Spirit Awards: 'Get Out' Wins Top Honors as Outsider Voices Take Center Stage

The top acting awards went to Frances McDormand of 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri' and Timothy Chalamet of 'Call Me by Your Name.'

The racially charged horror film Get Out triumphed as best feature at the 33rd Film Independent Spirit Awards, which were held Saturday at a tent on the beach in Santa Monica and broadcast by IFC. It proved to be the rare genre film that has not only found worldwide audiences but also serious respect on the awards circuit.

“We are in the beginning of a renaissance right now where stories from the outsiders are being honored and recognized and celebrated,” its writer-director Jordan Peele said as he accepted the award.

Moments earlier at the free-wheeling ceremony, hosted by Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, Peele was also named best director. Spike Lee presented that award to him, and Peele admitted, “Getting this award from Spike is crazy. I would not be standing here if it wasn’t for this man.” Saying that the film did not begin as a statement, but rather as an attempt to write something in his favorite genre, he concluded, “Our truths are the most powerful weapons we have against the lies of this world.”

Whether Get Out’s win is a preview of what might happen at Sunday’s Oscar ceremony is impossible to predict. One of its biggest challengers, The Shape of Water, was not among the films under consideration for Spirit Award honors.

The Spirit Award voters did spread their prizes among a number of other Oscar hopefuls, such as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Call Me by Your Name, I, Tonya and Lady Bird.

Frances McDormand collected her third Spirit Award when she was named best female lead for her performance as a mother bent on vengeance in Three Billboards. “I continue to be amazed that you let me get to the microphone. What are you, crazy?,” the uncensored actress asked, expressing her relief that she was free to swear at the Spirit Awards as opposed to other more straitlaced awards ceremonies. Citing the example of Martin McDonagh’s screenplay for the movie, McDormand said, “A well-placed 'fuck' makes a sentence sing like nothing else!”

Earlier in the afternoon, Sam Rockwell, who joked that he has appeared in 932 indie films during the course of his career, picked up another trophy as supporting actor for his dim-witted small-town cop in Three Billboards. He likened receiving a screenplay from his frequent collaborator writer-director McDonagh as “getting the best, weirdest Christmas present you’ve ever had.”

An exuberant Timothee Chalamet was hailed as best male lead for his turn as a young man experiencing first love in Call Me by Your Name. “I’m trying to really savor this moment. I don’t know if this sort of thing is ever going to happen again,” the actor confessed, but then went on to express his optimism that the new generation of filmmakers he’s met on the awards circuit will go on to do great work. “We’ve got a whole new wave, we’re going to be fine, we’re going to be good,” he announced. Call Me was also cited for best cinematography, the sun-dappled work of Sayombhu Mukdeeprom.

Best screenplay honors went to Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird, her look back at her own high school years in Sacramento, California. Said the actress turned writer-director, “I always wanted to be a writer, and I’m truly so grateful and shocked.”

Allison Janney continued her awards-season winning streak as she took the prize for best supporting female for her portrayal of Tonya Harding's fearsome mother in I, Tonya. “My train is completely sopping wet,” she exclaimed as she took the stage. I, Tonya also earned the prize for best editing for the work of its editor Tatiana S. Riegel.

Matt Spicer’s Ingrid Goes West, starring Aubrey Plaza as a social media stalker, was named best first feature. Spicer dedicated the award to Plaza, saying “casting Aubrey in this movie was the best decision I ever made as a director.”

The husband-and-wife team of Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani were recognized with the prize for best first screenplay for their autobiographical romantic comedy The Big Sick. While Nanjiani thanked their two families for their support, Gordon threw in a shout-out to Amazon “for putting us out in the world."

The Robert Altman Award, which celebrates a film’s directing, casting director and ensemble cast, was presented to the racial saga Mudbound and its director Dee Rees, its casting directors Billy Hopkins and Ashley Ingram and the movie’s cast. In an eloquent acceptance speech, Rees said, “We know that cinema lies in absorbing, electrifying performances by committed actors that make audiences feel, that make them think, that make them observe themselves and the world around them in a more expansive way.”

Spanish director Antonio Mendez Esparza’s Life and nothing more, which dramatizes the struggles of an African-American family, claimed the John Cassavetes Award, given to a low-budget film made for under $500,000.

In presenting best international film honors, Salma Hayek noted, “This award has never gone to a shithole nation, because there are no shithole nations,” to a big round of applause. The prize went to Chile’s A Fantastic Woman, Sebastian Lelio’s film about a transgender nightclub singer played by Daniela Vega. The pic is also among the nominees that will be vying for the best foreign-language film Oscar.

Celebrated 89-year-old director Agnes Varda earned a standing ovation when she and her co-director, artist JR, were announced as the best documentary winners for Faces Places. “It feels good to be in a place where independence is important,” she said.

In awards that were announced prior to the ceremony, Chloe Zhao, who helmed The Rider, received the inaugural Bonnie Award, which recognizes a mid-career female director with a $50,000 unrestricted grant sponsored by American Airlines. It was presented during the ceremony by Ava DuVernay, who hailed Zhao as “a distinctive and exciting new cinematic voice.”

Jonathan Olshefski, the helmer of Quest, received the Jeep Truer Than Fiction Award, presented to an emerging director of non-fiction features who has not received significant recognition. Gook director Justin Chon received the Kiehl’s Someone to Watch Award, which spotlights talented filmmakers of singular vision who have not yet received appropriate recognition. Summer Shelton received the Piaget Producers Award, which honors emerging producers who, despite limited resources, demonstrate the creativity, tenacity and vision required to produce quality independent films. And Matty Brown received the Seattle Story Award, given to a filmmaker who exhibits innovation, diversity and uniqueness of vision and has a history of transforming perspectives through rich stories. 

Among distributors, Sony Pictures Classics, represented by Call Me and A Fantastic Woman, and Neon, which handled I, Tonya and Ingrid Goes West, led with three trophies each. Fox Searchlight (Three Billboards) and Universal (Get Out) could both boast of two awards each.