For the second consecutive year, the IndieWire Honors some of the best achievements in creative independence this awards season. Once again held at No Name in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles, the casual ceremony honored a handful of the year’s most notable actors and directors: Natalie Portman (“Vox Lux”), Alfonso Cuarón (“Roma”), Charlize Theron (“Tully”), Constance Wu (“Crazy Rich Asians”), Bill Hader (“Barry”), Amandla Stenberg (“The Hate U Give”), Ryan Coogler (“Black Panther”), and Cary Joji Fukunaga (“Maniac”).
First among them was Auteur Award winner Cary Joji Fukunaga, who most recently helmed “Maniac” for Netflix and will soon direct the next James Bond movie. The filmmaker and TV trailblazer said he felt “undeserving” to win a prize in a room full of so much talent; accept he did, however, thanking IndieWire for supporting him since he earliest stages of his career. He closed with a “Boogie Nights” reference: “I want to quote the great independent-film philosopher Dirk Diggler: ‘I’m gonna keep trying if you guys keep trying.'”
Bill Hader, celebrated for his work on “Barry,” joked that he “just had his first beer in 10 years; I fell of the wagon. Thank you, IndieWire. It’s a long, dark journey for me now. Worked really hard to stay sober for a long time, and you guys really fucked it up.” Getting more serious, the Performance Award winner expressed gratitude for being honored and asked everyone present to help save FilmStruck (“my favorite thing in the world”) by signing a recently launched petition calling on WarnerMedia to keep the streaming service up and running.
Breakthrough Award winner Amandla Stenberg was next, with her leading performance in “The Hate U Give” coming on the heels of roles in Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” and the young-adult hit “Everything, Everything.” “It’s so refreshing to be able to talk to a group of people who are interested in having a really in-depth, enriching conversation about film and don’t want to ask me about who my celebrity crush is,” the 20-year-old said. “We’re here because we’re film-lovers, and something that we recognize about film is its ability to instill empathy in people for an experience that is different from theirs. That’s what our intention was with this film, so it is a huge honor to see it recognized.”
Charlize Theron was tasked with following up that heartfelt speech, and the Maverick Award winner didn’t disappoint. The “Tully” star and producer revealed that she looked up the definition of “maverick” to prepare, learning that it dates back to a 19th-century rancher named Samuel A. Maverick, who didn’t believe in branding his cattle — “so rock on, Samuel Maverick, ’cause I’m with you on that one.”
The Oscar winner then expressed gratitude for being Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody’s “third wheel” for the second time after first working with them on “Young Adult,” joking that Cody refers to them as “sister wives.” “She writes women who are so complex and fucked up and beautiful. I tend to read them and just know them so well; I don’t know what that says about me, but I’m just grateful that she hands me the scripts and for Jason to direct me.”
“Fresh Off the Boat” and “Crazy Rich Asians” star Constance Wu received a Performance Award; she stressed the importance of onscreen representation.
After noting that her two best-known projects were the first major-studio productions to center around an Asian cast in more than two decades, Wu said that “it’s been so incredible that I’ve been a part of this and it’s meant something to people. I only hope that we can continue to make more stories, and I truly think that independent film is the place where you find the best stories. They’re the most real and the most true, and that’s why it’s just so cool to be here with the people who really support independent film.”
The last Performance Award went to Natalie Portman, whose all-out turn in Brady Corbet’s “Vox Lux” is the thespian’s latest daring choice. “Most of the time everything that happens at work, in politics, in our industry, makes me want to take my family and move to the moon,” she said, but “making ‘Vox Lux’ was the opposite of that, and gave me faith in being here and creating and working with incredible colleagues making beautiful things, so thank you for honoring that.”
Like Theron, Visionary Award winner Ryan Coogler did some googling to fully understand the honor being bestowed upon him. “I couldn’t tell if it was an adjective or a noun,” the “Fruitvale Station,” “Creed,” and “Black Panther” director revealed. “I heard it used as an Eminem song as a noun; that was the first time I’d ever heard it, so I’m like, ‘Yeah, it’s a noun for sure.’ Then I heard it used as an adjective. Now I’m super confused, and here we are,” he said to laughs. (A dictionary consultation confirms that “visionary” is both a noun and an adjective.)
Coogler added that he’d been reading IndieWire since before making his first film, making the honor “extra special.” Also making it meaningful were the night’s other award winners, including Alfonso Cuarón: “I’m gonna see if I can gain some wisdom from that cat when he gives a 30-second acceptance speech,” he said.
Last but not least was Cuarón himself, whose “Gravity” follow-up “Roma” has emerged as perhaps the most critically acclaimed film of the year. He was there to accept the Vanguard Award, but unlike Theron and Coogler chose not to do any googling in advance.
“I really thank you for this, particularly because it’s happening at a time in which there’s ideological speech about hate and separation,” he said. “You saw a film that is a Mexican film in black and white with no known stars and you embraced it for what it is, which is just human experience.” Then he gave a shoutout to the bar: “Thank you so much for that, and more importantly, thank you so much for the amazing mezcal tonight.”