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.