Hollywood got its first look at potential award season favorites Tuesday as the Film Independent Spirit Award nominees were unveiled, with teenage abortion drama "Never Rarely Sometimes Always" leading the pack with seven nods.
It was closely followed by Korean-American family portrait "Minari" and perceived awards heavyweights "Nomadland" and "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom."
The Spirit Awards only consider movies made for a budget of under $22.5 million, but are an important early marker for indie Oscar contenders, particularly in a year that has seen the big studios delay major films due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"2020 obviously was hell on Earth, but one glorious lifeline these past few months has been the ability to watch so many great films and shows," said Film Independent president Josh Welsh.
The nominees "inspired us, connected us, and have been a source of urgently needed light in some pretty dark times," he added.
"Never Rarely Sometime Always" debuted at the Sundance film festival in January 2020, and won the pre-pandemic Berlin festival's second prize in February.
In the US film, Sidney Flanigan plays a 17-year-old from Pennsylvania forced to travel to New York in order to end an unplanned pregnancy.
Flanigan was nominated for a Spirit Award alongside supporting actress Talia Ryder. The film also landed best picture and director nods.
"Minari," which follows a Korean-American family who move to 1980s rural Arkansas to scrape together a new life, is hoping to emulate the crossover success of last year's big Oscar winner "Parasite."
The film earned six nominations, including acting nods for former "Walking Dead" favorite Steven Yeun and veteran South Korean star Youn Yuh-jung.
- Posthumous nod for Boseman -
Chadwick Boseman's final performance in 1920s blues drama "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" was nominated. The "Black Panther" star died last August from cancer.
Set in a Chicago music world riddled with racism and exploitation, the August Wilson play adaptation from Netflix earned five nominations.
It was tied with "Nomadland," a movie about a community of elderly, nomadic idealists who roam across America in worn-out vans, which scooped top prizes at the Venice and Toronto film festivals and is seen as a strong Oscars frontrunner.
All four films were nominated for best feature, along with "First Cow."
In the past decade, five Spirit Award best feature winners have gone on to best picture glory at the Academy Awards, including "Moonlight," "Spotlight" and "Birdman."
Despite many of its mega-budget films being ineligible, Netflix led the studio nominations count with 16 on Tuesday.
As a delayed and fragmented award season finally kicks into gear, nominations for the Golden Globes and SAG Awards will follow next week. Oscar nominations follow in March.
The Spirit Awards ceremony typically takes place at California's Santa Monica beach the afternoon before the Oscars, but this year will be broadcast live during primetime on April 22 -- three days before the season-crowning Academy Awards.