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The Box-Office Spirits: Indie Winners Tied To Ticket Sales (Again)

The Box-Office Spirits: Indie Winners Tied To Ticket Sales (Again)

While I’ve said it before, it’s worth stating again in the wake of “Juno’s” Spirit Awards sweep over the weekend, Film Independent’s prizes perennially go to the films with the most ticket sales. As Film Independent’s Dawn Hudson admitted to me in 2005, with some regret, “Films with the highest box office often win.” Because the winners are determined by the organization’s vast (and let-me-be-elitist-here) all-you-need-to-do-is-pay-up membership, the major awards are basically a popularity contest.

While “Juno’s” best pic win was all but certain, look at a category like Best First Feature, which went to Scott Frank’s “The Lookout.” Not exactly representative of the best first films of the year, “The Lookout” nevertheless beat out the four other nominees, which all had lesser grosses: “Rocket Science,” “2 Days in Paris,” “Vanaja,” and “Great World of Sound.”

And while the other big Spirit winners — “The Savages” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” — earned $5-6 million (a pittance when compared with “Juno”), if you look at the competition in their category triumphs, you’d see they were the most commercially successful. Oft-nominated rivals including “Starting Out in the Evening,” “Lust, Caution,” “I’m Not There” and “Talk to Her” all failed to match their box-office numbers.

And in the most egregiously unfair match-up, the best foreign film winner “Once” — an ENGLISH-language crowdpleaser — beat out a number of foreign-lingo films that haven’t grossed nearly as much (including “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” “Persepolis,” “The Band’s Visit,” and “Lady Chatterley”).

Let’s face it: the process awards sales as much as craft. You’d think our indie awards would know better.

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Agnes Varnum

How many Joe Schmoes join Film Independent just so they can vote for the Spirit Awards? My guess is not that many. And Juno took home an Academy Award last night in addition to the nomination for Ellen Page, so while I agree it’s not a movie I would be falling over myself to award, I’m not sure it’s fair to slam the Spirits for recognizing it. And on a side note, the only screeners I got this year for voting purposes were for August Evening, Rocket Science and Vanaja. The streaming partnership for voters was a complete failure. If they wanted to be sure that people outside NYC and LA, where you can go to screenings, see the films, they have to be made available. Otherwise, Juno was in theaters and readily available for those of us who shouldn’t be able to vote just because we paid for membership to the organization.


While I normally agree with everything you say, I’m going to have to disagree here. Out of the 13 vote-able categories at the Spirits, 7 went to the highest grosser and 6 went to someone else. And two of those that went to the highest grosser (First Feature and Documentary) were only the highest grossers by a very slim margin. So it’s not quite as black and white as you make it out to be. Although I definitely agree that when there is a juggernaut like Little Miss Sunshine or Juno, it does, unfairly, suck all the air out of the room.

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