Spirit Awards 2015: 'Birdman' Edges Out 'Boyhood' as the Best Film Victor

Acting awards go to Michael Keaton, Julianne Moore, J.K. Simmons and Patricia Arquette.

In the ongoing, seesawing awards season battle between Birdman and Boyhood, Birdman flew highest at Saturday's 30th annual Film Independent Spirit Awards as it was crowned best film. Birdman laid claim to three awards, including best actor, which went to Michael Keaton, and best cinematography, which was presented to Emmanuel Lubezki.

But, in something of a semi-split decision, Boyhood's Richard Linklater was the victor in the best directing competition, and his film also earned Patricia Arquette the best supporting actress award.

"I think all these films were an act of love and I feel so proud and so emotional to be here tonight with you," Birdman director Alejandro G. Inarritu said, as he accepted the top honors for his film about a movie actor trying to redeem himself by taking to the stage.

Julianne Moore was hailed as best actress for her performance as a woman with early-onset Alzheimer's in Still Alice. "I was lucky enough to come in at the beginning of the independent film movement, and it's really shaped my life and my career," she said. She reserved most of her thanks for the movie's directors, Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. "This film is their accomplishment," she said.

Before getting serious as he accepted his award as best actor for Birdman, Keaton observed that given how much time he and his fellow nominees have spent before the cameras this awards season, "I think we'd all be amiss if we didn't take a moment to thank Narcissus right now." And, then, after lavishing praise on Inarritu, he said of Birdman, "This is bold cinema. This is a game-changer."

Arquette was named best supporting actress for playing the resilient mom in Boyhood as the awards, held in a tent by the beach in Santa Monica, kicked off Saturday afternoon.

"I've made a lot of independent films, but I've never been invited to this party before," she said as she took the podium. She made a special point of thanking the movie's distributor IFC Films and its president Jonathan Sehring, saying, "There should be an award at this awards ceremony for distributors."

J.K. Simmons — who, like Moore and Arquette, is considered an Oscar favorite — was called to the stage later in the proceedings to accept the award for best supporting actor for his tyrannical music teacher in Whiplash. "It occurs to me that I've been ridiculously blessed in my life," he said, "particularly this year with all this lovely attention." 

While Linklater was not in attendance, when he was named best director for Boyhood, Ethan Hawke, who stars in the film, accepted on his behalf. "I've made eight movies with him and he's been my friend for 20 years, and there's no community he's prouder to be a part of than this one," Hawke testified, calling the 12-years-in-the-making movie a flare gun "for anybody who has a radical vision."

Nightcrawler, the drama about a freelance video shooter, was hailed as best first feature, and its writer-director Dan Gilroy praised the indie film community as "holdouts against the tsunami of superhero movies that have swept over this industry. We have survived and we have thrived and I think that's true spirit." Moments later Gilroy's name was called out again as he also received the award for best screenplay.

The award for best first screenplay went to Justin Simien for Dear White People, his comedy about college race relations. "Wow, I really should have written an acceptance speech. Instead, I was just staring at Oprah," he joked before explaining he was inspired to write his script because "I didn't see my story out there in the culture."

The prize for best documentary was presented to Laura Poitras' Citizenfour, her portrait of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. She turned the mic over to her collaborator, journalist Glenn Greenwald, who said the film was "about the subversion of democracy. If we don't know the most important acts that our government is doing because it's kept from us, we don't have meaningful democracy." He cited whistleblowers like Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning and "the stunningly courageous Edward Snowden [who] deserve not decades in prison but our collective gratitude."

The Polish film Ida, which also is nominated for the best foreign-language film Academy Award, was singled out as best international film. Its director Pawel Pawlikowski noted that he'd done everything to make a film no one would watch — filming in black-and-white, with an often stationary camera and a minimal script — "but miracles happen."

The John Cassavetes Award, given to a film made for under $500,000, was given to Land Ho!, written and directed by Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens.

Because the awards focus on films produced on budgets of about $20 million or less, Foxcatcher and Inherent Vice were not eligible for individual nominations, but were both recognized at the event. 

The cast of Inherent Vice, its director Paul Thomas Anderson and casting director Cassandra Kulukundis received the Robert Altman Award given to a film's director, casting director and ensemble cast. In presenting the award, Moore hailed it as "a trippy, ambitious, gorgeous, psychedelic saga."

Anderson, who had been very close to Altman, said of a clip which included his actors testifying to his work as director, "I think Robert Altman would have been as humiliated as I was by that clip." And, in a throwaway line before leaving the stage, he also warned the audience not to fly American Airlines (a premiere sponsor of the event) since they had lost his luggage.

Alexander Payne presented a Special Achievement Award to Foxcatcher, which he described as "unsettling and absorbing." The film's director Bennett Miller accepted, but before he expressed his own thanks, he first said he had a note to read from Anderson. Picking up on Anderson's American Airline remarks, he proceeded to read, "I said some bad thing. I feel bad. I was trying to exhibit my independent spirit, and I thought if I wore a flannel shirt and said a bad word, you would love me more. My apologies to American Airlines. It was actually United."

Before the beginning of the live broadcast, carried by IFC, Lubeski received the award for best cinematography for his bravura work on Birdman, filmed to appear as if the entire movie was one uninterrupted shot. And Tom Cross won the editing award for Whiplash, with its tightly-edited jazz riffs.

Fred Armisen and Kristen Bell hosted the awards, which celebrate independent films. 

Heading into the always freewheeling ceremony, Birdman, with six nominations, led the pack, followed closely by Boyhood, Nightcrawler and Selma, which had five nominations each.

By the end of the event, the awards had been fairly evenly distributed. Birdman led with three, followed by Boyhood, Nightcrawler and Whiplash with two each.

Among distributors, Sony Pictures Classics prevailed, with five wins for four of its films, led by Whiplash. Fox Searchlight had three, and Open Road Films and IFC Films had two each.

Several awards were previously announced: Chris Ohlson received the Piaget Producers Award; Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia, directors of H., received the Kiehl's Someone to Watch Award; and Dan Krauss, director of the documentary The Kill Team, received the LensCrafters Truer Than Fiction Award.