“The Artist” — that silent film that everyone in Hollywood keeps talking about and every awards show continues to shower with accolades — won four key honors at Saturday’s Independent Spirit Awards, including best picture. Other Oscar contenders — including Michelle Williams and Christopher Plummer — also collected trophies during the sunny-afternoon ceremony, raising a question that often comes up on Spirit Awards Saturday: How is this show different from the Oscars, exactly?
As anyone who has attended or watched the Spirits telecast on IFC knows, the Spirits deviates from the Academy Awards in ways both important and trivial. On the important end, the Spirit event recognizes some truly under-the-radar, on-the-fringes work by up-and-coming filmmakers; as for the trivial, the dress code is infinitely more casual and the ceremony is held under a tent on the beach in Santa Monica with far less pomp, circumstance and E! coverage than the Oscars.
But when it comes to the major categories, the winners at the Spirits are usually mentioned again the following night when the Academy Award nominees’ names are read. That trend continued again this year:
Jean Dujardin was named best lead actor for “The Artist,” while Michel Hazanavicius — or, as presenter Jonah Hill called him, Michel Haza-the-guy-who-directed-”The-Artist” — was deemed best director, racing on stage to accept his honor mere minutes after making it to the the ceremony.
“We arrived five minutes ago. We came from the airport with a police escort,” he explained, noting that he and other “Artist” cast and crew had just come from France, where the film collected six Cesar Awards.
Williams, who was nominated for best lead actress for “My Week With Marilyn” alongside women in lower-profile films — including Adepero Oduye from “Pariah” and Elizabeth Olsen from “Martha Marcy May Marlene” — triumphed for her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe. Unintentionally underscoring the lack of underdog victors in some of the key Spirit categories, Williams noted that she used to come to the low-key event wearing her own clothes but always felt welcomed regardless.
She added that she still feels welcome, even though “the only thing I’m wearing that I own is my dignity.”
Plummer — presumed front-runner as the Oscars’ Best Supporting Actor — scooped up that prize at the Spirits, too, for playing a father who embraces his homosexuality while facing a terminal illness in “Beginners.” Shailene Woodley — who didn’t make the Oscar cut in the Best Supporting Actress category — managed to earn a Spirit Award without an Academy endorsement for playing George Clooney’s smart and smart-alecky daughter in “The Descendants.”
The vibe during the Spirits ceremony was somewhat muted when the wins for “The Artist” were announced, perhaps reflecting a tinge of George-and-Uggie fatigue as it becomes clear that the silent film’s Oscar wins are essentially packaged and ready for shipment. Applause was noticeably louder when Oscar outliers like “Martha Marcy May Marlene” and “Take Shelter” were mentioned.
Even Spirit Awards host Seth Rogen took the film down a few notches during his monologue, which opened the show.
“The Artist” is [bleeping] winning every single award on Earth, huh?” he cracked. “How is that happening? Seriously — it’s kind of bull[bleep], to be totally honest. I thought we created the whole foreign-film category to stop this [bleep] from happening. . . . Did we learn nothing from Roberto Benigni?”
Winners in some of the other categories included “The Descendants” for best screenplay; the financial meltdown movie “Margin Call” as best first feature film; the Iranian drama “A Separation” — another Oscar nominee — as best international film; “The Interrupters,” Steve James’s portrait of three people attempting to curb violence in Chicago, for best documentary; and Will Reiser’s “50/50” as best first screenplay.
What should have been an exciting moment for Reiser was marred very briefly when, at the ceremony's end, it appeared he had lost his Spirit Award. After a brief search, it became clear that “50/50" producer Evan Goldberg and others at their table had intentionally hidden it from the award-winning screenwriter as a joke. (Hide the trophy from the cancer survivor — nice move, guys.)
As for his celebration plans, Reiser — who is halfway through his next screenplay, which he said will also feature a part for “50/50” star and friend Rogen — wasn’t planning to hit any splashy parties on Saturday night.
“I think I'm just going to go home and write,” he said.