Spirits: Oscar Nominees Steamroll En Route to Sunday D-Day (Analysis)

An Oscar nominee won in all nine categories in which at least one was nominated, including best feature ('Spotlight'), best doc ('The Look of Silence') and best international film ('Son of Saul').
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Michael Sugar accepts the best feature Spirit Award for 'Spotlight'

There weren't as many Oscar nominees in the running at this year's Independent Spirit Awards as there have been in some. But at Saturday's 31st edition of this celebration of American films made for $20 million or less — which always takes place in Santa Monica on the day before the Oscars are dished out in Hollywood, and which reflects the preferences of the indie film community, or at least the members of the Film Independent and IFP organizations — an Oscar nominee won in all nine categories in which at least one was nominated. 

The biggest winner on Saturday was one of the three films that is thought to have the strongest shot at winning top honors on Sunday, Spotlight, which won all four Spirit Award prizes for which it was nominated: best feature, best director (Tom McCarthy), best screenplay (McCarthy and Josh Singer) and best editing (Tom McArdle). The drama about The Boston Globe's coverage of sex abuse in the Catholic Church is nominated for each of the corresponding Oscars tomorrow.

Also a big winner: Room, which was inexplicably excluded from the best feature category (as were all best picture Oscar nominees except Spotlight), but which claimed prizes for best female lead (Brie Larson) and best first screenplay (Emma Donoghue). On Sunday, Larson is favored to win the same Oscar, while Donoghue is nominated — and could prove a spoiler — in the best adapted screenplay category.

The only other Oscar nominee represented in competition at the Spirit Awards was Carol, which came up short for best female lead (Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara competed against each other) and best screenplay (Phyllis Nagy), but won best cinematography (Ed Lachman). All are Oscars-bound, as well, although Mara was nominated in the supporting actress category.

Other Oscar nominees celebrated at the Spirit Awards: The Look of Silence, which won best documentary, and Hungary's Son of Saul, which won best international film. (An upset today by France's Mustang or Chile's Embrace of the Serpent, which are also Oscar-nominated, might have added a bit more suspense to tomorrow's outcome.) In the 15 previous years in which the best documentary Spirit Award was presented, only five of its winners went on to Oscar glory — last year's Citizenfour being one of them. And in the 30 previous years in which the best international film Spirit Award was presented, only five of its winners did the same — last year's Ida being one of them. (There is not an exact comparison: the Spirit Awards consider English-language films made outside of America for the best international film award, whereas the Academy does not for the best foreign-language film Oscar.)

The old saying about Oscar weekend's two awards shows used to go, "Win on Saturday, lose on Sunday." But Spotlight might well defy that "rule," as did three of the last four winners of the best feature Spirit Award — The Artist (2011), 12 Years a Slave (2013) and Birdman (2014) — but only four ever. It's not only being celebrated for its artistry, but for its message — the real journalists portrayed in the film received a standing ovation on Saturday — which is a powerful combination.

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