February 25, 2012 7:19pm PT by Scott Feinberg
ANALYSIS: Can 'The Artist' Break the Indie Spirit Awards' 25-Year-Old Oscar Curse?
The 27th annual Independent Spirit Awards, presented by Film Independent, were dished out this afternoon in a tent by the beach in sunny Santa Monica. Comedian Seth Rogen hosted the ceremony, which brings together the best and brightest of the indie film community, past and present, for an Oscar-weekend celebration of the struggle that is independent filmmaking. While the event is known for being lots of fun (how many other awards shows encourage day-drinking?), it is not known for its prowess at predicting the Oscars (voting for which closes before the Spirits are dished out anyway).
Indeed, only one of the winners of the Spirit Awards' top prize, best feature, has ever won the best picture Oscar, and that was 25 years ago (Platoon, 1986), and only 11 of the 100 performances that it has rewarded with acting prizes -- 26 in each of the two lead categories and 24 in each of the two supporting categories -- were subsequently recognized with Oscars in their respective categories: Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote, 2005) and Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart, 2009) for best actor; Geraldine Page (The Trip to Bountiful, 1984), Frances McDormand (Fargo, 1996), Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry, 1999), Charlize Theron (Monster, 2003), and Natalie Portman (Black Swan, 2010) for best actress; Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine, 2006) for best supporting actor; and Dianne Wiest (Bullets Over Broadway, 1994), Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, 2008), and Mo’Nique (Precious, 2009) for best supporting actress.
Most pundits, however, believe that this trend will be broken at tomorrow's 84th Academy Awards -- at least as far as the best picture, best actor, and best supporting actor Oscar races are concerned.
The Artist, the long-presumed frontrunner for the best picture Oscar, rocked the Spirits, as well, winning best feature, as well as best director (Michel Hazanavicius), best male lead (Jean Dujardin), and best cinematography (Guillaume Schiffman). Its primary challenger in many of these categories was thought to be The Descendants, which is also nominated for the best picture Oscar (and four others), but that film won only two prizes: best screenplay (the only category in which The Artist was nominated but lost; the two are not up for the same screenplay category at the Oscars) and best supporting actress (Shailene Woodley, who was not nominated for an Oscar, and who was not competing against the supporting actress from The Artist who was, Berenice Bejo).
The French talent from The Artist only landed back in the U.S. back from France -- where they had attended the Cesar Awards, at which the film took home six prizes, but, shockingly, Dujardin lost -- in the middle of the show. After missing the first few categories (American cast member Penelope Ann Miller accepted for Schiffman and Dujardin), they arrived -- with the help of a police escort from Los Angeles International Airport -- it in time for the last few categories. Some in attendance expressed dismay that their march to the Oscars was not challenged by even this constituency, which is largely composed of American -- or at least U.S.-based -- filmmakers. But, despite the fact that Indie Spirit voters were not provided with screeners of the film, it was not to be denied.
Christopher Plummer (Beginners), who has won virtually every best supporting actor prize this awards season and is the heavy favorite to win the best supporting actor Oscar tomorrow, won the corresponding Spirit Award this afternoon. (He seems to be on auto-pilot at this point, referring to his co-star Ewan McGregor as "that scene-stealing swine" and his wife Elaine as possessing "the wisdom of Solomon" for far from the first time.)
A Separation, Asghar Farhadi's Iranian film that is nominated for the best foreign language film Oscar, also continued its virtually uninterrupted victory march through the awards season with a win for "best international film" today.
Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn) won the best actress category, adding another trophy to a shelf that already includes this year's best actress (musical or comedy) Golden Globe award. The best actress Oscar race is widely assumed to be between Viola Davis (The Help) and Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), but Williams, who is universally well-liked and resembles past best actress Oscar winners much more than Davis or Steep (she's in her thirties and widely regarded as sexy), could still play a spoiler.
Other big winners included Margin Call, for which J.C. Chandor is nominated for the best original screenplay Oscar, and today won best first feature and the Robert Altman Award (which honors a film's director, its casting director, and its ensemble cast); Will Reiser (50/50), who was not nominated for the best original screenplay Oscar, but won best first screenplay today; and Steve James' The Interrupters, which was not nominated for the best documentary feature Oscar, but won best documentary today; and Dee Rees' Pariah, which was also snubbed across the board by the Academy, but won the John Cassavetes Award today.