Spirit Awards highlights and lowlights

Commentary: Ceremony adds glam, loses intimacy

There was still an indie spirit at the 25th Film Independent Spirit Awards, but the event had a significantly different feel than it did for the past 18 years at the beach. While the colorful language and free form acceptances were in tact along with the irreverent hosting by British comedian Eddie Izzard, moving it from afternoon to evening still seemed to make it a more grown up affair. More of the ladies wore cocktail dresses and many of the men wore suits, which was much more formal than the afternoon at the beach style of past years.
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More than anything this year's event was a slick television show, which was beamed live by IFC. For those sitting at tables in the back half of the tent erected on the upper level of L.A. Live, much of the night was spent nearly blinded by banks of ultra bright spotlights aimed at the tables and away from the stage. A woman at my table wore sunglasses all evening and I wished I had brought mine along. It was bad enough that more than half the audience couldn't actually see the stage from where they sat because the room had no risers; but the spotlights made it hard to watch the giant screens suspended in air without distraction. The program moved swiftly, with graphics that were slicker than in the past, and celebrity presenters who for the most part stuck to scripted banter.

The move from Santa Monica beach to downtown L.A. was handled smoothly. But it inevitably had the effect of making the 25th anniversary show more of a cocktail party gone wild, but not too wild. Izzard did his best to keep it lively. "I am a transvestite with a career," he announced, explaining his credentials. "Independent is tattooed on my spine."

He was at his funniest in the beginning, and even then he had his stumbles. "Before we start," he announced in his opening monologue, "I want to announce there is no god...He's not here but we are here, and thanks for the stunned silence. So God bless America just means have a good time.

Then it was off to the races.

Scott Cooper, who won best first feature, for "Crazy Heart" thanked a long list of people and finished by praising Fox Searchlight: "If not for them, as my agents say, this picture would have gone straight to radio."
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Jeff Bridges performed from the movie before winning as best actor. It was a sweet, laconic performance with a band featuring T. Bone Burnett, his pal and musical director of the film. It was a unique moment since Bridges and Burnett will not get to perform live on the Oscars, where the original songs are being done as clips from the movies.

Mo'Nique continued on her road to Oscar glory, as part of the sweep of the major awards by "Precious." She said that the movie was not only independent, it was low budget.

That was a swipe at the many movies which qualify as Indies under the Spirit Award rules but cost millions and were made by big movie companies. "Precious" really was an indie effort, financed on a shoestring $11 million budget, and shot before it was acquired for distribution by Lionsgate.

Izzard came back occasionally, increasingly less funny, obviously more drunk and harder to understand each time as his accent deepened and he spoke more rapidly.

"I spoke to God," Izzard announced midway through the show, "and he apologizes for not existing."

Rock gods Anvil came out to perform a very loud heavy metal number before winning the documentary award. There was a genuine sense that they were grateful for the recognition after being snubbed in the documentary category by the Oscars.

The most heartfelt moment of the evening came when film critic Roger Ebert and his wife Chazz were introduced, as the award for non-fiction movies was renamed in their honor. Ebert's foundation is putting up the $25,000 annual prize.

The final presenter was a bearded Ben Stiller, who brought on two women and a man introduced as porn stars to roll around in simulated sex while he announced the nominees for best picture. "I think it's great even though I've been in 350 big budget studio pictures," said Stiller, "I'm here representing independent movies.

In the end it was an entertaining show, even if the lights made it difficult to watch at times. But I still missed the beach.
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