Two years after his ‘Moonlight’ triumphed on the eve of the Oscars, Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of the James Baldwin novel “If Beale Street Could Talk” on Saturday topped the 34th Film Independent Spirit Awards, winning best film, best director and best supporting female for Regina King.
The Spirit Awards, always a casual, oceanside preamble to Sunday’s Academy Awards, featured a few things the Oscars don’t have: a host (actress Aubrey Plaza) and female filmmaker nominees, including Tamara Jenkins (‘Private Life’), Debra Granik (‘Leave No Trace’) and Lynne Ramsey (‘You Were Never Really Here’).
But as much as the afternoon belonged to women, Jenkins’ lyrical period drama emerged the biggest winner two years after his ‘Moonlight’ won at the Spirits and (despite a touch of trouble with the envelopes) at the Oscars. Given his fellow nominees, even Jenkins was sheepish about it.
“I’m not gonna lie, man,” said Jenkins accepting the directing award. “I didn’t want to win this.”
Jenkins used his speech to instead largely urge more movies to be made with female directors and specifically credited the Scottish filmmaker Ramsey — who encouraged a Jenkins as a film student — for inspiration. “This award has your DNA in it,” Jenkins said.
“Leave No Trace” and “You Were Never Really Here” won other awards, though. ‘You Were Never Really Here’ won for its editing. Granik was honoured with the Spirits’ second annual Bonnie Award, a grant for mid-career female directors. The audience gave her a standing ovation.
“I wasn’t expecting such a love bomb,” said a clearly moved Granik.
A day before many expect her to finally win her first Academy Award, best female lead went to Glenn Close for her performance in ‘The Wife’. Close was accompanied everywhere by her loyal white Havanese dog Pip: on the awards’ “blue carpet,” on stage with her, and backstage speaking to reporters. While Close accepted her award, Pip rolled on his back alongside her.
“I hope you don’t mind Pippy came up here with me,” said Close. “He’s my date.”
This year’s Spirits included fewer Oscar contenders than usual, which meant a chance, as Plaza said, for the Spirits to get back to their roots and honour “the movies that are too good to be seen.”
Their best-picture winner has often predicted Oscar-winners, including ‘Moonlight’, ‘Spotlight’, ‘Birdman’ and ‘12 Years a Slave’. But last year Jordan Peele’s ‘Get Out’ took the Spirits’ top honour before Guillermo del Toro’s ‘The Shape of Water’ won at the Academy Awards. This year, ‘Beale Street’is nominated for three Oscars but not best picture.
King, though, is the front-runner for best supporting actress. “If you haven’t seen it, go see it,” said King of ‘Beale Street’ before chuckling. “I’m still promoting.”
The Spirit Awards limit nominees to films with budgets of $20 million and under, eliminating bigger budget contenders like ‘Black Panther’ and ‘A Star Is Born’. They also focus on American movies, limiting Oscar nominees like ‘Roma’ and ‘The Favourite’ to the best international film category — which Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” won.
Cuaron, whose film is favoured to become the first foreign language film to win best picture on Sunday, said he believes cinema is growing more diverse, “and that will make this category irrelevant.”
Plaza led a profane, sarcastic and often very funny ceremony that was broadcast live on IFC. The show featured a show-stopping song-and-dance performance by drag queen Shangela who turned the night’s top nominees, like Paul Schrader’s anguished religious drama ‘First Reformed’, into a disco medley. “If Beale Street Could Talk, what would she say?” sang Shangela while Jenkins doubled over in laughter.
Plaza also brought in her old ‘Parks and Recreation’ co-star Jim O’Heir for a spoof on Andy King, the infamously dedicated producer featured in the Netflix Fyre Festival documentary, ‘Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened’.
Ethan Hawke won best male lead for ‘First Reformed’ an award collected for the absent actor by his co-star, Amanda Seyfried.
Marielle Heller’s ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ took awards for both Richard E. Grant’s supporting performance and best screenplay for Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Witty. Holofcener called up Heller to join them on stage.
Best first feature went to Boots Riley’s madcap political satirical ‘Sorry to Bother You’. In his acceptance speech, Riley, a longtime musician making his directorial debut, spoke out against US involvement in Venezuela. He said film is growing more socially conscious.
“There are real movements out there happening on the streets,” said Riley. “Rightly so, film is responding to that.”
Other awards included best documentary for the Oscar-snubbed Fred Rogers documentary ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’; best first screenplay went to the comedian-turned-director Bo Burnham for ‘Eighth Grade’; Luca Guadagnino’s ‘Suspiria’ won the Robert Altman ensemble award and best cinematography; and the micro-budget ‘En El Septimo Dia’ won the Spirits’ John Cassavetes Award, which honours movies made for less than $500,000.
In her opening monologue, Plaza tweaked the Oscars: “The network’s first choice was no one, but they were already booked for tomorrow.”