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Well, folks, the time has come yet again for the annual one-two punch of the Spirit Awards and the Oscars, a weekend that is no doubt certain to restore one’s faith in humankind and remind everyone what truly matters in these fiscally dire times. If this parade of beautiful people brandishing shiny awards and theatrical tears doesn’t make you shed your own (untheatrical, let’s face it) tears of joy and fully appreciate the beautiful realization that cinema can, in fact, save the world, then you might as well stop dreaming behind open eyelids. All kidding aside, if you read Hammer to Nail on an at least somewhat regular basis, there must exist some level of intrigue with regards to the Spirit Awards.

We’re not here to tell you who we think should take home the trophies—with the exception of Sean Baker, that is, but even in that case, our jury is out as to which film of his we’d prefer to see win the John Cassavetes Award. We just thought it would be nice to give you a one-stop shop where you can read H2N’s reviews of many of the films/filmmakers in contention. (One note: if a film hasn’t been written about, that doesn’t mean we don’t think it’s exceptional or ambitious or worthy of coverage. In the case of something like Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer, we’re holding off for its theatrical release later this spring. The same goes for two absolutely phenomenal upcoming releases: Darius Marder’s Loot and Ramin Bahrani’s Goodbye Solo.)

This list should prove as a forceful reminder of just how exciting a year 2008 was for independent cinema. While 2009 has gotten off to a somewhat slow-ish start, there is obviously much more time for it to elevate its status if it so chooses (hopefully it does). So fill that pot of coffee, kick off your shoes, sit back, relax, and start reading:

Afterschool — Nominated for Best First Feature (Antonio Campos, Sean Durkin, Josh Mond)

Ballast — Nominated for Best Feature, Best Director (Lance Hammer), Best First Screenplay (Lance Hammer), Best Female Lead (Tarra Riggs), Best Supporting Male (JimMyron Ross), Best Cinematography (Lol Crawley)

Chop Shop — Nominated for Best Director (Ramin Bahrani), Best Cinematography (Michael Simmonds)

Encounters at the End of the World — Nominated for Best Documentary (Werner Herzog)

I’ll Come Running — Nominated for Piaget Producers Award (Lars Knudsen and Jay Van Hoy)

Man on Wire — Nominated for Best Documentary (James Marsh)

Medicine for Melancholy — Nominated for Best First Feature (Barry Jenkins, Justin Barber), Best Cinematography (James Laxton), Acura Someone to Watch Award (Barry Jenkins)

My Effortless Brilliance — Nominated for Acura Someone to Watch Award (Lynn Shelton)

Order of Myths, The — Nominated for Best Documentary (Margaret Brown), Lacoste Truer Than Fiction Award (Margaret Brown)

Prince of Broadway — Nominated for John Cassavetes Award (Sean Baker, Darren Dean)

Secret of the Grain — Nominated for Best Foreign Film (Abdellatif Kechiche)

Silent Light — Nominated for Best Foreign Film (Carlos Reygadas)

Sita Sings the Blues — Nominated for Acura Someone to Watch Award (Nina Paley)

Take Out — Nominated for John Cassavetes Award (Sean Baker, Shih-Ching Tsou)

Treeless Mountain — Nominated for Piaget Producers Award (Lars Knudsen and Jay Van Hoy)

Up the Yangtze — Nominated for Best Documentary (Yung Chang)

Visitor, The — Nominated for Best Director (Tom McCarthy), Best Male Lead (Richard Jenkins), Best Supporting Male (Haaz Sleiman)

Wackness, The — Nominated for Best First Screenplay (Jonathan Levine)

Wendy and Lucy — Nominated for Best Feature, Best Female Lead (Michelle Williams)

Year of the Fish — Nominated for Piaget Producers Award (Jason Orans)

Also, be sure to read our recent conversations with Sean Baker and Barry Jenkins, if you haven’t already. Which brings up another thought when one stops to consider the other filmmaker on our thin-but-ever-expanding Dialogues page. Why wasn’t Azazel Jacobs or Momma’s Man nominated for at least one award??? This isn’t an outright criticism, for it’s obvious that we are aligned with very much of this year’s nominees. But it appears to be a somewhat glaring omission nonetheless. One hopes this gem of personal storytelling won’t slip through the cracks as we drift further away from 2008.

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Michael Tully is an award-winning writer/director whose films have garnered widespread critical acclaim, his projects having premiered at some of the most renowned film festivals across the globe. He is also the former (and founding) editor of this site. In 2006, Michael's first feature, COCAINE ANGEL, chronicling a tragic week in the life of a young drug addict, world premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. The film immediately solidified the director as one of Filmmaker Magazine’s "25 New Faces of Independent Film,” a reputation that was reinforced a year later when his follow-up feature, SILVER JEW, a documentary capturing the late David Berman's rare musical performances in Tel Aviv, world-premiered at SXSW and landed distribution with cult indie-music label Drag City. In 2011, Michael wrote, directed, and starred in his third feature, SEPTIEN, which debuted at the 27th annual Sundance Film Festival before being acquired by IFC Films' Sundance Selects banner. A few years later, in 2014, Michael returned to Sundance with the world premiere of his fourth feature, PING PONG SUMMER, an ‘80s set coming-of-age tale that was quickly picked up for theatrical distribution by Gravitas Ventures. In 2018, Michael wrote and directed the dread-inducing genre film DON'T LEAVE HOME, which has been described as "Get Out with Catholic guilt in the Irish countryside" (IndieWire). The film premiered at SXSW and was subsequently acquired by Cranked Up Films and Shudder.

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