UPDATED WITH ALL WINNERS AND REACTIONS: The 29th annual Independent Spirit Awards ended up more like a cast party for Fox Searchlight’s 12 Years A Slave, which won five of the seven categories for which it was nominated today — including Best Feature and Best Director for Steve McQueen. The strong showing for the slave drama gives the pic plenty of momentum headed into tomorrow night’s Oscars, the marquee event in a long awards season in which 12 Years has been one of many films ebbing and flowing buzz-wise along with Warner Bros’ Gravity ahead of what’s being called one of the more wide-open Academy Awards in a long while.
Dede Gardner, a producer on the pic with her Plan B partner Brad Pitt, thanked the many people involved in making the movie (including Pitt for “getting the movie made when he said he would”). She also thanked the descendants of the film’s subject Solomon Northup. “It’s a reminder to care-take our freedom,” she said.
With most of the big studio pics in the Oscar Best Picture race sitting it out today with the focus on indie fare under a tent on the beach in mostly rain-free Santa Monica, it allowed others to shine. Dallas Buyers’ Club‘s acting duo of Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto won Best Male Lead and Supporting Male, respectively. Cate Blanchett continued her hot streak winning Best Lead Female for Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, making her a solid favorite to win tomorrow night. Lupita Nyong’o won Best Supporting Female for 12 Years. That pic rounded out its wins with a Best Screenplay nod for John Ridley and Best Cinematography for Sean Bobbitt.
The Weinstein Company also had a good day during the ceremony, hosted by Patton Oswalt. Best Documentary went to the distrib’s 20 Feet From Stardom, whose subjects performed today, and Best First Feature went to writer-director Ryan Coogler for Fruitvale Station, which started its fruitful awards-season at Sundance 2012 when TWC acquired it for $2 million.
Oswalt presided over one of the most memorable parts of the show, when a black drone flew in and delivered the scroll announcing Nyong’o’s win. Later, after Blue Is The Warmest Color won Best International Film, Oswalt came back out onstage covered in blood. “Don’t touch the drone,” he quipped.
The weather, such an issue during the blustery and wet 2011 Spirit Awards, held for most of the day, with rain beginning to fall just as Blanchett reached backstage after her acceptance speech. “There’s a storm coming,” she said to the press. “It was nice knowing you all in case we’re swept away.”
The Spirit Awards will be shown tonight at 10 PM ET/PT on IFC. But here’s how the day went down, with on-scene coverage by Deadline’s Pete Hammond, Dominic Patten and Anthony D’Alessandro and contributor Diane Haithman.
The show begins with a video: It’s Angela Bassett telling people to take their seats and “stop networking. You’re embarrassing yourself. Really you are.” Patton Oswalt takes over, and says it is the weekend of “lesbian award show hosts and the men who look like them.” He also gets off the first of what could be many jokes about the weather. His jokes about the rain, Shia Labouf and some of the movies debuting on his iPhone are falling flat and are hard to hear over the chatter. The day’s first round of applause is for John Waters, whom Oswalt notes from the stage made his first film Hag In A Leather Jacket 50 years ago. “So if you think you are going too far,” Oswalt tells the crowd, “remember John Waters’ first pic and “man the f*ck up.” Oswalt is starting to warm up: He jokes about Mia Farrow winning the Someone To Watch award to big laughs –“Twitter sh*t its pants,” he said. He jokes about Bruce Dern’s age (Dern is laughing in the crowd), says Matthew McConaughey “packed a master class of acting into 12 months.” But a crack about Lorne Michaels as 12 Years A Slave master falls flat.”Too far?” Oswalt asks.
Among his other cracks:
On Dern: “He’s here to see the beach one last time.” “I’m kidding — he was here earlier with his metal detector.” Oswalt apologized to Dern, saying that “you’re the only icon in the room. Last year Andy Samberg got to make fun of Michael Fassbender’s c*ck (in Shame), all I have this year is you!” Oswalt then segued: “Seriously Bruce, I would like to have a beer with you after the show and discuss how Nebraska came together. Not the movie — the state.”
A quip about this very blog, though sounds like he didn’t realize our founder has moved on: “I took at look at Nikki Finke’s blog, and apparently all of you here in the room are doing projects together.”
On how The Lego Movie has made more money than all the Indie Spirit nominees combined: “Cate Blanchett, get ready, you’re going to be starring in Etch A Sketch: The Movie. Chiwetel Ejiofor, you’re going to be starring in Go Fish: The Movie which will have more heat than Lee Daniels’ Old Maid.”
A re-used joke from the VES Awards: “The film Gravity is a lot like dating a stripper. The plot involves a woman in her underwear, she’s curled up, there’s garbage all over the place, and George Clooney won’t call her back.”
“Just because the rain cleared up, doesn’t mean God loves you Hollywood…because Alec Baldwin is moving here.”
“Shia LaBeouf was seen on the red carpet wearing a plastic bag over his head with a sign ‘I’m not breathing anymore.’ “
“I love independent film so much, I’ve nicknamed my genitals The Criterion Collection. Because they come with their own commentary by Peter Bogdanovich and they’re all streaming on Hulu.”
“All Is Lost is just like Life Of Pi…without the tiger budget.”
“Joseph Gordon-Levitt is here! I’ve pitched 20 movies where I have sex with Scarlett Johnasson and yours (Don Jon) goes right through. That’s a kick in the teeth.”
“I’m done — I’ve earned my scotch, ” he says, signing off.
BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY
Bob Nelson, Nebraska
“This is the fulfillment of a dream to be the oldest recipient of the Best First Screenplay Award,” says Nelson, who thanks director Alexander Payne, the cast, crew and Paramount.
Backstage, Nelson said his father (the inspiration for the Bruce Dern character) “has been gone for 35 years” but his 86-year-old mother will be at the Academy Awards tomorrow. In the movie “she is Woman #1 walking up to the buffet bar — she was thrilled,” he said. Nebraska had a long road to the screen but the scribe said that since he heard about Dern possibly playing the role in 2003, “I couldn’t imagine anybody else doing it. He does even remind me of my father.” Interestingly for a screenwriter, Nelson said his words came second to the acting: “Fortunately, I had cut some of the dialogue so you could watch Bruce work.”
Already the In Memoriam part of the show: Cate Blanchett fronts the segment, making special note of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Spirit Awards wins. Roger Ebert and James Gandolfini (nominated for Best Supporting Male) also honored.
BEST SUPPORTING MALE
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
In a long long and very funny list, Leto praises among others “the youngest actor in the room” Bruce Dern, his agents, Focus Features, David Bowie, Kurt Cobain, Steve Jobs, “all the women I’ve been with and all the women who think they’ve been with me,” James Gandolfini and his other nominees, and his co-star “alright, alright, alright baby” McConaughey. Leto says he going to “pull a reverse” from McConaughey and only do romantic comedies in the future. He ends his crowd-pleasing speech by dedicating his win to all those who have died from AIDS HIV and all those who suffer from the disease.
Backstage, Leto briefly described his process in becoming crossdresser Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club. “After I was in the make-up chair, I saw this beautiful person before me, and that’s what you want to happen. Acting is like sculpting. You can work from the inside-out, or the outside-in. You hope to dive in and share a piece of the truth.” Part of the actor’s metamorphosis entailed working opposite McConaughey. “We met on equal ground and pushed each other,” said Leto.
Film Independent president Josh Welsh is speaking now. He praises the winner of the Roger and Chaz Ebert Fellowship — Chaz Ebert is in the house and gets a big round of applause when she appears on the video monitor. Welsh also praises Bright Future award winner Patrick Creadon and his film If You Build It, which won a $25,000 prize earlier in the day. “Thank you and now let’s get back to pretty people winning shiny things,” he says.
BEST FIRST FEATURE
Director: Ryan Coogler; Producers: Nina Yang Bongiovi, Forest Whitaker
“Wow, super nervous,” Coogler says. “Watched for years and never thought I’d be here.” He thanks Sundance, his fellow nominees, the San Francisco Film Society, his distributor The Weinstein Company, his cast and producers. A shout-out to lead actor Michael B Jordan gets a big cheer. Coogler also talks about all the Oscar Grants around the country and those who’ve died from gun violence. The room goes silent as he tells a story of a car accident victim who was mistaken for a home invader and shot 10 times by the police. Coogler asks if the victim was white would this have happened. Coogler gets a standing ovation when he’s done.
Coogler came backstage with Jordan, joking: “I’m afraid to be alone so I brought my family with me.” When asked whether the film had any unsung heroes, Coogler thanked the film editors “who moved up to Oakland (and lived) in a real small house in a real dangerous neighborhood and cut the movie between a bedroom and a kitchen.” He also detailed how he conceived the film when he was an undergraduate studying finance. Being aware of the financial realities of the film, he said, made him “terrified that (Jordan) would get a similar movie and he would just explode and I wouldn’t be able to afford him.” Jordan added that the film was shot for “$900,000 and some duct tape.”
Nat Sanders, Short Term 12
“This film was one of the best experiences of my life,” Sanders said.
In the press room, Sanders talked about the quest to find the right tone for the pic, about a pregnant young woman (Brie Larson) who debates abortion while working in a residential treatment facility. “There was a lot of heavy material and levity and humanity, so we didn’t want to bludgeon the audience,” he said. “After our first screening, we realized the first cut was too heavy, but ultimately we found the right balance.” He adds: “Editing is a hard thing to judge. You never know how much we do, how much the director does. Even as editors, we don’t know how to judge each others work.”
ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD
Director: Jeff Nichols, Casting Director: Francine Maisler, Ensemble Cast: Joe Don Baker, Jacob Lofland, Matthew McConaughey, Ray McKinnon, Sarah Paulson, Michael Shannon, Sam Shepard, Tye Sheridan, Paul Sparks, Bonnie Sturdivant, Reese Witherspoon
“I had one of the best out there,” Mud director Jeff Nichols says of his cast that included McConaughey and Witherspoon.
The trick to making Mud a solid film was making it a sincere portrayal, Nichols and the cast agreed backstage. “I know people from this place (the swamp area of Mississippi) and these actors just folded into this environment,” he said. Southerner Witherspoon concurred, and said that’s what’s attracted her to the project. “Few people know about this area and Jeff did it without any pretense and told it straight from the heart. After I read the script, it was like, ‘Game over.’ I was so blown away.” For the Oscar-winning actress, the fact that many A-list stars like herself are segueing to indie fare is a no-brainer. “Some of the most exciting films in the marketplace are independent films,” she says. “That’s why there are more actors and actresses gravitating.”
John Ridley, 12 Years A Slave
Ridley praises Julie Delpy for all her support over the years. The clearly moved scribe says, “I had no idea what I was involved in when I first saw the film at its premiere in Toronto.” He thanks the cast and crew and especially “fun” director Steve McQueen and Brad Pitt’s Plan B for getting the movie made.
Backstage, Ridley joked when asked about his next project: “I’m going to go back to my table and kiss my wife, that’s the first thing I’m going to do.” About the long journey towards the Oscars tomorrow, he said: “It’s been amazing, it’s a long journey. But now that it’s getting to the end it doesn’t feel long enough.” As has been his habit, Ridley said he owed his success with the screenplay to Solomon Northup. “Solomon set the bar so high with the eloquence of his language…the fact that he wrote without bitterness — in the most difficult of circumstances, Solomon saw beauty.”
JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD
(Best feature made for under $500,000)
This Is Martin Bonner
Writer/Director: Chad Hartigan, Producer: Cherie Saulter
Hartigan gets a big cheer from the crowd with this line: “Our movie costs $42,000 to make.”
Sean Bobbitt, 12 Years A Slave
Bobbitt gets a big laugh when he says Jared Leto already thanked everyone. An even bigger laugh comes when he mistakenly says he’d like to “spank” director Steve McQueen. Bobbit meant to say “thank”, he says right after, “though sometimes I’d like to spank him.”
Speaking to the press afterward, Bobbitt says he’s too involved with the technical aspects of composition and lighting and has little time to worry about the actors’ on-screen emotions. “The emotion of the film generally comes out after it’s edited. For me, the more harrowing scenes were the most enjoyable ones to shoot.” He also explained that despite the thick dramatic material, there was no way director Steve McQueen and he couldn’t show the beauty of Louisiana, especially during Antebellum times. “Louisiana was probably even more beautiful during the times of Solomon Northup,” he said, adding that they used that as counterpoint to the horrors that ensued on the plantations. “12 Years A Slave isn’t a historical documentary, but a dramatic re-creation.”
The singers from The Weinstein Co’s 20 Feet From Stardom hit the stage to do a version of “Somebody To Lean On” to big cheers. Then Samberg and fellow former SNLer Bill Hader come on to hand out Best Supporting Female. The pair rib McConaughey about who really did it in HBO’s True Detectives. Then a big black drone plane delivers the scroll with the winner’s name on it. “Holy sh*t,” Samberg says.
BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years A Slave
“Independent film is where stuff happens, stuff that matters,” said Nyong’o, whose birthday is today. She thanked McQueen, her fellow cast members and everyone involved with 12 Years. “You dared me, you scared me and you make me go to places I wasn’t prepared to go,” Nyong’o added of co-stars Michael Fassbender and Sarah Paulson. She dedicated her win to her mother, who is here and receives a standing ovation of her own.
BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM
Blue Is The Warmest Color (France)
Director Abdellatif Kechiche is not here to accept.
Oswalt came onstage covered in blood. “Don’t touch the drone,” he said. Then he claims the blood is from “Bruce Dern kicking the sh*t out of me backstage.”
20 Feet From Stardom
Director/Producer: Morgan Neville, Producers: Gil Friesen & Caitrin Rogers
Although The Square got the biggest cheer when the nominees were read, the 20 Feet women get huge applause when they come onstage. “Dream big,” Darlene Love says. Adds Neville: “This has been such an incredible year in documentary film.” He thanks Gil Friesen, who passed away just before the docu came out.
Backstage, Neville said the hardest part of making the pic was “cutting footage out. Everyone I met, I wanted to make a documentary about. I had to remind myself I wasn’t making a 12-hour documentary. It was a feature film.” He says the film truly shows the realities of working folk in the music industry. Case-in-point, back-up singer Judith Hill, who sang backup for Michael Jackson during This Is It. Some critics believed Hill should have never made it on the NBC reality series The Voice (which coincidentally occurred after 20 Feet was shot) because she was a professional. “Few knew that Judith was living in her childhood bedroom in her parents’ house,” Neville says. “People assume that back-up singers live the lives of a rock star. It couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Steve McQueen, 12 Years A Slave
Onstage, McQueen talks about how inspired he was and is by the work of John Cassavetes and the subject of 12 Years Solomon Northup.
BEST FEMALE LEAD
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Blanchett has solidified her place as Oscar front-runner. “It’s been an amazing year for women in film,” she says accepting her award. She then asks to big applause why there were only five women nominated for the lead category but six men. Blanchett thanks everyone but noticeably starts off with Woody Allen. Showing fine improv moves, Blanchett jokes about the drone arriving here to pick her up when an airplane flies over the tent — loudly — during her speech.
By the time she got backstage, and ominous wind kicked up and billowed the fabric walls of the press tent — at the same time a clip of Robert Redford battling the waves in All Is Lost played onscreen in the main room. “If we all die here, it’s in service of the film industry and my career,” joked Blanchett, braving the increasing cold in her sleeveless dress as rain began to fall outside. When asked about Woody Allen’s directing style, Blanchett said: “99% of the direction happens in the script,” adding: “A whole lot of his career has been in the casting.”
BEST MALE LEAD
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
“Thank you, thank you,” the Dallas Buyers Club star says before a couple more of those “alrights” for which he has become famous this award season. In a more serious tone, he talked about what independent film means to him: “You are forced to get creative because you don’t have the time or the money,” he says. “There’s a freedom in that.” Of Dallas Buyers Club, he said, “It was a true independent film. We had a little more than $42, 000 but we had less than $5 (million).” The actor also talked about how the film has shown people what the early years of the AIDS HIV epidemic were like, and how proud he is of that. “Keep on livin’,” he says in closing, echoing the film’s tagline.
McConaughey backstage deconstructed his process for portraying AIDS patient and pharmaceutical black-market guru Ron Woodroof. “I had his diary, which he wrote two years before he had HIV — that was my secret weapon,” McConaughey said. “I saw a man who was lost, trying to find his way in life. From that, I got his humor, humanity and conspiracy theories.” Originally, McConaughey expected to lose 35 pounds for the role, but it wound up being 47. McConaughey described how director Jean-Marc Vallee aptly captured “the anarchy” in Woodroof’s life, i.e., a scene the director wrote entailing Woodroofpraying in a strip club. “Ron didn’t go to San Francisco at the end of the film and win the court case, but he shook the tree,” McConaughey said. “He was successful enough on the black market that the FDA came to shut him down three times. Whatever congressman had the file (on AIDS patients and drugs) on the bottom of their pile, Ron’s story made them move it to the top of that stack.”
12 Years A Slave
Onstage, Plan B’s Dede Gardner praises producing partner Brad Pitt and McQueen praises his longtime “brilliant” on-screen collaborator Michael Fassbender and the talent of 12 Years lead Chiwetel Ejiofor. “Good night,” the Brit director yells out.
The triumphant final group came backstage including McQueen, Pitt and N’yongo. Pitt said that the producers “were banging on Steve’s door after his last film … we had no idea it would lead to this kind of project. Putting today aside, I love this film.” Pitt acknowledges he was worried that his presence in the film might serve as a distraction, but says the skill of the team made it work. “It’s interesting that it took a Brit (McQueen) to ask the question of why more films (about slavery) haven’t been made,” Pitt added. He called the “very moving, heroic story of a man trapped in inhumane circumstances” a universal theme.
PIAGET PRODUCERS AWARD
Toby Halbrooks & James M. Johnston, Jacob Jaffke, Andrea Roa, Frederick Thornton (Ain’t Them Bodies
SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARD
Newlyweeds, Director: Shaka King
TRUER THAN FICTION AWARD
Jason Osder, Let the Fire Burn
BRIGHT FUTURE AWARD
Patrick Creadon, Director
If You Build It
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