2011 Spirit Awards: The Great, the Good and the Ugly

Last year Film Independent, the parent organization of the annual Independent Spirit Awards, decided to celebrate the show’s 25th year by moving the show to a prime time Friday slot and holding it downtown (well there was a lot more that went into it including a great offer from AEG and pressure from IFC to change the time of the show but that’s the nuts and bolts of it)  Unfortunately, holding it downtown meant it still took place in a tent…on top of a parking garage at LA Live (not what many expected when they got their invites).  To make matters worse, the show’s host, the incredibly talented Eddie Izzard , had a very off night with a majority of the in person audience.  It was obvious change was needed so the Spirits made a bold move and…went back to Santa Monica.

Like last year, however, there was some confusion about this year’s event.  Many of the show’s nominees and attendees were unaware that the show was actually going to be taped and not aired live. It embarrassingly came up again and again during conversation in the cocktail hour before the show (embarrassing for the dummies in attendance, not the Spirits).  Of course, it was right there in the letter that accompanied their ticket and IFC has been promoting the show’s 10 PM airtime for over a month (so IFC’s ratings have been growing, but obviously not enough).  This discomforting realization was just one reason why this year’s Spirits were an off kilter mix of freezing temperatures (see below, pt. 1), big stars (click here), well known winners (a complete list) and a first time host who could be on to bigger and better things (see below, pt. 2).  But if anyone from Film Independent is listening out there, it’s time to make a change. 


IFC Films and the IFC network are great supporters of the indie film community.   No one will dispute their contributions, but the Spirits have enough clout and starpower as an established cultural event that they should not become second fiddle to VH1’s Critic’s Choice Awards or TNT’s SAG Awards in the mind of the American populace (you so don’t want to compare ratings between the events).  Independent film is part of the lifeblood of Hollywood and our country’s culture.  I could write 5,000 words on the influence of indie film on mainstream movies and television, but I’ll spare you the gory details.  The point is, the Spirits need a bigger cable home to help it convey its message to a diverse media audience who have more options than ever to watch independent cinema.  If the Spirits are going to be a true showcase for films to be discovered, make a move that best serves that purpose.  IFC is great and McHale was a pleasant surprise, but it’s time for a bigger budget, a bigger network and a better overall show.

End of rant.

As for today’s event, here’s a quick rundown of what I thought was great, good and not-so good about the 2011 Independent Spirit Awards.


“Black Swan” got its moment in the sun
With the Academy Awards an expected battle between “The King’s Speech,” “The Fighter” and “The Social Network,” Fox Searchlight’s little $200 million globe hit (and still counting) landed best picture, best director, best actress and best cinematography Spirits.  That’s a nice way to end the season for a director and cast who have promoted the film since September.

The enthusiasm of youth
“Tiny Furniture’s” Lena Dunham, a best first screenplay winner, and the trio who accepted “Daddy Longlegs” John Cassavettes Award were ecstatic in their wins.  You couldn’t help but be happy for them.  They have at least another 5-7 years before they really become jaded in the industry.

Joel McHale has a third career path…if he wants it
Very few doubted McHale couldn’t pull off hosting an award show like the spirits, but the “Community” star proved he could be spectacular with the right budget.  His monologue was expertly delivered and he showed charisma and spark that the broadcast of the Spirits had been sorely lacking the bast few years.  Can we suggest an Emmy gig in the near future?

Paul Rudd and Rosario Dawson should make a movie together
Won’t spoil it, but the two actors had a well timed deadpan bit that should have made any execs in the audience go, “Hmmmm.  These two have great chemistry together and might make a great pair in a movie.” (hint, hint, Mr. Rudd, make it happen)

Jennifer Lawrence
I mean, do we really have to say anything? Enjoy.


“Exit Through the Gift Shop” wins best documentary
The critically acclaimed film got the spotlight it might not find on Oscar Sunday, but where was Banksy?  At the least we were expecting our cars to be graffitted on or something…

Ben Stiller presents…
Stiller had a nice bit about his honorary chair on the Spirits committee (which we think is the Film Independent board, but I digress…) and then threw the audience for a loop by mentioning Darren Aronofsky’s name immediately before opening the envelope for best director. Aronofsky won, thankfully, but it was one of the best award show teases I can ever remember.  Not as funny as his great bit at last year’s Spirits, but we’ll take it.

James Franco win best actor
We’re incredibly happy Franco’s fantastic turn in “127 Hours” got recognized with a win, but we just wish his acceptance speech has been a tad more entertaining.  We’re officially worried Anne Hathaway may have to carry tomorrow’s Oscar show.


Anybody got a space heater?
You might have heard or seen on twitter, but it was a week bit chilly at the beach this year. The Spirits wanted to return to the beach after a detour downtown for their 25th Anniversary in 2010.  The problem was the weather didn’t necessarily cooperate with the show’s return.  It could have been worst and been cold and rained, but instead, the windy beach combined with 50ish temps and no heaters had even presenters complaining.

2012 In Memoriam Segment
Whomever thought doing a comedy bit where you put the camera on members of the audience and then suggested how they might die in the last year is an idiot.  There’s nothing wrong with being the irreverent and “out there” awards show, but that showed a complete and utter lack of taste and class (fine, we laughed at the Jesse Eisenberg being killed by Michael Cera bit, but still).

Mark Ruffalo will end award season winless
There is little chance “The Kids Are All Right” will win the best supporting actor Oscar tomorrow, so the Spirits were his last chance to bring something home this season.  No dice.

Wait, there are commercial breaks?
Considering how a majority of the Spirit audience has probably been to more awards shows than you’ve been to Disneyland (or Disney World), it was strange how unprepared the group was for the addition of commercial breaks to what traditional has been a straight through show.  McHale had to plead numerous time that the audience sit down and some presenters were trying to speak over loud crowd noise.  The show and whomever produces it needs to figure out a better way to handle it next year.

For more on this year’s Spirit Awards, check out Dan Fienberg’s live blog of the, um, taped show.

The entire HitFix crew will be back tomorrow with monitor to monitor coverage of the 83rd Academy Awards.  Aren’t you excited?