Indie-pendence day

Believe it or not, Kevin Smith is complaining via Twitter again. I know, I know. It’s wildly out of character, but there it is:

How the f**k did the @SpiritAwards NOT nominate Michael Parks? Nor John Goodman? Nor Melissa Leo? F**k your idiotic organization. #FakeIndie

Smith is referring to his latest release, Red State (2011), about a fundamentalist preacher and his followers holding hostages in a small, rural town. Ignoring the blowhardedness (the absolute best adjective I could come up with) of such a tweet is easy. Of course he’s upset that his indie movie didn’t get nominated! Of course he thinks his actors deserve a nod! A director’s film, especially one funded and distributed largely by said director, is his or her child. I get it, Kev, I get it. Here’s the thing: I’ve seen Red State. It’s really not that good.

Is there an award for "Most Tolerable Indie Feature?"

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t hate the film, as my history with Smith led me to think I would. And Goodman, Leo, and particularly Parks, are all very good. It’s just that the film itself is, well, hit-or-miss. To be fair, Smith is aiming for a pretty lofty target, it just appears as though he’s not sure which weapon to use. So let’s ignore the fact that Red State and its fine cast were not nominated and concentrate on Smith’s hashtag: #FakeIndie.

If Smith really wants to complain that the Independent Spirit Awards are far from independent, then he may actually have something to argue about. Ideally, the ISA should be a nice little awards show to stand against the Oscars; smaller, looser and a bit more, well, indie. It features categories that would lead you to believe that to be the case, like “Best First Feature” and “Best First Screenplay.” There’s also the “John Cassavetes Award,” given to the best film budgeted at less than $500,000, and the “Robert Altman Award” given to the best ensemble cast films. Pretty indie, no?

So how come 50/50 (2011) and The Descendants (2011) are nominated? Nothing says “indie” like a wide, theatrical release, right? Even Drive (2011), which was certainly a favorite of mine this year, got a pretty decent release. So what exactly IS an “indie” film? Are we to assume that The Independent Spirit Awards are, in fact, specifically catering to the “spirit” of an indie film rather than any sort of tangible measurement?

Honestly, who really cares? (NOT caring is, in fact, totally indie. Or am I confusing that with hipster?) Yes, indie is a vibe. Yes, it usually relates to a film’s budget and exposure. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen far more ads for 50/50, Drive and The Descendants than Martha Marcy May Marlene, Take Shelter or The Artist. I suppose if there is a sin being committed here, it’s placing those high-profile films in an award show mostly built for the opposite. (It’s certainly not the omission of Red State or its cast. Regardless of how good a performance is it usually has to be in a good film to truly get noticed.) Then again, can you think of any indie films that deserved attention this year and didn’t get it? I’m having a hard time thinking of any, but lord knows I haven’t seen everything.

I think the show has done a pretty decent job of maintaining indie focus, overall. I loved Margin Call (2011), which got little to no attention otherwise, and Martha Marcy May Marlene is a fine announcement of a new filmmaker. I haven’t seen Take Shelter yet, but it looks amazing and I’m a huge fan of Jeff Nichol’s previous film, Shotgun Stories (2007). There’s plenty here, for sure. And I’m reasonably certain they’ll get by just fine without Red State.

A full list of Independent Spirit Award nominees can be found here

Kevin Mattison is co-editor of The Idler, as well as being an occassional film review contributor for Real Detroit Weekly, a filmmaker and videographer. You can follow him on Twitter at @kmmattison.

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