Spirit Awards 2016: What they say about the Oscars and diversity

The Spirit and Oscar winners have often aligned in acting and best picture categories. Why this year is different.

(Photo by Vince Bucci/Invision/AP)
Liev Schreiber, from left, Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Brian d'Arcy James, and Rachel McAdams accept the award for outstanding cast in a motion picture for “Spotlight” at the 22nd annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Auditorium & Expo Hall in Los Angeles on Jan. 30, 2016.

After several years of increasing overlap with the Academy Awards, the Independent Film Spirit Awards will supply a counterpoint to the Oscars at its annual ceremony on Saturday.

The 31st annual Spirit Awards will kick off at 5 p.m. EST Saturday from its customary seaside tent in Santa Monica, California. The Spirits are always an informal, indie antidote to Sunday's Oscars, but this year, the contrast between the back-to-back awards is starker than usual.

Whereas the Oscars are dealing with a second straight year of all-white acting nominees, the Spirit Awards — which celebrate films made for $20 million or less — have five non-white acting nominees out of 20. That includes the passed-over Idris Elba and his young co-star, Abraham Attah, from Cary Fukunaga's "Beasts of No Nation."

Though Spirit and Oscar winners have in recent years largely aligned in acting and best picture categories, this year, only one best-picture Oscar nominee is up for the Spirit Awards' top honor - Best Feature. Tom McCarthy's newspaper drama "Spotlight" is expected to be the big winner Saturday, where it will compete without the competition of larger budget Oscar favorites "The Revenant" or "The Big Short," neither of which qualified for the Spirits.

The Spirit Best Feature nominees are:

Spotlight - "Writer-director Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight” puts the high beams on the Boston Globe’s 2002 exposé of the Roman Catholic Church’s institutional protection of sexually abusive priests. Michael Keaton plays the paper’s investigative-team leader, and other good actors, including Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci, Liev Schreiber, Brian d’Arcy James, and Neal Huff, also make their marks," wrote The Christian Science Monitor's movie critic Peter Rainer.

Carol - "Todd Haynes’s “Carol,” based on the 1952 novel by Patricia Highsmith (written under a pseudonym and titled “The Price of Salt”), is a sort of companion piece to his “Far From Heaven,” which was also about sexual repression in postwar America. Like that movie, I think “Carol” is a repressed movie about repression, carefully appointed on the outside, chilly inside," wrote The Christian Science Monitor's movie critic Peter Rainer.

Beasts of No Nation - "Writer-director Cary Joji Fukunaga turns up the temperature on these atrocities – too much so, I think. Attah is an industrious little actor, but his fall from innocence is not delineated with the same force as the carnage. The film in the end seems more of an expertly orchestrated blood bath than a full-scale tragedy," wrote The Christian Science Monitor's movie critic Peter Rainer.

Tangerine - "Fired by zesty performances that crackle and burn with energy, Tangerine is a bittersweet affair underpinned by a winning sense of empathy and affection. Amid the rank artificiality of LA, there is real tenderness and between these characters a camaraderie that takes the harsher edges off their often bleak circumstances. Rodriguez and Taylor are a terrific double act, their on-screen chemistry providing both laugh-out-loud comedy and moving melancholia. Baker brings the same nonjudgmental approach that characterised his Independent Spirit awards prize-winner Starlet, while an in-your-face soundtrack pumps up the volume to boisterous effect," wrote The Guardian film critic Mark Kermode.

"Spotlight" has already been chosen by the Spirits for this year's Robert Altman Award, which honors a film's ensemble cast.

The only Oscar acting favorite likely to win Saturday, too, is Brie Larson from "The Room." Other nominees pull from Todd Haynes' "Carol" (a leading six nods, including Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara for best actress) and Sean Baker's four-time nominated "Tangerine" (including stars Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor).

For the second straight year, the Spirit Awards will be broadcast live on IFC. Hosting are Kate McKinnon from "Saturday Night Live" and the comedian Kumail Nanjiani.

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