Spirit Awards: 10 Most Memorable Moments

4:31 PM 2/8/2020

by Christy Piña and Jillian Forstadt

From musical performances to onstage mixups, these are the highlights of the 2020 Independent Spirit Awards.

Aubrey Plaza onstage at the 2020 Film Independent Spirit Awards - 1- Getty - H 2020
Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images

Some of Hollywood's biggest names flocked to Santa Monica for the 2020 Film Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday afternoon to celebrate the best in 2019's independent filmmaking. The 35th annual ceremony took place in a shady beachside tent mere steps from the sand and surf, and Aubrey Plaza returned as host for the second year in a row.

Lulu Wang's The Farewell took home the top prize, best feature, while brothers Josh and Benny Safdie won the award for best director for their film Uncut Gems, which tied with The Lighthouse for the most nominations. Booksmart won best first feature honors, while American Factory, the first filmed backed by the Obamas' production company, Higher Ground, was named best documentary.

In the acting categories, Uncut Gems' Adam Sandler was tapped as best actor; Judy's Renee Zellweger took home the trophy for best actress; The Lighthouse's Willem Dafoe was named best supporting actor; and The Farewell writer-director Lulu Wang accepted best supporting actress honors on Zhao Shuzhen's behalf.

Marriage Story was pre-selected for the Robert Altman Award, which honors a film's director, casting directors and ensemble cast.

From Plaza's opening monologue to some star-studded parodies, The Hollywood Reporter has rounded up all of the highlifhts from the 2020 Independent Spirit Awards — including the night's most powerful moments and every big surprise.

  • Adam Sandler Addresses Oscar "Snub"

    Putting on the gruff voice he's used while accepting honors throughout the 2020 awards season, Adam Sandler used his speech to take his critics and the Academy voters to task for his so-called Oscars "snub."

    That's when the actor turned his speech on the Oscars with an anecdote about high school superlatives.

    "A few weeks back when I was, quote-unquote, snubbed by the Academy, it reminded me when I briefly attended high school and was overlooked for the coveted yearbook superlative category 'best looking,'" Sandler said. "That accolade was given to a jean jacket-wearing, feather-haired douchebag by the name of Skipper Jenkins.

    "But my classmates did honor me with the allegedly less prestigious designation of 'best personality,'" the best leading actor winner continued. "And tonight, as I look around this room, I realize the Independent Spirit Awards are the 'best personality' awards of Hollywood."

    Sandler closed out his speech with a rousing salute to the ceremony’s “independent personalities" and "feather-haired douchebags."

    "Let all those feather-haired, douchebag motherfuckers get their Oscars tomorrow night. Their handsome good looks will fade in time, while our independent personalities will shine on forever!" he said to the cheering crowd.

  • Aubrey Plaza's Opening Musical Number

    Clad in a black and silver sparkly gown, host Aubrey Plaza began her opening monologue joking about how this is a time when there are cats in theaters and people had to come all the way to Santa Monica from "other neighborhoods in Los Angeles."

    The host spent a few minutes picking on different stars in the beachside tent. She told Willem Dafoe that he had spent years looking like a lighthouse keeper and finally got to play one in The Lighthouse, for which he won best supporting actor honors minutes later.

    Plaza continued her take on "Get Happy" by Judy Garland and said she was so happy to be back hosting the "second-most-important awards show," and then went on to point out how the Spirit Awards are so different from the Oscars: "We recognize female directors — all two of them."

    Toward the end of her monologue, Plaza said that she and Jennifer Lopez are both "super-hot Puerto Ricans." "Puerto Rico is kind of like an independent film: It's beautiful, not enough people have seen it and its financing is always falling through," she joked.

    The host also called out the pay gap between men and women in Hollywood. Plaza said that there are so many brother-director duos but almost no sister duos. "You'd think this town would love to pay two women one salary," she said, followed by loud cheering from the audience.

  • Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles Performs Ode to the Year in Film

    Plaza came to the stage in between awards and brought up that LGBTQ representation in film is more important now than ever. Though there are queer movies, the host said she wanted to shine a light on some of the “gayest moments in other films that you may not have realized were gay.”

    She welcomed the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles to the stage, where they sang a cappella in front of a montage of scenes from some of last year’s films.

    “Idina Menzel in Uncut Gems,” the choir began. “J.Lo pole dancing to Fiona Apple / FKA Twigs talking about snakes / The title of the film, Diane.”

    The chorus continued, referencing the concept of a cursed bird, Renee Zellweger’s press tour, the women in Parasite and Awkwafina’s Guggenheim rejection letter. “The kid from Marriage Story probably one day,” they sang. “He’s obsessed with Halloween and loves his mother / Laura Dern kicking up her feet on the couch / Laura Dern ordered a kale salad / Laura Dern dressed slutty in court / Just all of Laura Dern.”

    They ended their performance by reciting Dern’s name over and over, with clips of her from a variety of movies, ending with, “and that’s on period.”


  • The Safdie Brothers’ Simultaneous Acceptance Speech

    Benny and Josh Safdie accepted the award for best director for Uncut Gems with a simultaneous speech where they were talking over one another with each of their own planned thank-yous.

    “I really want to thank everybody who worked on this film, we couldn’t have done it without you,” Benny said during his part of the speech. “I have to, we have to, thank, first and foremost, [Adam] Sandler,” Josh said, “for saying 'no' 10 years ago and saying 'no' again five years ago, but then saying 'yes' two and a half years ago.”

    The brothers also thanked A24 for picking up the film.

    "Last time I was on this stage, I fell twice," said Josh jokingly as he finished his speech, while Benny told Josh he loved him before the two left the stage.

    Adam Sandler also took home the best actor award for his work on Uncut Gems.

  • Female Directors Were on Everyone’s Mind

    Plaza started off the Spirit Awards by celebrating diverse nominees and female directors, asserting they're “so much cooler than the Oscars” because they “recognize female directors — all two of them.”

    When Idina Menzel and Alfre Woodard took the stage to present the prize for best supporting actress, they applauded the Spirit Awards for making history. "For the first time, all five nominees in the acting category are women of color," said Woodward.

    "Brilliant ladies, well done," she continued. "Because of your talent, especially your perseverance, young girls can look at creative, smart women up on this screen and in this hallowed tent and know they see people like them and they can strive in whatever industry they're in when they see you, the independent speakers in this community saluting these women."

    The Farewell director Lulu Wang addressed the lack of female director nominees during her acceptance speech for best independent feature film.

    "There are lots of women who are making films and want to make films and who are in film school. What women need is just the job. Just give them the freakin' job. Give them the money. ... Just give the women the jobs. Don’t make them run through that many hoops," she implored.

  • Obamas-Backed 'American Factory' Wins Best Documentary

    The first project from the Obamas' new production company, Higher Ground, and Netflix took home the Spirit Award for best documentary.

    The Oscar-nominated film explores the effects of industrial globalization on working conditions around the world, from Ohio to China. The project is in part a follow-up to The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant, which captured the last days of a once-thriving union shop.

    American Factory co-director and four-time Oscar nominee Julia Reichert accepted the award. 

    "Our film tries to ask the question: Is this the way we want the world to be? No, it's not, and we could do something about it," said Reichert, who is undergoing chemotherapy as she battles terminal cancer at age 73. "We're all citizens. We have a lot of power."

  • Aubrey Plaza Spoofs 'The Lighthouse' With Michael Shannon

    Midway through the kudocast, Plaza took a break from her hosting duties to enter the gothic, black-and-white world of Robert Eggers' The Lighthouse.

    Plaza and Michael Shannon donned sailors' suits and thick New England accents to parody the best feature nominee.

    "A host at an awards show is a thing of the past. You're a relic, a dying breed," Shannon chided Plaza. "Two years in a row — I think you've overstayed your welcome."

    The pair also gave a shout-out to nominee Shia LaBeouf, in attendance for his film Honey Boy.

    "Don't go disparaging the LaBeouf," Shannon said. "His career's a roller coaster I'd like to ride."

  • The Stage Snafu and Mark the Sandwich Guy

    Plaza announced onstage that she was going to bring Jennifer Lopez's terrible "sandwich-eating boss" from Hustlers onto the stage as the awards show's ambassador when it became apparent there was a mix-up about when they were cutting to a video clip.

    Plaza repeated the bit and joked it was the first time she had ever said it after the show aired a clip from Hustlers in which Lopez's character asks her day-job boss if she can leave early on Fridays during the school year to pick up her daughter, who has early release for the rest of the year. Her boss, Mark the sandwich guy, is hesitant at first, but then agrees.

    Mark the sandwich guy (Jon Glaser) then came onto the stage with a sandwich, mumbled into the microphone and then exited.

  • 'Parasite's' Historic Win

    Bong Joon Ho took to the stage to accept the prize for best international film, marking South Korea's first-ever Independent Spirit Award in the category. He began his speech by joking about how everyone is used to his translator by now.

    The writer-director said he had been at the Spirit Awards 10 years prior for his film Mother. "I'm so happy to receive this award today at a much cooler tent," said Bong through the translator. "I would like to thank all my castmembers, all the crewmembers and all the companies who gave full support to create this film."

    He then told a story about the first screening for Parasite in New York. It was in a very old theater and he saw a rat scurrying around the audience. “At the time, I thought it was a symbol of luck,” Bong said, laughing. “Sorry, thank you." 

  • Best Supporting Actress winner Zhao Shuzhen Skips Show Due to Coronavirus

    The Farewell writer-director Lulu Wang accepted the Spirit Award for best supporting actress on behalf of Zhao Shuzhen.

    According to Wang, Zhao was unable to attend the ceremony because of the coronavirus in China.

    "She's stuck in China because of the coronavirus, sadly, but I know that she would have really loved to be here," said Wang, adding with a laugh, "Even though she didn't read the script when I first sent it to her. Because she was like, 'What is this about? People lying? We do this all the time. What's dramatic about this?'"

    Wang based Zhao's character in the best feature-winning film on her own grandmother. It was the actress' first Spirit Award nomination and win, and for the first time, all five nominees in the category were women of color. 

    During her acceptance speech for best feature, Wang pleaded with Hollywood to give the women who want to make films a chance. “What women need is just the job," the director said. "Just give them the freaking job. Give them the money.” 

    She also thanked film studio A24 for picking up The Farewell at the Sundance Film Festival and marketing it as an American movie, showing a different side of what an American can look like, what an American family can look like and what an American leading woman can look like.