Lance Hammer‘s austere, somber, incontestably over-praised Ballast has snagged four nominations for the upcoming Gotham Independent Film Awards, which will be held 12.2 at Cipriani Wall Street. The snooty elites have embraced this low-key atmospheric mood piece since it played at Sundance ’08. I saw it there (i.e., at the Eccles) and went “uh-huh…okay…fine.”

Cipriani Wall Street

I’m not saying Ballast doesn’t deliver a nicely immersive sense of reality, or that it doesn’t deliver credible, first-rate art-film chops. I’m saying I don’t get the critics who’ve wet themselves after seeing it. Ballast never really got hold of me. It’s like a cross between an early Lars von Trier film and a Cristian Mungiu Romanian film (and that’s a good thing to see from an American filmmaker) but without the gathering intrigue. I kept saying to myself, “This is it? This is what Robert Koehler is doing cartwheels over?” As Armond White wrote, “It’s simply another calling-card movie establishing the director’s credentials.”
Here are the nominee GIF Award nominees and my pick about who (or what) should win:
BEST FEATURE: Ballast, Frozen River, Synecdoche, New York, The Visitor, The Wrestler. Suggested HE Winner: Tom McCarthy‘s The Visitor. Runner-up: The Wrestler.
BEST DOCUMENTARY: Chris & Don: A Love Story; Encounters at the End of the World, Man on Wire, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, Trouble the Water. Suggested HE winner: James Marsh‘s Man on Wire. Runner-up: Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. Special HE Standout That Wasn’t Nominated But Should Have Been: Patti Smith: Dream of Life.

BEST ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE: Ballast — Micheal J. Smith, Sr., JimMyron Ross, Tarra Riggs, Johnny McPhail; Rachel Getting Married — Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Bill Irwin, Tunde Adebimpe, Mather Zickel, Anna Deavere Smith, Anisa George, Debra Winger ; Synecdoche, New York — Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Catherine Keener, Emily Watson, Dianne Wiest, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hope Davis, Tom Noonan; Vicky Cristina Barcelona — Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz; The Visitor — Richard Jenkins, Hiam Abbas, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Gurira. Suggested HE winner: If it’s finally a question of which ensemble cast seems the most grounded and penetrating without conspicuously “acting,” the winner has to to be The Visitor team. Runners-up: the Rachel Getting Married crew minus Tunde Adebimpe, who basically just stands around and smiles and good-vibes everyone.
BREAKTHROUGH DIRECTOR: Antonio Campos, Afterschool; Dennis Dortch, A Good Day to Be Black & Sexy, Lance Hammer, Ballast; Barry Jenkins, Medicine for Melancholy; Alex Rivera , Sleep Dealer. Suggested HE winner: What the hell, give it to Hammer. Runner-up: Alex Rivera.
BREAKTHROUGH ACTOR: Pedro Castaneda in August Evening; Rosemarie DeWitt in Rachel Getting Married; Rebecca Hall in Vicky Cristina Barcelona; Melissa Leo in Frozen River; Alejandro Polanco in Chop Shop; Micheal J. Smith, Sr. in Ballast. Suggested HE winner: Rosemarie DeWitt. (I love Melissa Leo’s work in Frozen River, but how is she a breakthrough type? She’s been around the track a few times.) Runner-up: Alex Rivera.
BEST FILM NOT PLAYING AT A THEATER NEAR YOU: Afterschool, Antonio Campos, director; Meadowlark, Taylor Greeson, producer/director; The New Year Parade, Tom Quinn, director; Sita Sings the Blues, Nina Paley, producer/director; Wellness, Jake Mahaffy. Suggested HE winner: No opinion.