The Independent Spirit Awards (AKA The Hipster Oscars) Explained

Tuesday, February 21 by
It's like the Oscars on welfare, which isn't actually a bad thing.  

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.

Yeah, they got Franco.

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 Awards

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.

It's not an awards show unless you have a pregnant Natalie Portman in attendance, which is why the Oscars pay someone to knock her up every year.

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.

 The Nominees

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.

BEST FEATURE
50/50
Beginners
Drive
Take Shelter
The Artist
The Descendants

BEST DIRECTOR
Mike Mills, Beginners
Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive
Jeff Nichols, Take Shelter
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Alexander PayneThe Descendants

BEST FIRST FEATURE (Award given to the director and producer)
Another Earth
In the Family
Margin Call
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Natural Selection

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD (Given to the best feature made for under $500,000)
Bellflower
Circumstance
Hello Lonesome
Pariah
The Dynamiter

BEST SCREENPLAY
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 WilliamsMy Week With Marilyn

BEST MALE LEAD
Demian Bichir, A Better Life
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Ryan Gosling, Drive
Woody HarrelsonRampart
Michael Shannon, Take Shelter

BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE
Jessica ChastainTake Shelter
Anjelica Huston, 50/50
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Harmony Santana, Gun Hill Road
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

BEST SUPPORTING MALE
Albert BrooksDrive
John Hawkes, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
John C. ReillyCedar Rapids
Corey Stoll, Midnight in Paris

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Joel Hodge, Bellflower
Benjamin Kuh-Sulk, The Off Hours
Darius Kond-Jee, Midnight in Paris
Gui-omme Shiffman, The Artist
Jeffrey Waldron, The Dynamiter

BEST DOCUMENTARY
An African Election
Bill Cunningham New York
The Interrupters
The Redemption of General Butt Naked
We Were Here

BEST FOREIGN FILM
A Separation
Melancholia
Shame
The Kid With a Bike
Tyrannosaur

ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD (Given to one film’s director, casting director and its ensemble cast)
Margin Call

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 Broadcast

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).

Oh. The Spirit Awards often have figure skater Johnny Weir in attendance. Advantage: Spirit Awards

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.

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