On the dismissive attitude toward indie Oscar hopefuls

Posted by · 12:21 pm · August 7th, 2013

I was thinking recently about something that really agitates me when it comes to the awards season, which is this notion that certain accomplishments are instinctively relegated to the “indie” bin of the Independent Spirit Awards or the Gotham Awards, like some ghetto of would-be Oscar contenders.

Every season when I have conversations with publicists and journalists about what’s in the mix for awards, I tend to mention things like, oh, Elizabeth Olsen in “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” or Woody Harrelson in “Rampart,” to name a couple of examples. “Yeah but that’s just Indie Spirits,” someone will reply. And it bugs the ever-loving crap out of me.

I don’t want to come off foolishly idealistic because we all know what’s what, but why does it HAVE to be? Why can’t that spotlight be shone? Why instinctively compartmentalize the season like that and not allow it to breathe a bit? I think we’ve always tried to be inclusive in our coverage rather than exclusive. Even if it’s clear something isn’t going to happen for this or that hopeful, we make it clear when they deserve to be in the ring. But others are far too quick to marginalize.

This year it’s already happening. “‘Frances Ha’ is too small.” Too small to be recognized as fantastic? Too small to give Greta Gerwig a deserved boost into the season by having the decency to include her with the wealth of other contenders that we haven’t even SEEN?

“‘Before Midnight’ is too small.” Too small to recognize that Julie Delpy’s work across three films eclipses most of the Best Actress winners of the last decade? Too small to take note of the fact that Richard Linklater’s achievement with his collaborating writer/actors is the kind of vibrant elixir that truly keeps cinema alive while others are chasing formula?

Brie Larson gives one of the most natural, organic and convincing performances of the year in festival darling “Short Term 12.” How do you square that with a dismissive, “Oh, that’s for the Spirits?”

Of course, it doesn’t help that the shifting goal posts of ceremonies like the Indie Spirits are allowing for dubious dominance by “indies” like “Silver Linings Playbook” or “The Descendants,” but that’s a whole other conversation.

Ben Foster in “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.” Michael B. Jordan in “Fruitvale Station.” Tye Sheridan and Matthew McConaughey in “Mud” (and don’t get me started on the uphill climb actors like Sheridan face just because they dare to be young). Emma Watson in “The Bling Ring.” Ryan Gosling and Dane DeHaan in “The Place Beyond the Pines.” These are performances, among others, that deserve to be in the conversation, despite the odds and the money and the campaigns. And frankly, that’s just focusing on the indie film performances with the good fortune of a public profile. You could talk about someone like, say, Richmond Arquette in “This Is Martin Bonner” if you wanted to go a step deeper.

So let’s keep these players in that conversation. It is, after all, a conversation we in the media largely dictate. The job isn’t narrowing things down. The job is letting the light in.

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