The Independent Spirit Awards

Lulu Wang from The Farewell.

Forget the Oscars. The Academy has not represented the true spectrum of each year’s best films for a while now. In terms of the winners and most of the nominees for the most significant awards (director, actor/actress, picture), the Oscars rarely show us anything new that we haven’t already seen on Twitter for months beforehand, and even then, they often overlook widely recognized great films. The same cannot be said for the Independent Spirit Awards.

Before I even tell you what the awards are, just listen to some of the nominees from this year: Adam Sandler, Best Male Lead, Uncut Gems; Jennifer Lopez, Best Supporting Female, Hustlers; Best Feature, The Farewell, Marriage Story.... the list goes on. Female filmmakers held two out of five spots each in the categories of Best Director, Best Feature, and Best First Feature, and for the first time, all five nominees for Best Supporting Female were women of color.

2020 marks the Spirit Awards’ 35th year running, and besides presenting its own nominees for the Oscars’ big categories like best film, actor, actress, and director, the Spirit Awards also have awards for Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay, as well as grants for producers, up and coming feature filmmakers (the Someone to Watch award for unrecognized talent, and the Bonnie Award for female filmmakers), and nonfiction filmmakers (the Truer than Fiction award). To qualify for a Spirit Award, a film must have had a budget under $22.5 million (for context, Avengers: Endgame, one of the most expensive movies ever made, had a budget of $356 million, Spy Kids 2 cost $38 million, and Parasite cost only around $11 million). And instead of having an invitation-only Academy to vote on winners, any Film Independent members can vote, opening the demographics of voters to anyone who can spare $95 a year to pay for membership (not perfect, I know, but definitely better than the Academy).

The biggest thing that the Oscars have that the Spirit Awards don’t are technical awards: production design, costumes, sound mixing and editing, etc. It is frustrating to have to rely on the Oscars to point us towards specific achievements in design, but the fantastic films featured at the Spirit Awards can demonstrate great filmmaking beyond the named awards they give out.

Here are some notable winners from this year’s Independent Spirit Awards:

Best Feature: The Farewell Best First Feature: Booksmart Best Screenplay: Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story

Best First Screenplay: Fredrica Bailey & Stefon Bristol, See You Yesterday

Best Male Lead: Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems Best Female Lead: Renée Zellweger, Judy Best Supporting Female: Zhao Shuzhen, The Farewell

Best Supporting Male: Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse

Best Documentary: American Factory Best International Film: Parasite

Other notable nominees include Honey Boy, written by and co-starring Shia LaBeouf about his relationship with his father and The Last Black Man in San Francisco, starring Jimmie Fails and directed by his childhood friend, about Jimmie’s relationship with a house his grandfather built in San Francisco.

Emma Cooney

Photo Credit: AP News.

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