With the Oscars and the Golden Globes overlooking female directors this year, it was the Independent Spirit Awards who outdid them by handing its Best Feature award to Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, Best First Feature to Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart and Best Documentary to Julia Reichert’s American Factory.
“We’re so much cooler than other awards shows: It’s daytime, we’re on the beach, and we recognize female directors,” joked Independent Spirit Awards host Aubrey Plaza in her opening monologue as she returned for another back-to-back year of duty.
The Farewell is the second Chinese language movie to win at the Spirit Awards since 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Wang’s win for The Farewell signals only the second time a female solo director has picked up the Best Feature honor, since 2003 when Sofia Coppola won for Lost in Translation, and Valerie Faris shared a win in that category with co-director Jonathan Dayton for Little Miss Sunshine in 2006.
Wang said there are many qualified female filmmakers, they simply need opportunities.
“I just have to say that we don’t have to encourage women, there are lots of women making films and who want to make films, and who are in film school,” she said in her acceptance speech. “So shadowing great film programs are great but really what women need is the job. Just give them the frickin’ job, give them the money, because unfortunately in America, we’re not going to have a lifelong career in government-funded films, so just give the women the job.”
Also winning big from The Farewell was Zhao Shuzhen, who won Best Supporting Female for playing the grandmother. Shuzhan wasn’t here today as she was back in China, and unavailable to leave due to the coronavirus. Wang accepted on her behalf.
In another breakthrough at the Spirits — all five nominees in the Best Supporting Female category were women of color.
At first it appeared that the Spirit Awards voters were sealing the glass ceiling, handing Best Director to Benny and Josh Safdie for their NYC diamond caper Uncut Gems, but then Wang won the top prize.
Speaking backstage, Wilde was asked about women’s standing in the directing field this awards season. She answered, “This year’s been so amazing for female directors and I’m so proud to be a part of this movement. There are so many of us, and many of us are here tonight… There are so many women who are ready to tell their stories. I was so lucky that Annapurna recognized me… that’s what we need more of, producers who say, ‘I dare you to go for it and I encourage and empower you.’ This movie is really in the spirit of Amy Heckerling and Nora Ephron, so I really hope we can follow their legacy and inspire more female directors to direct.”
For the third straight year, the Spirits’ best picture selection won’t match the Oscar winner, as AMPAS voters completely overlooked The Farewell. The last time both awards shows were in sync was 2017 with Moonlight, another A24 release. Last year’s Spirits Awards Best Feature went to If Beale Street Could Talk, while the Oscars chose Green Book. The year before that, Get Out won in the Santa Monica beach tent while AMPAS chose The Shape of Water (which was ineligible at the Spirits due to its production cost). And then prior to that, Oscars and Spirits saw eye to eye on Spotlight in 2016, Birdman in 2015 and 12 Years a Slave in 2014.
Films made for a budget of $22.5 million or lower are eligible this year, so if you don’t see certain prestige pics listed in the noms, sometimes it’s not a snub. Oscar Best Picture nominee Jojo Rabbit despite its $14M cost didn’t make the cut because it was classified as an International Film given that it’s from New Zealand.
Even though the Spirits Best Feature won’t carry over to Oscars, other wins here today potentially will, i.e. Renee Zellweger for Best Actress for Judy, American Factory for Best Documentary, and Parasite for Best International Film.
For a fourth straight year, A24 lead all Spirit noms with 18, after counting 12 last year and 17 in 2017. Neon was second this morning with 10 noms. Amazon was third with eight, up from last fall’s six. Netflix was next with seven, up one from six a year ago. IFC Films counted six noms. In the end, it was A24 that led the pack with seven, followed by Netflix with 4; and Neon, Roadside Attractions, Annapurna and Music Box all tying with one each. A24 took wins for Uncut Gems (Director, actor Adam Sandler, Best Editing), The Lighthouse (Cinematography, Best Supporting Male), and The Farewell (Best Feature, Best Supporting Female)
The weather was fantastic at the Indie Spirits tent, just south of the Santa Monica Pier, with a temperature of 70 degrees and sunny. Keep in mind the ceremony is typically the last Saturday of February, and even then rain can swamp the beach. The well coiffed crowd attending included Netflix boss Ted Sarandos, The Irishman Best Picture Oscar producer nominee Robert De Niro, In the Heights and Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu, Honey Boy star and writer Shia LaBeouf, Parasite director Boon Joon Ho, Oscar presenter Mindy Kaling, super lawyer Nuna Shaw, outgoing Sundance chief John Cooper, JLo, Spike Lee, Sundance Institute boss Kerri Putman, adam Sandler, director Billy Luther, Queen Sugar’s Nicholas L. Ashe, Marsia Tomeli, Miss Americana EP Morgan Neville, Marc Maron and Jon Hamm.
At a time when award shows fear hosts in a politically divided country, Plaza was fantastic with her acerbic wit, beginning with a parody of the Judy Garland ditty “C’mon Get Happy” followed by various zingers targeting the celeb guests:
“Shia LaBeouf has been here all week, he’s just been napping in the tent.”
“Willem Dafoe: After years of being a 19th century lighthouse keeper you finally got to play one,” Plaza was on a roll.
“Jennifer Lopez is here. She just performed at the Super Bowl,” said Plaza then turning to another face in the crowd, “What did you do Mary Kay Place, you lazy sack of shit?!”
Making a joke about how there’s quite often brothers who are directors in the industry, Plaza wondered where the sisters were. “You’d think this town would love to pay two women one salary,” said the Parks and Rec alum.
Watch her opening monologue below:
Netflix and Participant’s American Factory won the best feature documentary category. The doc, set in post-industrial Ohio, follows a Chinese billionaire who opens a factory in an abandoned General Motors plant, hiring two thousand Americans. Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America. “Our film tries to ask question ‘Is this the way we want the world to be? No, it’s not!'” said director Julia Reichert accepting the Independent Spirit trophy today.
Accepting Best International Film for Parasite, Bong Joon Ho shared a story with the tent about how at the first screening of the film of New York, he saw a rat scurrying around the theater. “I thought it was a symbol of luck,” said the filmmaker whose Cannes Palme d’Or and SAG ensemble winner is up for six Oscars tomorrow including Best Picture.
In accepting best director on stage for Uncut Gems, Benny and Josh Safdie hysterically talked over each other in their acceptance speech, thanking Martin Scorsese and Scott Rudin, with one of them joking about how they’ve fallen on this stage prior.
Sandler, taking best actor, was quintessential Sandler, launching into one his gruff character voices, beginning with “I am Adam Sandler” and telling tall tales how he lived in car and got Netflix’s Ted Sarandos stoned. “A few weeks ago when I was snubbed by the Academy, it reminded me how I was overlooked for the year book in the superlative category of ‘Best Looking’ to the feather-headed douche bag Feather Jenkins,” joked Sandler. The SNL alum, in thanking the pic’s producer Scott Rudin, mentioned, “he said those aren’t homeless guys, that’s the Safdie brothers.”
See Sandler’s acceptance speech below:
Below is today’s full list of Independent Spirit Awards 2020:
BEST FEATURE – The Farewell
BEST FIRST FEATURE – Booksmart
BEST FEMALE LEAD – Renee Zellweger, Judy
BEST MALE LEAD – Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems
BEST DIRECTOR Benny and Josh Safdie – Uncut Gems
BEST DOCUMENTARY – American Factory, directors Julia Reichart, Steven Bognar
BEST SUPPORTING MALE – Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse
BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE – Zhao Shuzhen, The Farewell
BEST SCREENPLAY- Marriage Story, Noah Baumbach
BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY – See You Yesterday, Fredrica Bailey, Stefon Bristol
BEST EDITING: Uncut Gems – Benny Safdie, Ronald Bronstein
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – Jarin Blaschke, The Lighthouse
BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM – Parasite, Bong Joon Ho
ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD – Marriage Story
Noah Baumbach, Douglas Aibel, Francine Maisler, Alan Alda, Laura Dern, Adam Driver, Julie Hagerty, Scarlett Johansson, Ray Liotta, Azhy Robertson, Merritt Wever
JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD – Give Me Liberty
PRODUCERS AWARD — Mollye Asher
SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARD -Rashaad Ernesto Green, director of Premature
TRUER THAN FICTION AWARD Nadia Shihab, director of Jabboland
THE BONNIE AWARD – Kelly Reichardt
Dominic Patten contributed to this report