It‚Äôs easy to see for nearly a decade, and especially over the past 5 or 6 years, the top films at the Independent Spirit Awards have overlapped the Oscars with increasing frequency. Whether it‚Äôs because independent films have evolved from their grungier roots into more sophisticated pedigreed projects, or if it‚Äôs because the definition ‚Äì and budget — of ‚ÄúIndie‚Äù has been stretched to fit the prestigious scope appropriate for Academy credibility, Indies get more Oscary every year. Sideways, Crash, Brokeback Mountain, Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, Milk, The Wrestler. These are a new breed of Oscar-friendly Indie animal far removed from the esoteric species of films leading the Spirit Awards in the early years. What do Rambling Rose, City of Hope, My Own Private Idaho, Homicide and Hangin’ with the Homeboys all have in common? Those were the 5 nominees for Best Feature Film at the Spirit Awards 20 years ago. And no, My Own Private Idaho didn‚Äôt win.
In an odd reversal of the usual chain of events, Oscar nominations in January often serve as a reliable precursor to help predict the winners of the Spirit Awards a month later. If there‚Äôs any flow of good fortune down the love canal between Oscars and Spirits, that good luck almost always runs in reverse ‚Äì back toward the ISA. While this could be explained as the natural result of the cream-of-the-indie-crop being skimmed off the top, advancing to the next level of game play at the Kodak, a cynic might say that the cachet an independent film acquires when it‚Äôs honored by the Oscars is irresistible to ISA voters when they scan the titles on their ballots. When Little Orphan Indie is adopted by Daddy Oscar Warbucks, you can almost hear the choir of struggling producers break into song, ‚ÄúThe sun‚Äôll come out, to-mor-roooow!….‚Äù Bet your bottom dollar indeed.