total. According to Daily Variety, "Sideways" was made for $16 million -- making it the most expensive of this year's nominated pictures.

The nominating committee generally considers films of $15 million and under for Independent Spirit Awards but has the leeway to disregard the guideline.

The 20th IFP Independent Spirit Awards will be presented Feb. 26, in ceremonies in Santa Monica, Calif., to be televised live on the Independent Film Channel.

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