Spirit Awards 2015: 'Birdman' Tops 'Boyhood' on Saturday, Previewing Sunday? (Analysis)

The old saying about Oscar weekend's two awards shows — Saturday's Independent Spirit Awards and Sunday's Academy Awards — used to go, "Win on Saturday, lose on Sunday." But it's starting to look like this year, for the third time in the last four years — albeit only the fourth time overall — that "rule" will not apply to the winner of the 30th annual Spirit Awards' top prize.

Why do I think that? Because on Saturday afternoon, in a tent by the beach in Santa Monica, even the indie film community — or at least the members of the Film Independent and IFP organizations — threw its weight behind the Oscar frontrunner, Birdman, over the indie feel-good story of the year, the 12-year project Boyhood.

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Birdman, a film by Alejandro G. Inarritu, won the best film Spirit Award by holding off fellow best picture Oscar nominees Boyhood, which was directed by indie icon Richard Linklater; Selma, which was directed by Ava DuVernay, another fave of the indie community who has helped to increase its diversity through her African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement; and Whiplash, which was written and directed by the indie circuit's latest discovery, 30-year-old wunderkind Damien Chazelle. Love Is Strange, a film that the Academy completely ignored, was the category's other nominee.

(Boyhood's Linklater did, however, top Birdman's Inarritu in the best director race — the opposite of what happened at the DGA Awards.)

Last year, not only did the Spirit Awards and Academy Awards honor the same film with their top prize — 12 Years a Slave, as they had done previously with Platoon (1986) and The Artist (2011) — but, for the first time ever, all four of their acting winners also overlapped. The Spirit Awards' and Academy Awards' overall track record of agreeing on acting winners is poor — only 18 out of a possible 112 — but that may well happen again this year!

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The Spirit Awards' best actress Julianne Moore (Still Alice), best supporting actor J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) and best supporting actress Patricia Arquette (Boyhood) are slam-dunks to repeat at the Oscars, and the Spirit Awards' best actor Michael Keaton (Birdman) might well join them. He, however, did not have to face off at the Spirit Awards with his chief competitors for the Oscar, The Theory of Everything's Eddie Redmayne (only American films are eligible for Spirit Awards, and this one was British) and American Sniper's Bradley Cooper (only films that are made with "an economy of means" — defined as budgets of $20 million or less — are eligible for Spirit Awards, and this one cost just under $60 million).

Only seven previous Spirit Award-winning screenplays went on to win in either of the Academy's two screenplay categories — last year's 12 Years a Slave being one of them. And, in the 14 years in which there has been a Spirit Award for best documentary, only four of its winners went on to Oscar glory — last year's 20 Feet From Stardom being one of them. I would not expect the former stat to grow tomorrow (Nightcrawler, which won the Spirit Award over a field that included no other Oscar-nominated screenplays, is expected to come up short to either Birdman or The Grand Budapest Hotel for the best original screenplay Oscar), but the latter probably will (Citizenfour will probably be able to fend off a late surge by Virunga, which it topped for the Spirit Award, to win the Oscar).

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Other probable repeat winners include the foreign-language film Ida (Poland), which beat a field that included fellow Oscar nominee Leviathan (Russia) and Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography on Birdman, which was not up against any fellow Oscar nominees. Tom Cross' film editing of Whiplash was recognized on Saturday and could be recognized again on Sunday, but it is far from certain that it will be. And Saturday's Special Distinction Award honoree Foxcatcher and Robert Altman Award recipient Inherent Vice are both up for a few Oscars on Sunday, but few oddsmakers believe either will take home an Oscar.

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg

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