Why Spirit Awards Shouldn't Raise Hopes of Oscar Nominees (Analysis)
THR's awards analyst Scott Feinberg on the challenges facing Saturday's big winners, including 'Silver Linings Playbook' and 'The Sessions,' on Sunday.
The 28th annual Independent Spirit Awards, which are voted upon and presented by Film Independent, were held this afternoon in a tent by the beach in sunny Santa Monica. Andy Samberg, comedian and star of last year's low-budget Celeste and Jesse Forever, hosted the ceremony, which brings together the best and brightest of the indie film community on the Saturday afternoon of Academy Awards weekend. While the Spirit Awards is known for being lots of fun (how many other awards shows encourage day-drinking?), it is not known for its track record of predicting the Oscars (voting for which closes well before the Spirits are dished out anyway). Usually, it is just a nice barometer of which films the indie community is proudest of.
This year, one would have to conclude from the results that those films are The Weinstein Co.'s Silver Linings Playbook, which won best feature, best director (David O. Russell), best actress (Jennifer Lawrence) and best screenplay (Russell), and Fox Searchlight's The Sessions, which won best actor (John Hawkes) and best supporting actress (Helen Hunt). Best supporting actor went to Matthew McConaughey for Magic Mike, best documentary to Kirby Dick's The Invisible War and best international film to Michael Haneke's Amour. Two other films that many clearly liked a lot were Focus Features' Moonrise Kingdom and Searchlight's Beasts of the Southern Wild, which received five and four nominations, respectively, but collected only one win between them: best cinematography for Beasts (Ben Richardson).
Do these results offer a reliable hint about how things will play out tomorrow night? Based on history -- and, in particular, the fact that the Spirit Awards only consider films that cost around or less than $20 million, which disqualifies many of the top Oscar contenders -- the answer is no. (Silver Linings Playbook cost $22 million but was included in this year's competition at the discretion of the Spirit Awards nominating committee.)
Indeed, over the past 27 years, only two winners of the Spirit Awards' top prize, best feature, have ever won the best picture Oscar, Platoon (1986) and The Artist (2011); only 13 of the 104 performances that have been rewarded with Spirit Awards were subsequently recognized with Oscars; and only six Spirit Award-winning screenplays went on to win in either of the Academy's two screenplay categories. Moreover, in the 12 years in which there has been a Spirit Award for best documentary, only three of its winners went on to Oscar glory.
Tomorrow, Silver Linings is up in the best picture category against Argo, which has won every major best picture award for which it has been eligible, thus far. In the best director race, Russell is expected to finish behind Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) and Ang Lee (Life of Pi), whose films led the field with 12 and 11 nominations, respectively. Hawkes isn't even nominated in the best actor category (a crime), but one of the people whom he beat today, Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings), is -- and is expected to lose to Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln). McConaughey is also not Oscar-nominated; in fact, none of the five best supporting actor Spirit Award nominees were. Hunt, of course, is a huge underdog to Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables). Russell's screenplay, meanwhile, also won the BAFTA Award, but is widely regarded as an underdog, in the best adapted screenplay Oscar category, to Chris Terrio (Argo), who won the USC Scripter and WGA Award, and Tony Kushner (Lincoln), who won the Critics' Choice Award. And The Invisible War will have to compete with not only How to Survive a Plague but also Searching for Sugar Man, the heavy favorite.
There are, however, likely to be two Spirit-Oscar overlaps this year, which is more than there are in most years.
Lawrence, who won the best actress SAG and Golden Globe (musical or comedy) awards, held off fellow best actress Oscar nominee Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) today, and is a razor-thin frontrunner to win tomorrow over BAFTA winner Emmanuelle Riva (Amour) and Critics' Choice and Golden Globe (drama) winner Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), neither of whom were eligible for Spirit consideration this year. She would follow in the footsteps of only five previous Spirit Award winners, 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).
And Austria's Amour is the smart-money choice to win the best foreign language film Oscar. It was the only Oscar nominee among the five Spirit Award nominees for best international film, an award that has historically been of even less help to prognosticators than the others since, unlike the Oscars, English-language films made outside of the United States are eligible to be nominated for -- and often win -- it.
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