By Dave Karger
Updated October 20, 2008 at 07:37 PM EDT

And we’re off. The first pre-Oscar award nominations were announced this morning, and as always, the Gotham Independent Film Awards nominees are an eclectic bunch, mixing well-known films with yet-to-be-released indies. Here are the three categories OscarWatchers should care most about:

Frozen River
Synecdoche, New York
The Visitor
The Wrestler

Rachel Getting Married
Synecdoche, New York
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
The Visitor

Pedro Castaneda, August Evening
Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married
Rebecca Hall, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Alejandro Polanco, Chop Shop
Micheal J. Smith, Sr., Ballast

What do these nominations mean for the overall Oscar season? Not much, to be honest. But they certainly help raise the profile of a few smaller films out there. Ballast, a fantastic family drama that played at Sundance but was not picked up by a traditional distributor, scored the most nods, while Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut, Synechdoche, New York, picked up two big nominations after its so-so reception at Cannes. And dual nods for films like The Visitor (pictured), Rachel Getting Married, and Frozen River mean that they’re still alive in the Oscar race…or at least the Spirit Awards race.

Full disclosure: I was one of the members of the Gothams’ nominating committee this year, and in case you were wondering, several anticipated “indies,” like Milk, Doubt, Revolutionary Road, and Defiance, weren’t submitted for consideration. A few entries that were entered but received no nominations: Wendy and Lucy, Elegy, and Che.

addCredit(“JoJo Whilden”)