Indie Spirits Awards nominations preview: ‘Carol,’ ‘Room,’ ‘Spotlight’ are strong contenders

Nominations for the 31st annual edition of the Independent Spirit Awards will be announced on Tuesday afternoon. As indie fare released by the specialty branches of the studios has come to dominate the Academy Awards, there has been far more crossover between the two kudos. Among this year's leading Oscar contenders, expect "Carol," "Room" and "Spotlight" to figure prominently in these precursor prizes. 

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For the last two years running, the winner of Best Feature at Saturday's Indies — "12 Years a Slave" and "Birdman" respectively — went on to claim the top Oscar on Sunday. And seven of the eight acting Academy Awards champs first prevailed here. Only "Birdman" star Michael Keaton didn't get an Oscar to keep his Spirit Award company as Eddie Redmanyne ("The Theory of Everything") won the Academy Award. 

Predicing the nominations for these precursor prizes is complicated by several factors. To start, we don't know which films are eligible. Unlike the motion picture academy, Film Independent does not release a list of qualifying films.

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The rules dictate that the films have budgets of no more than $20 million and be "American," which is defined as either:

1. U.S. citizens or permanent residents being at least two of the director, writer and producer of the film; OR

2. the film is set primarily in the U.S. and at least 70% financed by American companies.

Add to that the fact that nominations are determined by three small committees of less than 10 people each. In the past we have been told the names of those serving on these committees but now all we know is that they are drawn from "writers, directors, producers, cinematographers, editors, actors, critics, casting directors, film festival programmers and other working film professionals." Compare that to the selection process for winners in which the entire membership of Film Independent, numbering in the thousands, cast ballots. 

The Weinstein Company has proven adept at qualifying films that would otherwise be ineligible including the Gallic import "The Artist" in 2011 and "Silver Linings Playbook" with a budget of $21 million the following year; both won Best Feature here.  

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This year, A24 did the same with "Room," an Irish-Canadian co-production filmed in Toronto. "Brooklyn" may qualify, as it is set, in part, in America and distributed by powerhouse Fox Searchlight which had last two winners. And the same goes for "Ex Machina," which was co-produced by EGOT champ Scott Rudin

We do know that two Spirits favorites — two-time champ Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu ("Birdman," "21 Grams") and four-time winner David O. Russell ("Silver Linings Playbook," "Spanking the Monkey) — won't be back as their new features, "The Revenant" and "Joy" — have major studio backing and budgets to match. 

And that a slew of top Oscar contenders from abroad — including "The Danish Girl," "45 Years,"  "Son of Saul," "Suffragette" and "Youth" — can't compete here. 

With all that said, expect the Weinstein Company to make a strong showing with "Carol," which should reap bids for best feature, as well as director (Todd Haynes), lead Cate Blanchett, supporting player Rooney Mara, screenplay and cinematography.

"Room" is likely to contend for feature, director (Lenny Abrahamson), actress (Brie Larson), supporting actor (Jacob Tremblay), supporting actress (Joan Allen) and screenplay.  

And Open Road, which did well this weekend as it expanded "Spotlight," should have a slew of nominations to tout in next weekend's ads, including feature, director & screenplay (Tom McCarthy) as well as supporting actors Michael Keaton and/or Mark Ruffalo

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Will one of these Indie Spirit contenders win Best Picture at this year's Oscars?

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