Spirits regain some independence from Oscars
After flirting with the Oscars for much of its 24-year history, this year's edition of the Independent Spirit Awards struck out on its own somewhat. For the first time in six years, none of the best picture contenders at the Spirits went on to reap an equivalent Oscar bid, though the ultimate winner — "The Wrestler" — was in the mix. By snubbing "Milk" as a best-picture nominee in favor of fare like "Ballast" and "Wendy and Lucy" that had no chance of making it into the final five at the Oscars, the Spirits regained a degree of their one-time independence.
However, while the acting nominees — as selected by screening committees — also had their fair share of unlikely Oscar hopefuls, the winners as chosen by the members of Film Independent are either Oscar contenders — Mickey Rourke ("The Wrestler"), Melissa Leo ( "Frozen River") and Penelope Cruz ("Vicky Christina Barcelona") — were also Oscar nominees or were from a film with eight Oscar nominations, albeit not one for him — James Franco ("Milk"). But don't make too much room on your mantle just yet, Mickey. The Spirits have taken on the status of consolation prize for Oscar acting contenders. As the saying goes, "Win on Saturday, lose on Sunday." That's not always true. Recent Spirit champs like Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Capote") and Charlize Theron ("Monster") repeated on a day later, but those victories tend to be the exception, not the rule.
"Milk" scripter Dustin Lance Black won the first screenplay prize at the Spirits while Woody Allen won the regular screenplay award for "Vicky Christina Barcelona." That Black is a contender at the Oscars for his original script for "Milk" is no surprise but that Allen was not Oscar nominated after 14 previous bids, including two wins, was quite the jaw-dropper. Oscar frontrunner "Man on Wire" won best documentary. And Oscar nominee "The Class" won foreign film, but I do not believe it will repeat tomorrow night at the Oscars. Read the Associated Press report on the winners here.
Oscar winning scripter Charlie Kaufman won the first feature prize for helming "Synecdoche, New York" while Thomas McCarthy took the directing award for "The Visitor." And Maryse Alberti won cinematography for "The Wrestler."
The Spirits are handed out in a very spirited daytime party held in a tent on the Santa Monica beach. As Variety once reported: "Many celebrities mused that they could think of no other Hollywood awards show where the guests had to wait in line for portable toilets while facing hordes of autograph-seeking fans." The wine flows almost as freely as the profanities. Just how will AMC edit Mickey Rourke's F-bomb laden acceptance speech for the rebroadcast tonight? The free-wheeling nature of the event has led to many other memorable moments over the years. One that sticks with me still is when director Kevin Smith won for the screenplay of "Chasing Amy" in 1997 and said in his acceptance speech: "This makes up for every chick who ever told me I had a small d**k."
The Spirits declared itself to be just that with the first best film back in 1985 — Martin Scorsese's "After Hours," described by Variety as "a nightmarish black comedy [in which] the cinema of paranoia and persecution reaches an apogee." But the award went mainstream the following year and opted for "Platoon," which went on to win best picture at the Oscars as well. From then on, most of the Spirits' picks for best pic would be players to one degree or another at the Oscars.
It's a shame that the little pix don't do as well as they used to, but it's no big surprise to learn that size matters in Hollywood. To qualify for the Spirits, a film must be produced for under $20 million. That's pretty high. To compensate, the Spirits created a new award for first feature in 1987 and a first screenplay prize in 1995.
The Spirit statuette was described best by scribe Buck Henry, who emceed many of the earliest fetes. He once noted that it features the abstract of a taloned bird clutching a thread of film. The bird, he said, is "circumventing the establishment, then choking it to death."