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What ‘Nomadland,’ ‘Sound of Metal,’ and ‘Promising Young Woman’ Indie Spirit Wins Mean at the Oscars

While consolidating expected Oscars for "Nomadland," the Spirits leave the Oscar races for Actress and Actor wide open.

Chloe Zhao at the Independent Spirit Awards


It wasn’t the billowy tent on the Santa Monica beach — for many one of the high points of the year, when the film community takes a breath near the end of awards season — but the indie film community nonetheless socialized, virtually, before the Indie Spirit Awards, browsing through various wine, Cinephile trivia, and the Bulleit Frontier Whiskey bar room on their way to the main event hosted by white-suited Melissa Villasenor, whose best bit on the IFC show was impersonating Owen Wilson opposite Frances McDormand in the “Nomadland” Home Depot. This year’s “arthouse awards show” was mounted at “a place familiar to independent film fans,” VIllasenor said, “a completely empty theater.”

As expected, Searchlight’s American road movie “Nomadland” swept the awards on the way to more major Oscar wins Sunday, winning four including Best Feature, Director, Cinematography, and Editing. Zhao dedicated her Spirit award to the independent film community. “We wouldn’t be here without you,” she said. “we are part of a big family.”

“Nomadland” star Frances McDormand lost Best Lead Female to an ebullient Carey Mulligan for “Promising Young Woman,” one of two wins, including Best Screenplay for Emerald Fennell, who is expected to win Original Screenplay at the Oscars.

In the fiercely contested Best Actress Oscar race, Critics Choice winner Mulligan is closing in on SAG-winner Viola Davis, BAFTA-winner Frances McDormand, and Globe-winner Andra Day (“The United States vs. Billie Holiday”). Now Mulligan has two big wins. Mulligan thanked Fennell’s “genius writing and directing” and dedicated her award to “the independent spirit” of the late actress Helen McCrory.

The Best Actor Oscar race is also a tight one. Oscar frontrunner for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” the late Chadwick Boseman, lost the Spirit for Best Male Lead to Riz Ahmed for “Sound of Metal,” which also took Best First Feature, while his 30-year day-player costar Paul Raci won Supporting Actor, advising his fellow actors: “Don’t quit your day job. “I never did,” he said.  Ahmed thanked writer-director Darius Marder for “taking me on this wild ride.”

Sound of Metal Riz Ahmed Darius Marder Toolkit Podcast

“Sound of Metal” director Darius Marder on set with Riz Ahmed


“I wish we could all be together rather than me talking to the phone,” said Marder. “But this is the deal.” He thanked his “brave” producers for meeting the “unbelievable demands I was making. Nobody in Hollywood would back this. Derek Cianfrance’s heart is slathered all over this film.”

In the Best Actor Oscar race, Anthony Hopkins, Spirits-ineligible for “The Father,” is also a factor. He and Ahmed could split the British vote and leave Boseman the winner.

Also expected to win again on Sunday is SAG, BAFTA, and Spirit-winner Youn Yuh-jung for “Minari,” who gave another one of her charming acceptance speeches. “She’s the funniest grandma not played by Tyler Perry,” said Villasenor.

Also in the Oscar race is Documentary winner “Crip Camp,” which did not have to compete against “My Octopus Teacher.” “The film celebrates the independent spirit of the incredible disability rights activists,” said Nicole Newnham, who co-directed with Jim LeBrecht.

The International Film award went to Oscar-nominated Bosnian war film “Quo Vadis, Aida?,” which is challenging Oscar frontrunner “Another Round.”

Check out the full list 2021 Spirit Awards winners below:

Best Feature

Best Director
Chloe Zhao, “Nomadland”

Best First Feature
“Sound of Metal”

Best Female Lead
Carey Mulligan, “Promising Young Woman”

Best Male Lead
Riz Ahmed, “The Sound of Metal”

Best Supporting Female
Yuh-jung Youn, “Minari”

Best Supporting Male
Paul Raci, “Sound of Metal”

Best Screenplay
“Promising Young Woman”

Best First Screenplay
Andy Siara, “Palm Springs”

Best Cinematography
Joshua James Richards, “Nomadland”

Best Editing
Chloe Zhao, “Nomadland”

Robert Altman Award
“One Night in Miami”

Best Documentary
“Crip Camp”

Best International Film
“Quo Vadis, Aida?”

John Cassavetes Award

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