Independent Spirit: The other, hipper Oscars

The Independent Spirit Awards positions itself as the hipper, cooler Oscars. It’s not on a major TV network, so the people on stage can say words generally bleeped out. What these awards shun is big-budget movies. Nothing from Marvel, here.

More importantly, it celebrates diversity. For instance, The top prize, Best Feature, went to The Farewell, written and directed by Lulu Wang, an Asian-American woman. (I liked the film, but I was rooting for Clemency, written and directed by Chinonye Chukwu, an African-American woman.)

Not that the awards shun white males. Benny and Josh Safdie won Best Director for Uncut Gems. And Noah Baumbach won for Best Screenplay (Marriage Story). Come to think of it, a lot of the white male winners were Jewish.

It was all very casual, set on Saturday in a big tent on the beach. Few of the men wore tuxedos; some didn’t even wear ties. As with the Oscars, the women tended to show a lot of skin, but I suspect the dresses weren’t too expensive.

Even the names of the awards are unusual:

  • Best First Feature (Booksmart
  • Best Male Lead (Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems)
  • Best Supporting Female (Zhao Shuzhen, The Farewell)
  • Best First Screenplay (Fredrica Bailey & Stefon Bristol, See You Yesterday).

There’s also a Producers Award, a Someone to Watch Award, and a Truer Than Fiction Award.

Some awards were named for bygone independents. The John Cassavetes Award went to Give Me Liberty, while the Robert Altman award went to Marriage Story. Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff) won the lifetime achievement Bonnie Award, named after Bonnie Tiburzi Caputo, the first woman pilot to fly for a major U.S. airline. (Why they use her first name I don’t know.)


Watching these awards humbled me as a cinephile. I was shocked with how many of these movies I haven’t seen, or even knew existed. Without this ceremony, I may never have heard of The Third Wife, Burning Cane, Sword of Trust, or Island of the Hungry Ghosts. I suspect that these films have played in LA and NYC, but not yet (and maybe never) in the Bay Area.

Singer and comedian Aubrey Plaza hosted the show (yes, her name sounds like a building). She started with a reasonably funny skit, then went into a singing and dancing routine. Unfortunately, her jokes got worse as the show went on.

Aubrey Plaza

Still, there’s a sense of loose joy that you’ll never see at the Oscars. And the movies celebrated here are more often the ones worth celebrated.

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you what I thought about the Oscars, and about the Roxie‘s Up The Awards show.