How about those Independent Spirit Awards? Hollywood was blessed by a sunnier Saturday than expected (the rain predicted only days ago magically went away), and even with Natalie Portman bowing out (she also is skipping the Oscars), the star power at the Spirit Awards tent was impressive. In fact, you could argue the line of presenters at the Spirits was more impressive than the predictable list the Academy Award producers have set for Sunday (truth hurts). There were no gift bags for those in attendance this year, but Film Independent president John Welsh got the crowd riled up before the broadcast with a great speech where he called out the organization’s commitment to global filmmakers, unions and, most impressively, the press.
The show itself still has to stick to a pretty tight two-hour schedule (it went 15 minutes over this year) and might benefit from actually just going to two-and-a-half to three hours (it would certainly let the hosts have even more fun). That being said, a few bests and worsts from this year’s shindig.
Best: “Moonlight”’s dominance
As disheartening as it is to even contemplate, there is a good chance that “Moonlight” only wins one Oscar on Sunday for Original Screenplay, and even that isn’t 100% secure. Therefore, to have the indie community embrace a true independent with six honors was sort of remarkable. And the love in the room was palpable. There were few nominees grumbling over their loss to Barry Jenkins’ masterpiece.
Best: Molly Shannon’s Speech
Overall, it was a disappointing afternoon of speeches (more on that in a minute), but Molly Shannon’s acceptance of Best Supporting Female was incredible. Not only did Shannon deliver her prepared remarks succinctly with her trademark enthusiasm, but she couldn’t resist telling the world, “I really truly in this moment feel like a superstar!” It was a great homage to her classic “SNL” character and an honest reaction to a career-defining win for an actress who has worked for years to escape the stigma that comedy is all she’s cable of.
Worst: “O.J: Made In America”’s win
Perhaps I’ve spoken too late, but this is just wrong. ‘O.J.’ was originally intended for television. It was not meant for theatrical release. And it was also fully financed by a major television network for broadcast. It’s fantastic, yes, but it’s not a movie, no matter what theatrical screening requirement was adhered to. Moreover, the voting Film Independent membership should have selected Ava DuVernay’s “13th” or Raoul Peck’s “I Am Not Your Negro,” true indie productions. Either film deserved a moment in the spotlight before ‘O.J.’ continues its fraudulent run on Sunday with an Academy Award win.
Worst: Disappointing Speeches Overall
Usually, the alcohol before and during the show leads to some pretty bizarre or funny speeches from the winners. That really didn’t happen this year. The aforementioned Molly Shannon rocked, and Tarell Alvin McCraney had an emotional moment accepting the Screenplay Spirit alongside Barry Jenkins, but that was about it. Casey Affleck tried to make fun of himself (it mostly fell flat) and then made a statement about the current political environment that, while well-intentioned, didn’t have the impact he intended. More disappointing was “Moonlight” producer Jeremy Kleiner’s rambling comments on the dais after the film won Best Feature (an unfortunate moment for a talented and Oscar-winning producer). Even Isabelle Huppert gave something of a standard acceptance speech that was barely memorable. It was sort of strange, to be honest.
Best: Nick Kroll and John Mulaney
Kroll and Mulaney just wrapped a year on the stage together touring with “Oh, Hello,” which ended after a Broadway run in January. They showed impressive comedic timing for two comedians who know each other’s rhythms hands down. Their opening monologue featured a bit where Samuel L. Jackson wasn’t actually where he needed to be (he showed up later), complained about the gig as a “lateral move” and noted that it would only take eight years for Hollywood to forgive anti-Semitic, racist hate speech, which means everyone should “look out for the 2024 Oscars where the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award will go to Steve Bannon.” And a classic from Mulaney: “Basically the Spirit Awards are a secret handjob on the beach…but enough about ‘Moonlight.’” Or, from Kroll: “If this room leaned any further to the left, this building would literally topple into the Pacific Ocean.” They returned later with a bit about the Alternative Spirits, sort of like those Sci-Fi Technical Awards where awards were given to “that PA who drives a Tesla” and that bucket of pretzel bits filled with peanut butter on the craft-service table. At times, their one-liners were a bit industry, but it killed in the room. You can throw them on the list of “dare to dream” future Oscar hosts alongside Kate McKinnon and Andy Samberg, who both killed at the Spirits when they hosted. Speaking of Samberg…
Best: Adam Samberg
The former Spirits Awards host came out in an Eddie Vedder look to sing Pearl Jam‘s “Alive” in a montage Mulaney and Kroll referred to as the “Still Alive” segment of the show. This mocking of the traditional In Memoriam segment could have gone very wrong, but Samberg totally sold it with the lyrics (Milos Forman, still alive), and the graphics had perfect captions as well. It knocked it out of the park when Fred Armisen pretended to die in the audience (at least we think he did) and Samberg stopped to tweet his reaction in the middle of the song.
Worst: Lack of surprises
Were there any real surprise winners this year? If you can think of one, please let me know, because I only missed two predictions (Screenplay and First Screenplay). And the former overestimated the ability of the theatrically low-grossing “Other People” to beat the horror hit “The Witch.” Overall, the box-office rule (the winner that grossed the most wins) won outside of Isabelle Huppert for Best Female Lead, Ben Foster over Lucas Hedges for Best Supporting Male (although “Hell Or High Water” was a significant indie hit) and “Moonlight” over “Manchester By The Sea” in Screenplay, Editing and Best Film (O.K., maybe that rule wasn’t as significant this year).
Best: Spirits a true alternative to Oscar
Sure, its been a few years since the Best Picture winner wasn’t actually a major Spirit Awards player (and let’s thank Lionsgate for not trying to qualify “La La Land” for its “independent spirit”), but the 2017 honors demonstrated how important this alternate awards show can really be. Films such as “Spa Night,” “The Witch” and “Other People” won major awards, and a $1.5 million drama about a gay, African-American man trying to find himself in Miami took six awards. And films such as “American Honey,” “20th Century Women,” “Little Men,” “Certain Women,” “The Fits” and “Swiss Army Man” stepped into the spotlight with key nominations. The Academy has absolutely shifted in more of a cinephile and indie direction over the past decade, but this year proved why the Spirits are more relevant than ever.
What did you think of this year’s Spirit Awards? Share your thoughts below.