After finding the Oscars encroaching on their territory for a number of years, have the Film Independent Spirit Awards finally gotten a little space from their bigger, flashier weekend neighbor?
You’d think so, given that six of the Oscars’ nine Best Picture nominees have grossed more than $100 million, and the roster of represented companies includes Warner Bros., Universal, 20th Century Fox, DreamWorks, Disney and Sony.
But one of those $100 million films, David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” will be competing for five Indie Spirit Awards on Saturday, the day before it takes its eight nominations to the Oscars.
Another Oscar Best Picture nominee, Benh Zeitlin’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” will also be in the running for the top Spirit Award at the ceremony, which as usual takes place in a tent on Santa Monica beach.
Oscar best-pic nominee “Amour,” meanwhile, is nominated in the foreign-film category at the Spirits, while Wes Anderson’s best-film Spirit Awards contender “Moonrise Kingdom” is up for an Oscar for its screenplay.
The Oscars are still honoring independent film, even in a year of unexpectedly big box office and surprising participation by the major studios. And the Spirit Awards’ definition of indie is still broad enough to encompass a wide range of movies, from the small-budgeted “Keep the Lights On” to the Weinstein Company release “Silver Linings Playbook.” That film skirted the $20 million budget limit to qualify for the Spirit Awards but was let in on a judgment call by the jury, which is always given the leeway to decide borderline cases by by Film Independent,
“The Spirit Awards are a celebration of independent film, and one of the things I love is that there’s a lot of diversity in there this year,” said Josh Welsh, co-president of Film Independent with Sean McManus. (McManus, left, and Welsh)
“We have first-time directors and new filmmaking talent like Benh Zeitlin [“Beasts of the Southern Wild”], but we also have directors that we go way back with, like Wes Anderson and David O. Russell. This year is a combination of discovery and bringing back people who are a part of what we’ve been doing for years.”
Russell first came to the Spirit Awards in 1995 with “Spanking the Monkey,” for which he won the Best First Feature award; he returned two years later as a Best Director nominee for “Flirting With Disaster.” Anderson won the Spirit Award as Best Director for “Rushmore” in 2000.
Their two films, “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Moonrise Kingdom,” lead the pack with five nominations each. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” has four -- and, crucially, the Spirit Awards jury opted to nominate it and its director in the Best Feature and Best Director categories rather than putting them in the Best First Feature category, where they would almost unquestionably have won.
"Keep the Lights On" and "Middle of Nowhere" also received four nominations each, though the latter film did not crack the Best Feature category
Despite the presence of “Bernie” and “Keep the Lights On” in the top category, this year’s awards do seem to be a shootout between “Silver Linings,” “Beasts” and “Moonrise,” perhaps with a slight edge to the first two -- the first a crowd-pleasing film with real awards momentum, the second the clear indie breakout of the year.
Last year’s winner, “The Artist,” was the second film to win both the Spirit Award and the Best Picture Oscar, and the first since 1986's "Platoon."
Of the 21 Spirit acting nominees, the only ones to also be in the running at the Oscars are Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence from “Silver Linings,” Quvenzhane Wallis from “Beasts” and Helen Hunt from “The Sessions.” Chances are that Cooper and Lawrence have the edge, with more than 80 percent of Spirit Awards winners since 2000 coming from the ranks of Oscar nominees.
The awards are voted on by the 4,000 members of Film Independent, which is made up of professionals in the indie world but also of film fans who pay the yearly dues. Voting is done online, and Film Independent holds free member screenings in Los Angeles and New York to allow voters to see the films.
MacManus told TheWrap that Film Independent also made a deal with iTunes this year to make some of the nominated films available online, while members also received a 14-film DVD collection containing all the nominees that had chosen to participate. (Members had to sign restrictive use agreements to receive the package, added Welsh.)
This year’s show will be hosted by comic and actor Andy Samberg, whose film “Celeste and Jesse Forever” is in the running in the Best First Screenplay category.
“He brings a very new vibe and personality to the show,” MacManus said. “We wanted to look at this year’s show with fresh eyes. There’s a new look to the room, we’re doing something different with the food -- everything is a new take.”
Last year’s host was Seth Rogen, who took the stage and immediately labeled the show “inconsequential.”
“Winning one will get you absolutely nothing,” he said, drawing a big laugh. “It won’t even raise your price, because it proves that you’ll work for nothing.”
If Samberg takes similar shots at the show, both MacManus and Welsh said they won’t mind.
“The awards are incredibly meaningful,” MacManus said. “We believe in independent film and we take it seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously. We are okay with poking fun at ourselves.”
Added Welsh, “We’re not all puffed up or self-important. But all joking aside, these awards are significant. It’s a genuine act of honoring the independent film of the last 12 months.”
Sure, Jennifer Lawrence, Steven Spielberg and George Clooney will be attending the Oscars on Sunday. But how about this for an inspirational trio: Somali refugees Harun and Ali Mohamed from "Asad" and Congolese actress Rachel Mwanza from "War Witch."
Mwanza, the 16-year-old star of Kim Nguyen’s Foreign Language Oscar nominee “War Witch,” has just been granted a visa to travel from the Congo to attend awards shows in North America. The film is a nominee at both the Independent Spirit Awards and the Academy Awards this weekend and is nominated for multiple awards at a pair of Canadian events in March.
Mwanza was living on the streets of Kinshasa, the capital of Congo, when the filmmakers cast her in the film to play a young girl captured by rebels and forced to become a child soldier.
Meanwhile, Harun and Ali Mohamed, who fled Somalia for Cape Town, South Africa, will attend the Oscars on behalf of “Asad.” The brothers, ages 14 and 12 respectively, star in Bryan Buckley’s film, nominated for Best Live Action Short.
Inspired by a United Nations documentary short, Buckley's film follows a young boy in a wartorn Somali fishing village who must decide between piracy and an honest life.
“South Africa is a relatively young democracy only recently emerged from the shackles of tyranny and prejudice," Archbishop Desmond Tutu said in a statement. "We have much to learn and we also have much to teach. 'Asad' is at once a painful reminder of the xenophobia that shamefully still exists in South Africa and a heart-warming tribute to our special ability as members of the human family to heal ourselves.”
The Film Independent Spirit Awards embraced the mainstream hit over the scrappy indie on Saturday afternoon, with David O Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook” winning the Best Feature award in a field that also included the Sundance sensation and Oscar nominee “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”
With additional wins for director, screenplay and lead actress (Jennifer Lawrence), the show marked a triumphant return for writer-director David O. Russell, who won the Spirit Award for Best First Feature 19 years ago for his debut, “Spanking the Monkey.”
“Silver Linings Playbook,” which is up for eight Academy Awards at Sunday’s Oscars show, became the second consecutive Spirit Awards winner for the Weinstein Company, which also released last year’s Spirit and Oscar champ, “The Artist.”
The eligibility of both films was questioned when they were nominated; “The Artist” was made by French director Michel Hazanavicus and its two lead actors were French, which would have put it in the International Film category had its not qualified because of its director’s permanent residency status.
With a reported budget of $21 million, “Silver Linings Playbook” is $1 million over the stated limit for Spirit Awards qualifying, but the jury that decides nominations has the discretion to add films that don’t fall within the strict limits.
Other nominees for the top prize included Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom,” Richard Linklater’s “Bernie” and Ira Sachs’ “Keep the Lights On.”
Since 2000, 10 of the 13 Spirit Awards winners, and nine of the last 10, have also been Best Picture nominees at the Oscars – though only “The Artist” has won both awards, leading to the phrase “win on Saturday, lose on Sunday.”
The "SLP" producers said they expected that the Spirit Award would go to "Beasts of the Southern Wild." "We were sure that we were going to lose today, and we're sure we're going to lose tomorrow [at the Oscars]," said producer Bruce Cohen in the press room afterwards.
“Beasts,” which drew loud applause in the room every time it was mentioned, did not go home empty-handed. It won an award for Ben Richardson's cinematography.
And Russell's film didn't completely run the table: John Hawkes won the Lead Actor role for "The Sessions" over Bradley Cooper for "Silver Linings."
Matthew McConaughey won the Supporting Male award for playing the strip-club owner in "Magic Mike," and began his speech by crooning, "I had to take my pants off to win a trophy."
Helen Hunt, the one Oscar nominee in her category, won the Supporting Female award for her role as a sex therapist in "The Sessions."
Michael Haneke's "Amour," a prohibitive favorite for the Oscars' foreign-language award, was named Best International film. The 70-year-old Haneke, who just arrived in town from directing an opera in Madrid, said "I think I'm the oldest man in the room."
Kirby Dick's and Amy Ziering's "The Invisible War" was named Best Documentary.
"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" was named Best First Feature, while Derek Connolly won the first award of the night, Best First Screenplay, for "Safety Not Guaranteed." Connolly appeared sedated during a long, rambling acceptance speech that drew hoots from the audience, and ended when actor Bryan Cranston came onstage and poured Connolly a shot of whiskey.
A few minutes later, Connolly was escorted out of the Spirit Awards tent by security.
The show also presented some awards that had previously been announced. The Robert Altman Award, which goes to a film's director, casting director and ensemble cast, went to Sean Baker's "Starlet."
Four sponsored awards, which come with cash grants, were given to Mynette Louie for "Stones in the Sun," Adam Leon for "Gimme the Loot," Peter Nicks for "The Waiting Room" and Laura Colella for "Breakfast With Curtis."
The show was hosted by Andy Samberg, whose tepidly-received monologue included the observation that it is "the only awards ceremony watched by more people at the actual show than on television."
It will be televised on IFC at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
Best Feature: “Silver Linings Playbook”
Best Director: David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Best Screenplay: David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Best First Feature: “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”
Best First Screenplay: Derek Connolly, “Safety Not Guaranteed”
John Cassavetes Award (Given to the best feature made for under $500,000): "Middle of Nowhere"
Best Female Lead: Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Best Male Lead: John Hawkes, "The Sessions"
Best Supporting Female: Helen Hunt, "The Sessions"
Best Supporting Male: Matthew McConaughey, "Magic Mike"
Best Cinematography: Ben Richardson, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Best Documentary: "The Invisible War"
Best International Film: "Amour," Michael Haneke
Robert Altman Award (Given to one film's director, casting director, and its ensemble cast):
Director: Sean Baker
Casting Director: Julia Kim
Ensemble Cast: Dree Hemingway, Besedka Johnson, Karren Karagulian, Stella Maeve, James Ransone
Piaget Producers Award: “Stones in the Sun,” Mynette Louie
Someone to Watch Award: “Gimme the Loot,” Adam Leon
Stella Artois Truer Than Fiction Award: “The Waiting Room,” Peter Nicks
Jameson Find Your Audience Award: “Breakfast With Curtis,” Laura Colella