Inside the Independent Spirit Awards: '12 Years a Slave' Tops Lively, Emotional Event

AP Images/Invision

Cate Blanchett won for best actress, and Matthew McConaughey for best actor at the awards show in Santa Monica on Saturday.

The Independent Spirit Awards, taking place in a tent on the Santa Monica beach on Saturday, was a mix of lively fun, humor and some very emotional acceptance speeches.

The big winner of the night was 12 Years a Slave, which won the top award of best feature. Also, Lupita Nyong'o won for best supporting female and John Ridley won for best screenplay.

STORY: Independent Spirit Awards: Patton Oswalt's Best Jokes

On the day before the Oscars, many of Hollywood's biggest stars dodged the light rain, walked the blue carpet and gathered in the giant tent overlooking the ocean in Santa Monica. Among the many in attendance were Brad Pitt (who produced 12 Years a Slave) with Angelina Jolie and a slew of presenters including Kristen Bell, Andy Samberg, Anna Kendrick, John Hamm, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeremy Renner and Elisabeth Moss.

Many stars seemed to let loose at the event (hosted by Patton Oswalt), which had a more relaxed feel to it than what can be expected from Sunday's awards show. Shailene Woodley danced along during a performance of "Lean on Me," Julie Delpy ditched her heels once inside the show and Pitt shared a friendly "congratulations" with Cate Blanchett after her win.

Blanchett, who won for best female lead, started her acceptance speech with a question: "Why were there only five female nominations, and six male nominations?"

The actress then moved on to praise her director Woody Allen for making films, independently, and, on top of that, making one per year. "It was an amazing opportunity," she said of working on Blue Jasmine.

Matthew McConaughey won for best actor for Dallas Buyers Club. He spoke about the strong year in independent film, which also included his film Mud, which was honored with a special award earlier in the night.

"A good independent film is more than an experiment," he said, saying that the best films were also important and entertaining.

McConaughey's co-star Jared Leto, who won the best supporting male prize, gave one of the most unique acceptance speeches of the night.

STORY: Independent Spirit Awards Pay Tribute to James Gandolfini, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Roger Ebert

"In case this is the last time I get to thank anyone, I wrote down a couple names," the actor said, before sharing a long list of people he wanted to thank including Wayne Gretzky, the inventor of the zipper and "the makers of vegan butter."

One of the most emotional speeches of the night came from Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler, who won the best first feature award. He spoke about Jonathan Ferrell, another young African-American man who was recently shot and killed by police, even though he was unarmed and looking for help after crashing his car.

"I can't help but think if Jonathan Ferrell looked like Matthew McConaughey he would have been alive today," said Coogler, who was given a standing ovation after his speech. 

Ridley, the writer of 12 Years a Slave, was also visibly moved when he was giving his speech. "As much as I thought the memoir in Solomon's words was special I had no idea what I was a part of until I saw the film in Toronto," he said.

Fellow 12 Years a Slave winner Nyong'o, who received a standing ovation when she won, opened her acceptance speech with "Not a bad way to celebrate my birthday."

The actress, who made her feature film debut with the role, credited her co-stars for making her do her best work: "You dared me, you scared me and you prepared me." She dedicated the award to her mother, who was at the show with her.