By Kirsten Coachman

The 35th annual Film Independent Spirit Awards were held yesterday, with The Farewell, Marriage Story, Uncut Gems, and The Lighthouse picking up multiple awards. (Go ahead, A24 & Netflix!)

The Spirit Awards are always my favorite awards show of the season, because they recognize films that often are overlooked by mainstream audiences and that also tend to be some of my favorite films/performances of the year.

Last year, I became a member of Film Independent, which meant I had the privilege of not only getting watch the nominated films but getting to vote for the Spirit Award winners. What I loved about having the opportunity to watch each of the nominated films was being exposed to films that I had maybe previously passed over or that weren’t on my radar. Every single category was so strong, and, frankly, there were a few where I wish I could have voted for two nominees.

In the spirit of celebrating some of the best independent films to come out of 2019, here are my five must-see film picks that received Spirit Award nominations.

Honey Boy

Nominated for Best Director (Alma Har’el), Best Supporting Male (Noah Jupe & Shia LaBeouf), and Best Cinematography (Natasha Braier), Honey Boy (written by LaBeouf in his screenwriting debut) is based on LaBeouf’s time growing up with his dad as a child actor and how their relationship affected him as a burgeoning young film star. It’s cathartic filmmaking at its best, supported by three of the strongest acting performances of 2019 from Jupe, LaBeouf, and Lucas Hedges.

Honey Boy is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

For Sama

Nominated for Best Documentary, For Sama, is a letter from director Waad al-Kateab to her daughter Sama, who was born during the uprisings in Aleppo. It is an intimate portrait that gives an up-close and heartbreaking look at a city under siege as the people of Aleppo strive to stay strong for themselves and one another as a community. This is a film that has stayed with me since first screening it last month. Admittedly, it’s a tough watch, but it’s absolutely vital that audiences do so.

For Sama is available to stream on Amazon Prime and on PBS.org.

Clemency

Nominated for Best Feature, Best Screenplay (Chinonye Chukwu), and Best Female Lead (Alfre Woodard), Clemency follows Bernadine Williams (Woodard), a warden at a death row prison, as she copes with the psychological turmoil that comes with carrying out her duties. Woodard’s performance is nothing short of breathtaking and Aldis Hodge is an absolute standout.

Clemency will be available to stream on digital platforms in March.

Driveways

Nominated for Best First Screenplay (Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen) and Best Female Lead (Hong Chau), the Andrew Ahn-helmed film is about a quiet young boy who goes with his mom to help her clean out his late aunt’s house. It’s an understated yet powerful portrait about both coming into one’s own and family—the one were born into and the one we make.

If you reside in the Bay Area and/or are planning to attend Cinequest next month, Hong Chau is being honored with the Maverick Spirit Award. Driveways will also be screened during the event.

Diane

Nominated for Best First Feature (Luca Borghese, Ben Howe, Caroline Kaplan, and Oren Moverman) and Best Female Lead (Mary Kay Place), the film, directed by Kent Jones, follows Diane as she goes about her day-to-day checking in on her son (Jake Lacy), sitting with her sick cousin in the hospital, and volunteering at shelters. Her relentless schedule keeps her overwhelming guilt at bay, until it eventually overpowers her. It’s a helluva performance from Place and is not to be missed.

Diane is streaming on Hulu.

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