Kicking off the Oscar precursor onslaught, the Independent Spirit Awards announced their nominees for 2014 and we are already starting to see a rough sketch of how the main categories are shaking out. Now, keep in mind that the ISA’s have weird restrictions (now film with a budget of over $20 million is considered for the main awards) but the more nominations a film gets here goes to reaffirm it’s strength in the filmmaking community. Let us break down the nominees:

Best Feature
Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Love Is Strange

Birdman and Boyhood have been locks for the past two months, so nothing new there (except that Birdman came in south of $20 million in budget…that’s surprising). Love Is Strange is too small and sentimental to get serious Oscar consideration. The biggest bump goes to Selma, which I mentioned on The Nerdgasm Podcast of being a 6-10 pick for the Oscar shortlist. This film is going to need to pick up smaller nominations and awards like this in order to pick up some steam. Obviously the movie-of-the-moment is Whiplash. I haven’t heard a single person say a bad thing about this movie and that word-of-mouth will only boost it’s stock. Whiplash is coming close to being considered a lock for a Best Picture nomination.

Best Director
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash
Ava DuVernay, Selma
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
David Zellner, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

The only two from this group who are absolutely coming away with Oscar nominations in January are Iñárritu and Linklater. Both films are stunning technical achievement, and in recent years the Academy Awards seems obsessed with directors pushing the boundaries of cinema (Alfonso Cuarón and Michel Hazanavicius come to mind). Consider those two locks and move on from the rest.

Best Male Lead
André Benjamin, Jimi: All Is by My Side
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
Michael Keaton, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
John Lithgow, Love Is Strange
David Oyelowo, Selma

It was nice of the ISA’s to throw something at Jimi: All Is by My Side because it got decent reviews and it was way too small for the subject matter. John Lithgow, again, is hurt by the scope of the film he is in. The other three (Gyllenhaal, Keaton, and Oyelowo) are in the conversation and, I would consider, early frontrunners for three of the five Best Actor slots. What I’m really interested in are the people that are missing from this list, namely Miles Teller who just hasn’t seen any bump from the accolades thrown at Whiplash. The other notable absence is Oscar Isaac for A Most Violent Year – that’s surprising because he’s kind of the it-guy in the independent film space. His co-star, Jessica Chastain, got love from ISA – what kept them from acknowledging Isaac?

Best Female Lead
Marion Cotillard, The Immigrant
Rinko Kikuchi, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Jenny Slate, Obvious Child
Tilda Swinton, Only Lovers Left Alive

I’m going to throw this out there: the Best Actress race seriously sucks this year. Julianne Moore is the only candidate from this list with a legitimate shot, and she’s also the presumptive leader in the clubhouse. She’s been nominated four times and she hasn’t taken a statue home yet, so I think they’ll reward her in a down year, scratch off another name on their list of legendary actors without Oscars, and hope for a better slate of performances next year.

Best Supporting Male
Riz Ahmed, Nightcrawler
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Alfred Molina, Love Is Strange
Edward Norton, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Simmons, Norton, and Hawke are looking to be locks for nominations in a category that is always super busy and overloaded with amazing turns. What I’m shocked by is the inclusion of Riz Ahmed because he’s actually been picking up some stream recently. He’s in a movie that is fixated on Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance, but somehow he’s getting notices as well. That’s impressive, and if the precursor awards keep acknowledging Nightcrawler, he’ll have a better and better chance of sliding into position 4 or 5 on the ballot.

Best Supporting Female
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year
Carmen Ejogo, Selma
Andrea Suarez Paz, Stand Clear of the Closing Doors
Emma Stone, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Since 2010, Oscar has awarded Supporting Actor and Actress nominations mainly to performances found in larger-scale productions, which is historically out of the norm. But I think 2014 is the year they buck this trend and go back to some of the smaller budget films. Patricia Arquette has been a sure-thing since Boyhood was released, and for good reason as she’s the best thing in that movie. Chastain is Oscar’s favorite new star so she’ll waltz right into a spot, and they love a young talent so they’ll serve Emma Stone her first nomination. I also think that Carmen Ejogo is a lot stronger than some pundits think. The Independent Spirit Awards helped force Selma into the conversation and that will help her with precursors going forward. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that she plays Coretta Scott King.

Next up in the race to the Oscars: December 3rd is when the first critics prizes are given out (New York Film Critics Circle Awards) and then the National Board of Review announces their winners on December 5th.