Completing the Undercard – Writers Guild and Independent Spirit Awards Announced!

We’re less than 24 hours away from the Academy Awards, and before I make my official predictions later tonight, there are two more major awards ceremonies to catch up on, which may provide some insight into how I make my picks, because in several cases they will not match up with who I would actually vote to win if given the chance.

The first is the Writers Guild Awards, which were handed out last weekend. They recognizes the best union writers of film and television. Obviously we’re only concerned with the three film categories here, but I will note a bit of pride that one of my former co-workers, Ryan Hopak, was among the winners for Quiz and Audience Participation Television, as he’s on the staff of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Congrats buddy!

The second is the Independent Spirit Awards. They were the first major nominations announced (depending on how much credence you put in the Critics Choice Awards), yet they’re the last undercard award to be handed out, taking place this very evening. We’ll see if either of these awards can portend results tomorrow night, because sometimes the results are a bit skewed, and other times Oscar nominees aren’t even eligible. A few years ago Beasts of the Southern Wild, which was nominated for Best Picture, didn’t get anything in the lower circuit because it was such a small film it couldn’t afford to use union talent. Similarly, the Spirit Awards are for independent films, so anything released by a major studio – Black Panther for instance – would not be included. So let’s get to it! As always, anything marked with an asterisk (*) denotes an Oscar nominee.

Writers Guild of America Awards:
Best Original Screenplay – Eighth Grade – Bo Burnham

Best Adapted Screenplay – Can You Ever Forgive Me? – Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty*

Best Documentary Screenplay – Bathtubs Over Broadway – Ozzy Inguanzo and Dava Whisenant

* * * * *

So what do these awards tell us? On the surface, not much. The Documentary award means nothing, as none of the four nominees was nominated for the Oscar, or even shortlisted. Bo Burnham is also not up for Eighth Grade, so there may not be much to glean at all.

To find any clues, it’s much more important to see who didn’t win as opposed to who did. Bo Burnham got Original Screenplay, and you could argue that it’s because Eighth Grade was completely shut out of the Oscars (and in my opinion, deservedly so). However, of the four other films that lost out to Burnham, three of them are up for Original Screenplay tomorrow night. Similarly, in Adapted Screenplay, Holofcener and Whitty also beat out three nominees for tomorrow. Does this give Can You Ever Forgive Me? a leg up? We’ll see, but these awards go further in damning the chances of the losing films than making a case for the winners.

Independent Spirit Awards:
Best Feature – If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Director – Barry Jenkins – If Beale Street Could Talk

Best First Feature – Boots Riley – Sorry to Bother You

Best Male Lead – Ethan Hawke – First Reformed

Best Female Lead – Glenn Close* – The Wife

Best Supporting Female Actor – Regina King* – If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Supporting Male Actor – Richard E. Grant* – Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best Screenplay – Can You Ever Forgive Me? – Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty*

Best First Screenplay – Eighth Grade – Bo Burnham

Best Documentary Feature – Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Best Cinematography – Suspiria – Sayombhu Mukdeeprom

Best Editing – You Were Never Really Here – Joe Bini

Best International Film – Roma*

John Cassavetes Award – En el Séptimo Día

Robert Altman Award for Best Ensemble – Suspiria

Someone to Watch Award – Alex Moratto – Sócrates

BONNIE Award – Debra Granik

Producers Award – Shrihari Sathe

Truer Than Fiction Award – Bing Liu – Minding the Gap

* * * * *

Despite the lack of major nominees, the Spirit Awards do give us a bit more clarity. First, I think we can pencil in Roma for Foreign Language, Glenn Close for Best Actress, and maybe even Regina King for Supporting Actress. The win for Can You Ever Forgive Me? for Best Screenplay would normally help seal its Oscar victory (especially since the Spirits don’t differentiate between Original and Adapted), but it actually opens the field up more. The big winner here was If Beale Street Could Talk, and tomorrow night, the only award that Barry Jenkins is up for is Adapted Screenplay, so if Spirit voters who are also Academy voters want to give him some recognition, this is the only chance they’ll get, so it could create a voting bloc in Jenkins’ favor, negating Holofcener and Whitty.

The real intrigue for me is in the Documentary categories. To the surprise of no one, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? won, and it also would have done if the Documentary Branch of the Academy weren’t so stuck up. All six nominees for the Spirit were shortlisted by the Academy, with two of them (Hale County This Morning, This Evening and Minding the Gap) getting nominated. Neither won for Best Documentary Feature, but Bing Liu did beat out RaMell Ross for the Truer Than Fiction Award. This should at least be a strong clue that Minding the Gap has a chance to win, while Hale County does not. I’m not sure either was going to win, but it all but seals the fate of the latter.

That’s all for the pre-Oscar circuit. Stay tuned for my official picks for tomorrow’s ceremony later tonight!

Join the conversation in the comments below! How many of these films have you seen? Do any of these results make you second guess your own picks? Who wants to watch the original Suspiria? I know I do, and I happen to have it rented from Netflix right now! Guess I know what I’m doing later tonight! Let me know!

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