Since slamming the Oscars for being a self-congratulatory, bloated mess is now more fashionable than actually discussing the awards, many film purists are looking for an avenue that champions the films themselves rather than the industry and studios that make them.
Since 1984, the Spirit Awards have existed to reward actors and filmmakers that existed outside the world of big-budget Hollywood productions. 28 years ago, when the awards were first introduced, the rift between independent cinema and Hollywood fare was much larger than it was today, so the likelihood of any overlap between the Oscars and the Spirit Awards was almost unthinkable.
Today, a gap still exists, albeit a narrower one, thanks to increased access to independent films and the general mainstreaming and adoration of all things indie. So the night before the Oscars, the other Hollywood gets dolled up in their pixie dresses and blazers and sneakers to bestow some recognition on the filmmakers that are just too damn cool for the Oscars.
To give you an idea of how the Spirit Awards have gradually become more mainstreamed, this year’s host is Seth Rogen, a huge Hollywood star with enough of that slacker credibility to reassure everyone that, yes, they’re all very cool for being in attendance.
The recognition given out by the Spirit Awards closely mirrors the Oscars in its prestige categories (Best Director, Best Feature, Supporting and Lead awards for Males and Females, etc). However, instilled with the spirit of independent cinema, the awards also showcase first-time directors, first-time screenwriters, as well as an award for the best feature made for under $500,000.
Of course, the Spirit Awards don’t have the huge backing or TV contract that the Academy Awards do, so despite being all “indie,” they bear names such as the Audi Someone to Watch Award, the Nokia Truer Than Fiction Award, and the Jameson Find Your Audience Award.
One reason the sponsors are necessary is that, in addition to bragging rights, the aforementioned awards all come with grants that allow the filmmakers to keep doing their thing. So while having sponsors for independent cinema awards may seem a little counterintuitive, it’s done so that the recipients can keep staying independent and away from those godforsaken Hollywood studios.
Again, you might see a little overlap here with the Oscars, as the Academy Awards are allowed to pick from all films, regardless of how they were produced or distributed, while the Spirit Awards stick with films made outside of major studios.
Mike Mills, Beginners
Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive
Jeff Nichols, Take Shelter
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
BEST FIRST FEATURE (Award given to the director and producer)
In the Family
Martha Marcy May Marlene
JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD (Given to the best feature made for under $500,000)
Joseph Cedar, Footnote
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Tom McCarthy, Win Win
Mike Mills, Beginners
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash, The Descendants
BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY
Mike Cahill and Brit Marling, Another Earth
J.C. Chandor, Margin Call
Patrick DeWitt, Terri
Phil Johnston, Cedar Rapids
Will Reiser, 50/50
BEST FEMALE LEAD
Lauren Ambrose, Think of Me
Rachel Harris, Natural Selection
Adepero Oduye, Pariah
Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn
BEST MALE LEAD
Demian Bichir, A Better Life
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Ryan Gosling, Drive
Woody Harrelson, Rampart
Michael Shannon, Take Shelter
BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE
Jessica Chastain, Take Shelter
Anjelica Huston, 50/50
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Harmony Santana, Gun Hill Road
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants
Joel Hodge, Bellflower
Benjamin Kuh-Sulk, The Off Hours
Darius Kond-Jee, Midnight in Paris
Gui-omme Shiffman, The Artist
Jeffrey Waldron, The Dynamiter
An African Election
Bill Cunningham New York
The Redemption of General Butt Naked
We Were Here
BEST FOREIGN FILM
The Kid With a Bike
ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD (Given to one film’s director, casting director and its ensemble cast)
PIAGET PRODUCERS AWARD
Chad Burris, Mosquita y Mari
Sophia Lin, Take Shelter
Josh Mond, Martha Marcy May Marlene
ACURA SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARD
Simon Arthur, Silver Tongues
Mark Jackson, Without
Nicholas Ozek, Mamitas
AVEENO TRUER THAN FICTION AWARD
Heather Courtney, Where Soldiers Came From
Danfung Dennis, Hell and Back Again
Alma Har’El, Bombay Beach
The awards aren’t too indie to be aired on TV, and the ceremony, usually held in Santa Monica, though for some reason held in a tent downtown last year) can be found live on IFC (duh).
Like the Golden Globes, liquor is served during this show, giving it a peppier, more spontaneous feel. Futher, the Spirit Awards are a banquet-style ceremony, giving the affair a more casual feel than a seated theater awards show would have. Given the shoestring budget inherent with an indie awards show, the ceremony cuts out the superfluous sketches and prdocutions, just leaving hosts and awards. While this might sound a little dry, what it does is allow the people on stage (who are really the ones being celebrated) to spend a little more time entertaining the crowd, rather than moving through forced unfunny skits. Also, it caps the ceremony at two-and-a-half hours, which is about ninety minutes less than the Oscars.
So, if you just LOVE awards shows, but think the Oscars have become a self-important overblown mess (because it has), give the Spirit Awards a whirl. You may have a hard time getting your friend to fill out a Spirit Awards pool, but you’ll be able to sit through the event without getting bedsores, and you might even learn a little bit about film, which is something the Academy gave up on a long time ago.