Lots of love was spread around the room at the 2020 Film Independent Spirit Awards. “Uncut Gems,” “The Farewell,” “Booksmart,” “The Lighthouse,” “Give Me Liberty,” “Parasite,” “Judy” and “Marriage Story” all taking home major trophies. And while the political speeches were shockingly non-existent considering it’s a presidential election year, statements about diversity took top priority.
Oh, and unlike the Oscars – which has a very rainy day in the forecast – it the skies outside the tent in Santa Monica were beautiful and sunny. Inside the whiskey was flowing and the food was, um, there. Throw out the fact Adam Driver and Robert Pattinson weren’t in attendance and it was a pretty good show considering it was 2 1/2 hours with commercials.
Keeping all that in mind, a quick best and worst from the annual Spirit Awards celebration.
Best: Aubrey Plaza’s opening skit and musical number
We’re not sure Plaza will return for a third go at it, but we’re sure hoping she does. The indie darling seems to love the gig and the effort and thought she puts into it rivals perhaps only previous hosts Adam Samberg and the year Kate McKinnon and Kumail Manjiani hosted. She started off this year’s show with a dressing room skit where she played herself and a Judy Garland version of herself. If that wasn’t funny enough on its own – and it was – she then appeared on stage for a musical number of Garland’s iconic “Get Happy” with some new lyrics. Plaza poked fun at Jennifer Lopez, Renee Zellweger and Netflix creative honcho Ted Sarandos in the audience (the Sarandos line, “Keep that money faucet running. We’re all counting on it” got a huge laugh). It also featured zingers such as “There are so few sisters directing duos in Hollywood. You think this town would love to pay two women one salary.” The eventual follow up “Lighthouse” parody with Michael Shannon was hard to hear in the room, but at least it was inspired. And, hey, at least someone was willing to host an award show Oscar weekend and give it her all.
Best: Adam Sander’s epic acceptance speech
The love for Sandler in the Spirit Awards tent was monstrous. He received a standing ovation after his win was announced and a second one after what can only be described as one of the greatest acceptance speeches ever. We won’t spoil it. You really must watch it in context to enjoy the self-deprecating position Sandler puts himself in. To say the Oscars really missed out on nominating him this year is a massive understatement.
Best: Female filmmakers get the love
From Olivia Wilde and “Booksmart” winning Best First Feature to Lulu Wang and “The Farewell” taking Best Feature to “American Factory’s” Julia Reichert sharing the Documentary prize, female directors got their due in Santa Monica. It was a notable contrast to the Oscars which continues to entertain serious criticism for a lack of female directors in the Best Directing category.
Worst: Long, long speeches
The Spirits have always been lax when it comes to the length of acceptance speeches. They allow for it by having less taped segments and shorter presenter bits because it often leads to more memorable moments in the show overall. This year, that might have been stretched it just a bit too far. It began with the excruciatingly long acceptance speech for “American Factory ” from directors Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar (the later having to be awkwardly played off the stage, a rarity at the Spirits). It continued when after already winning the Screenplay Spirit, Noah Baumbach gave a very wordy acceptance for the previously announced Robert Altman Award. A speech so long he basically gave no time for his cast (!) to speak. The film’s legendary casting director, Francine Maisler got in two sentences in. Ouch. Even the Safdie’s bit where they gave two different speeches over one another was funny at first, but also went on a bit too long. Maybe the Spirits should consider revising their policy next year.
Worst: Jennifer Lopez snubbed…again
This was sort of heartbreaking. Coming off a monumental triumph with the Super Bowl halftime show, Lopez lost another award at another awards show. And this time, Laura Dern wasn’t even in the race. Lopez lost to “The Farewell’s” Zhao Shuzhen who could not attend the ceremony from China because of travel restrictions due to the Coronavirus. There are probably a number of reasons for this. One, “The Farewell” was clearly beloved by the Film Independent membership (more on that later). Two, for as diverse as it is, the Film Independent membership is still pretty straight white male. That is a demo that has long had an issue with “Hustlers.” Perhaps its that the marketing sold it as a different movie than it actually was. Maybe they didn’t like that the female heroes of the film took advantage of men instead of the other way around, but it’s been a strange refrain from “progressive” or “woke” men about the film and maybe…telling. Third, all the hype from mainstream/celebrity TV outlets when “Hustlers” premiered at the Toronto Film Festival might have been too much for people in the industry to take. It felt over-the-top and may have positioned Lopez as “expecting” Oscars and awards even though she never, ever responded to questions or praise in such a manner. Yeah, we’re blaming you GMA, E! and Access. You certainly didn’t help justify your love in context. Fourth, maybe the world just won’t let Lopez have it all. Her longtime ex, Ben Affleck, is forgiven for whatever tabloid excesses he participated in during the ’00s and ’10s, but Lopez? Nope. Sing for your supper in a skin-tight number and we’ll praise you. Try to be anything else outside of a box we’ve set for you? Nah, that won’t do. It’s been a hard awards season circuit for Lopez. She’s faced the Amy Adams experience of losing at awards show after awards show. That’s not fun no matter what you’re wearing or who you are sitting with or who says they love you on the red carpet. We just hope it doesn’t discourage from taking more challenging roles like her LAFCA winning turn in “Hustlers.”
Best: “The Farewell” has its moment
After massive Oscar snubs, the critically acclaimed Sundance favorite surprised by taking the Best Feature honor over A24 stablemate “Uncut Gems” and Netflix’s “Marriage Story.” It also, as previously noted, took the Supporting Female category in a huge upset. Both wins were surprises as “The Farewell” was only nominated in two categories. The difference, of course, is that the nominations are determined by secret committees and the entire membership votes on the winners. Perhaps that’s a heads up to Film Independent that those committees might be a little too…myopic? In any event, it was a wonderful moment for an, as Wang noted in her speech, “American movie” that played all over the country.
Best: Laura Dern is gay
It could have gone terribly wrong, but, oh, have faith in Aubrey Plaza. The Gay Men’s Choir of Los Angeles were invited out to sing a medley about all the things in movies you didn’t actually realize were gay such as Frank Ocean giving his catalog to the soundtrack of “Waves” or Idina Menzel in “Uncut Gems.” But then – and we can’t believe it’s taken this long to bubble of from Gay Twitter – the song transitioned to a full out love affair for Laura Dern. “Laura Dern kicking her feet up on the couch. Laura Dern ordering a kale salad. Laura Dern dressed slutty in court. Just all of Laura Dern.” And it reached a spiritual crescendo that sent the actual Laura Dern to another level. It might have been one of the greatest Spirit Awards moments ever.