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Will the Indie Spirits Ever Be About the Indie Spirit Again? Was it ever?

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There really is no difference between awards shows now. When I first started, the Indie Spirits really were about celebrating independent film. I’ve actually been doing this long enough to remember when there wasn’t really such a thing as independent films infiltrating the awards race. Funnily enough, the studio that really changed all of that was Miramax, run by Harvey and Bob Weinstein. They now run The Weinstein Co and they really do find, sell and distribute independent films – The Artist and The King’s Speech were both independent films that were picked up and turned into Best Picture winners by the Weinstein Co. “Harvey” as he’s known here, there and everywhere is really a team of very good, hard working publicists who never get the credit.  Their team is both “Harvey” the schmoozer and the hard core publicists.

But you can’t really make the claim that Silver Linings Playbook is an independent film. It was produced BY the Weinstein Co.  It wasn’t some scrappy little company no one’s ever heard of. How it got qualified for the Spirit Awards is a mystery.  But this isn’t really about why Silver Linings Playbook should not have won (if there’s one thing Weinstein co knows, it’s how to sell stories to voters – he is the Oscar whisperer and by Oscar I now mean — everyone that votes on any film award from December onward). Sure, Argo has stolen Silver Linings’ thunder – but I am going to make the wild claim that were it not for Zero Dark Thirty’s demise, this Oscar year would belong, once again, to the Weinstein Co.

Had they only had to go up against Lincoln, they knew they could win that award, despite Weinstein calling it a “masterpiece.” Not feelgoodie enough for voters, not a scrappy underdog with a heart of gold, not something that makes people cheer and run out of the theater hugging themselves. Yeah, I know, I work here.

But the Independent Spirit awards so thoroughly jumped the shark by not awarding Beasts of the Southern Wild it is beyond comprehension.  Beasts of the Southern Wild is what they are supposed to be about. Sure, I know there’s no dance contest where they miraculously “get a five!” And there’s no happy ending where, gosh, the guy FINALLY is convinced to accept Jennifer Lawrence’s love (good lord, people, really?) but it was literally made from scratch. $1.5 million and a team that utilized the same mobilization techniques employed by the Obama 08 campaign to get help making their film.  They never dodged a problem – but instead always found a way to do what they wanted to do, even if it was hard.

The movie won at Sundance then impressed voters at various awards shows all over the world. But. No dance contest. No “get the pretty girl” ending. No Weinstein Co. If it doesn’t make you cry you simply aren’t paying attention.  Although Beasts won, cough cough, cinematography — at least they saw fit to award Ava DuVernay – auteur extraordinaire – with the John Cassavettes award for direction – and you know, he is one guy who would love both Middle of Nowhere and Beasts of the Southern Wild – visionary, daring, out of the box cinema that redefined how movies get made? How the fuck do you walk by that? Right, right, the dance contest!  Silly me.

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DuVernay was the only woman of color semi-prominent in the awards race. She wrote and directed and produced a film that was made with money in her own bank account. She rallied the black community to go where they rarely are used to going: the art house.  Turns out, that’s mostly an art house for white audiences. Who knew? I didn’t.  DuVernay won Best Director at Sundance and really ran her awards campaign on a wing and a prayer. When it came time for the writers branch at the Oscars to do something they never do: award the first black female writer/director a nomination for original screenplay? They didn’t.

Of course, it isn’t like the Spirit Awards don’t hump Oscar’s pole like every other awards show – just look at the films that have won over the years. They look an awful lot like Oscar, don’t they?

The Artist
Black Swan
Precious
The Wrestler
Juno
Little Miss Sunshine
Brokeback Mountain
Sideways
Lost in Translation
Far From Heaven
Memento
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Election
Gods and Monsters
The Apostle
Fargo
Leaving Las Vegas
Pulp Fiction
Short Cuts
The Player
Rambling Rose
The Grifters
Sex, Lies and Videotape
Stand and Deliver
River’s Edge
Platoon
After Hours

People, by nature, like to be on the winning side. If a film is nominated for Oscars it automatically looks better to voters. That Silver Linings is the winner, and the crowdpleaser, is all the more reason they would vote for it. Beasts of the Southern Wild surprised at the Oscars with Picture and Director nods in addition to actress and screenplay. That should have been enough to put it on the winning side.  Of all of their winners, only one has an all-black cast. You have to wonder, despite all of the publicity and rave reviews around Beasts of the Southern Wild, if that narrative was just too different for these voters who are, in the final analysis, very conventional in their tastes.

One of the most disappointing things that happened this year was that there were so many great movies released – so many vivid, original, memorable films and yet the industry has had a one-track mind when it comes to voting: vote like everyone else.  And that has reduced the season, despite its beginnings, to one of the least memorable in Oscar history.

40 Comments on this Post

  1. houstonrufus

    Agreed. Beasts deserved to win because it would have been more in keeping with what the Spirits are about. But in my opinion, it also deserved to win because it’s a better movie.

  2. I don´t think this year is boring. Just take a look at some of the main categories like Director, Actress, Supporting Actor – it´s been a while that we had so many open races.
    The only Best Picture-candidate that I consider a worthy winner is “Zero Dark Thirty”, and it has zero chances, unfortunately. Besides, it would have been great to see a film like “The Master” make it in, but I know that the Academy is not really crazy about stories that are told in an elliptic, unconventional style – they like their films told in oldfashioned classic style. Which isn´t necessarily a bad thing, many classic told films are really great, but year to year, the Best Picture-lineup looks a bit.. well … it lacks any artistically challenging stuff, almost always the case.
    But even though I see they didn´t liked “The Master” enough, how could they deny him nominations for Jonny Greenwoods score, for the masterful production design, for the cinematography?? This is what bothers me.

  3. Pierre de Plume

    If the Spirit Awards is a spin-off of the Oscars, then now it’s time for another spin-off. Last night’s ceremony seemed schizophrenic to me, with a mixture of “big” indies and “real” indies. Besides Middle of Nowhere’s win, I was consoled by their choice of John Hawkes.

    I didn’t like some of David O. Russell’s comments during his acceptance speeches, such as, “Ben Zeitlin is young – he’ll be back” or words to that effect. So is he saying Zeitlin really deserved to win but hey I won get over it? And what about the other nominees?

  4. Goodness Sasha, I could not agree with you more. What a rather disappointing end to what began as a very exciting Oscar season. I’m still holding out hope for some surprises tonight, but not too much.

    I suppose the Spirit Awards were a chance for a group to award SLP since people think it has no shot tonight? Since the Weinstein company won’t prevail over the ultimate prize, might as well give them something? Nevermind the fact that Beasts of the Southern Wild is quite simply a MUCH better movie than SLP. And this is coming from a big David O. Russell fan. I think he’s a great director but SLP is certainly not his best work, nor even one of the best films of the year in my opinion. Beasts is…original, moving, a triumph in directing. And it has one of the most underrated performances of the year in Dwight Henry.

    I guess I can take consolation in the fact that SLP won’t win best picture. It’s just unfortunate that (again, in MY opinion, I know not everyone’s) the best work of the year has gone so unrecognized.

  5. David O. Russell could say he was going to single-handedly end discrimination, war and poverty and I still wouldn’t like him.

    “Benh Zeitlin is young – he’ll be back.”

    If it comes out of his mouth, I object.

    I hope they have the camera half way up Russell’s nose when he loses tonight. Let’s see another one or two of those vacuous gurns.

  6. I completely disagree about this year being a “least memorable Oscar”. This is the only year I love each and every Best Picture nominee! Least memorable for me was last year, The artist? Extremely loud and incredibly close? You know last year was a dud! Of course this is just my opinion, and I do respect yours’ Sasha.

  7. One of the most disappointing things that happened this year was that there were so many great movies released – so many vivid, original, memorable films and yet the industry has had a one-track mind when it comes to voting: vote like everyone else. And that has reduced the season, despite its beginnings, to one of the least memorable in Oscar history.

    I agree that this is what happened. But who did it? Like all things, the media sets the stage. It’s the media that tells people what to think. Yes, we’d like people to think for themselves but they don’t. So who’s to blame? In my opinion it’s a conspiracy between the sheep and in the case of film awards, the entertainment press, including blogs. I’ve been reading that ARGO was winning since before ballots went out. Well does it matter if the article was for or against that outcome? Or does that message just get pounded into people either way? I don’t think it’s the case that that film will necessarily win. I’m still going to give the Academy until around midnight to prove whether they’re sheep or independent thinkers. But the message, the brainwashing if you will, comes from everyone who tells people what will and what won’t win.

    As far as the Independent Spirit Awards go, it is very different from when it started. I have no idea of the backstage goings on, but it started out like a big cookout where people who made movies for the sake of making movies supported each other. After last night’s show, I’m not sure what it is. The show itself was completely vanilla. I mean where were the skits, crazy acceptance speeches, ad libs? The digital shorts were poor and I didn’t not understand what they were going for with the ‘Beast It’ one.

    I like SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK. I hope it wins tonight. I don’t think it will. I wish that DJANGO UNCHAINED could. It’s my favorite of the nominated films but again the book on it was that it could win because it’s too violent. That’s the brainwashing again. I just hope the brainwashed realize that what they’re really saying is that they will never NEVER give a Quentin Tarantino film the Oscar for Best Picture. And I guess that also means that they’ll never give him the Oscar for Best Director. He’s not going to make a movie about the Easter Bunny losing his eggs. His movies are violent by definition, so if they’re not going to nominate him and award his films based on violence, then they never will. I hope they realize that they intend for him to be another great unrecognized director. Third on my list of nominated films is BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD. I thought that was going to be your film this year, Sasha. But then you fell in love with LINCOLN instead. That seems to have made it a difficult season for you. I wish you could have enjoyed it more.

    I think for all of us to enjoy it more people in general have to go back to being independent thinkers but maybe it’s too late for that. I know I didn’t enjoy being swept along in the tide this year. I’m going to try my best to stay detached next year.

  8. Sasha,
    I couldnt agree more with your statement “there is no difference between awards shows now”.

    Whoever thinks that awards are about best performances, they are dumb! Whoever thinks it should be about best performances, they are a bit romantic, idealistic as it is too late for that…

    Now all these award shows are part of a multi-billion dollar business, they are all part of a big game. So like every other business, there is strategy, involved, planning, investments, and smart business men like Harvey. You cannot blame him/them for playing this game to see their product (movies) win at the end. It is a game open to everyone. Nothing stops others from playing the game in the same way as Warner Bros or Weinsteins. They are smart and very strategic business people that put lots of time, effort, energy and money to get what they want. And they are the ones that know that your movie doesnt need to be the best to win those awards. It is all about the temporary perception that they create, between december and march. Then they move on to the next year!
    In some way, I wish only the best movies win all the time. But on the other hand, I respect those people with a good strategy and implementation in place to get what they want!

  9. Hey David! Let’s see what Lily Tomlin think of your BAFTA win!

    http://www.suprmchaos.com/lily-tomlin1_030102.jpg

    I hope George Clooney goes through with that threat he made tonight.

  10. The J Viewer

    [I rephrased my own words here.]

    Thanks for a read, Sasha.

    To me, indie films should be created and work outside studios. To begin with, they supposedly finance their own projects independently a la […] Curtis, and Beasts, for instance.

    Nowadays, in my opinion it all boils down to bling bling factors more or less, as well as TV (etc.) ratings, whether one tends not to look at it from the owner/event organizer’s point of view, viewers’, etc. I guess it’s just the way of the world….

    PS: I love Rambling Rose. But I am not sure if it’s an indie film. [Not implying other films on the winners list featured here are indie or not; just citing Rambling Rose for sentimental reason.]

  11. Christina

    Bravo Sacha, bravo for you wonderful writing! That were exactly what I thought after reading the winners yesterday. I really liked Silver Lining Playbook, but isn’t supposed to be Sliver financing by the Weinstein Company, a movie studio and it isn’t an independent film?
    To me Beast of the Southern West is first a much better film that Silver Lining Playbook for all the reason that you wrote before and Beast reunites all the qualities that a really excellent Independent Film is. So now Harvey also controls the Independent Spirits just like he controls the Oscar? This awards will be about politics too, that sounds really awful.

  12. It’s very rare for a “pure indie” to get nominated for not only Best Picture (there’s one a year) but also Best Director. That’s the creme de la creme, whether Affleck wins tonight or not. So it was especially disheartening to hear that Beasts lost yesterday. They should be championing the little indie that could, not the big indie that could.

  13. I said it on the live-thread and I will say it again, it is a little shocking that these movies that win awards are not coming straight out of the big studios. To me that is what this trend at the ISAs say more than anything. How is Magic Mike not a major studio release? Is it just because Spielberg wants more hands-off studio involvement? Well, he’s an Oscar-winner who also has a good track record with commercial properties, so hands-off.

  14. Also,
    no matter what we say here and on similar blogs, no matter how passionate some people around here get about those awards, do we see anyone in Hollywood protesting those wins??? They announced Independent Spirit Awards a while ago, did anyone from Hollywood circles, actors, directors,producers, say anything about SLP’s nominations (just as an example)? I dont think so. Did anyone go public with their disapproval of the nominations/wins for any awards? Not really..So what we say now is not relevant then…They dont care why should we????

  15. The J Viewer

    [Second comment] Sidenote: Just submitted my Oscars prediction.

    Cheers.

  16. SallyinChicago

    Sasha, I love your boldness. We minority people waited all our lives to see a (surprise for us) Black man elected President. I guess it’s going to take another lifetime before Hollywood awards a majority black acting cast movie a Best Picture in any Guild, in any award. The only time you will see a majority black acting cast get a BP nod is with the newspapers and local city film societies.
    Shame on the Spirits & Academy.

  17. The thought that John Cassavetes would like either Beasts or Middle of Nowhere sounds like it was written by someone who’s never watched a Cassavetes movie.

  18. I’ve always wished for an international indie awards that would recognize films that are made with different sensibilities in mind, intended for different audiences than the big crowd cineplexes, and made with considerably less money – but awards that do that for single genres or for films locally don’t get a lot of coverage. It sort of defeats the purpose of “indie” awards when the films recognized are made by the same people who make big budget studio films, when there is essentially no difference between the two.

    With the advent of small, portable, high quality cameras, one thing I’ve noticed is certain stock shots have become omnipresent – the small pan shot done from a tripod mounted portable slder, for example, has become the signature, ubiquitous shot of our time in almost every TV show and commercial and blockbuster film, and it’s come to indie film (and youtube) with vigour instead of rigour. I’d like an indie awards that recognizes those who don’t bloody use that bloody shot every bloody two or three minutes. (It’s a case of technology formulating cinema.) I don’t know about anyone else, but I miss the experimental film of the 50s, 60s and 70s that made us go “what the heck did I just see?”. Films where you don’t even know how the images came to be.

    Even films that are basically a string of cliches crammed together – The Avengers, for an example of a film I expected more from – get full marks from mainstream critics if they are “busy” enough that no one notices how utterly banal they are underneath the explosions. The proliferation of film garbage, along with youtube garbage, is making us film-stupid – a horrible, sickening sweet excess of glistening craft, at the expense of any sense of meaningfulness at all. Disposable cinema for people bent over their mobile phones tweeting their latest purchase, their latest stubbed toe, the newest photo of some cinema star being human messily. In a way, the glut of cinema imagery that obtains these days is a heavy, overcast downward pressure, as if all the cognitive dissonance of our time is verging on volcanic eruption and contemporary cinema is nothing more than an effort to discharge discontent, where an explosion is precisely NOT an explosion, but the opposite of an explosion.

    Perhaps I’m just weary this year with all the hoopla about films I can nothing about – but I didn’t see anything new or interesting.

  19. the last time they were truly independent was when M. Emmet Walsh won for Blood Simple.

  20. The thought that John Cassavetes would like either Beasts or Middle of Nowhere sounds like it was written by someone who’s never watched a Cassavetes movie.

    You sound like someone who’s never read a Sasha Stone article.

  21. Sorry the ‘dance contest’ was apparently so offensive.

    Better/more interesting/more dramatically compelling than the bullshit/meretricious nonsense/racist shuck-and-jive of Beasts of the Southern Wild.

    Better-made, more emotionally involving. Should it have won all those Spirit awards? No, because SLP isn’t an indie. But it’s a shitload better than Beasts.

  22. BTW, I don’t see anyone here crying their eyes out for Keep the Lights On, which was cheaply-made, emotionally devastating, gripping and at times extremely hard to watch. The very definition of an independent film, and one that’s too difficult, too gay, too challenging for Academy voters.

    No soaring horn score and cute kid standing up to potbellied pigs, though, so…

  23. I couldn’t agree with you more, Sasha. What a terrible shock watching that was! Not INDIE at all hardly. Except, I have to add for the win for “Invisible War” as Best Documentary! Now that was a triumphant moment!And that really was an Indie, and while it was great to see John Hawkes getting what he really deserved as Best Actor, it was so sad to see Ann Dowd lose to another Hollywood glamour girl, an A-lister who already has an Oscar, Helen Hunt. That just killed me.

    We did, however, get to see Ann’s shining face at least. They SHOWED her on in close-up on camera a couple of times and she was smiling, looking happy to be there. But losing to Helen Hunt, the most naked Actress nominee ever! That can’t have been easy. If she was going to win anything, I thought she’d win at the Indie Spirits. Now “Compliance” IS really an Indie and she’s an Indie actress. She got $100 a day for 16 days. That was her salary. And now, BTW, because of her own-self-financed campaign, she’s in the hole for $16,000! I’m not kidding!

    She sent out screeners to every member of the Actor’s Branch and to the SAG nominating committee. Nothing.

    I just don’t consider SLP an independent film. The Indies are now the Harveys. They should man up and change their name.

    The Gothams, thank god, are still more the real thing. Ematazy Corienaldi(sp?) won there, and Benh Zeitlin got TWO awards. But strangely, neither was for Best Film.

    Benh Zeitlin, such a sweet kid. And that rather awful line of DOR “He’s young-He’ll be back” WHY even mention that? Implying Russell himself, won’t?

    I also totally agree with Sasha’s reaction to SLP. Really? It was a fucking ROM COM for chrissake’s! Not a penetrating look at mental illness, which by the way, I feel they got completely wrong. It’s not just a lot of yelling.

    The REAL Indie talents, like Anne Dowd and Emayatzy, all sat up at their tables. Except for Kirby Dick of “The Invisible War.”

    Helen Hunt, an Indie actress????? Gimme a break!

  24. What’s wrong with a romantic comedy?

    You guys sound as ridiculous as the French academic painters, who said a still life or a landscape could never be as meaningful or important as a historical painting.

  25. In all fairness, brendon, those French academic painters were right.

  26. BTW, I don’t see anyone here crying their eyes out for Keep the Lights On

    I’m not crying my eyes out for Keep the Lights On for two reasons:
    – It was a longshot at best
    – I don’t cry

    I nearly cried during Keep the Lights On, though. One of the best films I saw last year.

  27. Bluemoonz

    Fret not, Ms Sasha Stone. Tonight the Oscars will be exceptional in their results, with some jaw-dropping surprises. You’ll see. It won’t be like last year.

  28. It’s not that I didn’t like Silver Linings Playbook that bugs me the most here – well it may be a big part of it – it is that it shouldn’t have qualified for the Indie Spirit Awards. It’s not just that it simply isn’t an independent film BY DEFINITION, it is also the budget. Isn’t there a requirement that no film with a budget over 20M can qualify here ? It cost 21-26M to produce the very least and that doesn’t include the hefty marketing campaign (20-25M) that so obviously isn’t something indie films can count on. Long story short, it is a studio film that could afford casting franchise all stars and a living legend, and giving it Indie Spirit Awards is quite simply ridiculous.

    I’m going to lose it if David O. Russell wins anything tonight, I consider his film the weakest BP contender and him the (by far) weakest nominee in both Adapted Screenplay and Director.

  29. Just watched Beasts last night. I didn’t quite “get” it. However, having said that, I do feel that it was brilliantly written, directed, and acted. I’m so confused.

  30. Paddy: What did Clooney threaten to do? I know about the bad blood from Three Kings, but is this a new thing?

  31. I am an USA voter. I voted for Beasts of the southern wild for bp,bd,ba and cinematography which it won. I still think slp is a wonderful film but I do understand why people are questioning it being an indie, but you could make the same claim about moonlight kingdom. Unlike the oscars anyone can be an indie spirit voter I suggest readers of this blog check their website and join for next years awards it you have to pay to join and they sent 14 screeners this year including slp ,war ,witch which is also nominated for best foreign language film.

  32. I will not question SLP qualifying as an indie but totally aghast over it winning BP & BD. Beasts of the Southern Wild is Amour and Life of Pi rolled into 1.

  33. SallyinChicago

    Breaking at Deadline: Q Wallis is set to play Annie in the updated movie version.
    (Is she moving toooo fast??? Too much pressure too soon?)

  34. Beasts of the Southern Wild is hardly independent with it’s backing from studio arm FOX searchlight.

  35. SLP definitely the worst winner out of these previous winners.

  36. No Robin, that’s it.

  37. I still would pick Perks of Being a Wallflower as the best film (not just 1st film) over SLP and Beasts.
    Beast it!!!

  38. Ebert has swith his prediction to SLP winning picture

  39. I couldn’t agree more sasha great article!!!!!!!!!!!!

  40. I a indian student.I like fuck.

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