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.
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?
Little Miss Sunshine
Lost in Translation
Far From Heaven
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Gods and Monsters
Leaving Las Vegas
Sex, Lies and Videotape
Stand and Deliver
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.