Approximately 24 hours after the Independent Spirit Awards stop broadcasting live from the beach in Santa Monica, perhaps a billion people around the world will be tuning into the also-live broadcast of the Academy Awards. And if you were watching the Spirit Awards live on IFC, there was no escaping this fact, as approximately every 15 minutes a commercial for the Oscars would air — almost identical each time.
As many have mentioned, the line of distinction between the Independent Spirit Awards and the Oscars is a bit rough; there’s no denying that there will be a lot of duplications between tonight’s winners and tomorrow’s. (If you haven’t filled out your Oscar ballot yet, then know that the smart money is on a similar bracket, especially for the acting awards.)
But actually watching the awards show… Well, sure, it was an awards show. The hosts parodied the content, there were clever presenting bits and less clever presenting bits (though, thanks to a slightly freer attitude, the clever ones outweighed the less clever ones) and people accepted trophies for their work. Because it was the Independent Spirit Awards, the occasional F-bomb was unleashed — most memorably, Paul T. Anderson cursed out American Airlines, a sponsor of the show, for the loss of luggage. But those searching for massive distinction from others of the awards show genre will be disappointed.
Yet, maybe not. The Independent Spirit Awards actually seem, in all the Hollywood madness, to highlight independent film and its achievements on a larger platform than usual. How we define indies is in flux these days, but any opportunity to celebrate them is not one to pass up.
Julianne Moore is an interesting point to consider. She’s very likely to win for “Still Alice” tomorrow, but her speech during the Oscars, after quickly mentioning co-star Alec Baldwin and directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, will likely be a quasi-acknowledgement that this is a long-overdue honor. Her acceptance speech for the Spirit Award, however, was all about the actual film she was winning for, which cost $4 million, was shot in 23 days and gave her the opportunity to cultivate a searing performance.
Plus, the Spirit Awards served as a celebration of things that seemed right just on the edge of succeeding, like Dan Gilroy’s “Nightcrawler” — a film just too small, it appears, to slip into the Oscars beyond Best Original Screenplay, yet a film that deserved some recognition.
And that’s the crux of it: The thing about the Spirit Awards which highlights the whole damn point of awards shows is that it’s not just celebration, but discovery. It’s an opportunity for under-appreciated or unknown works of art to become known on a wider scale. That’s the purest form of the motivation for awards season, an increasingly important one in a world with 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, 10 new films released every week and over 300 new TV shows airing every year. There is too much to watch, not enough time and we look to whatever we can for guidance in that quest to find that one thing that could change our lives.
A personal note: I’ve only been serving as Indiewire’s TV Editor for less than a year, and while I’ve always been a conscious consumer of content produced outside of the studio system, over the past nine months my knowledgable co-workers have broadened my horizons exponentially when it comes to the incredible depth of film currently being made via unconventional means (and I’ve been grateful for it). Because any opportunity to discover something great or good is valuable.
And that’s something the Spirit Awards understands. As much as I might have learned recently, watching the show today still had me reaching for Google to discover projects I hadn’t heard about (I mean, this movie “H.” sounds rad as hell).
The Independent Spirit Awards becoming a live show — and in general, the growing number of niche awards shows finding their way to television — speaks to that. But of those shows, what makes the Independent Spirit Awards special is the many categories devoted to surfacing films that might need greater recognition.
In the long run, the difference between, say, the Robert Altman award and the “special distinction” award isn’t huge. The impact of any of these awards might be minimal. But, whether or not you agree that one performance or one editing job or one director was better than the others, what matters is giving creative works of value more opportunity to get noticed.
If that’s not the ultimate point of this whole damn circus, then what the hell is?