The Independent Spirit Awards Recap

They're probably still screaming with joy like Olive over at Little Miss Sunshine Headquarters, cuz they had a good week. Oscars Schmoscars: They cleaned up at the Independent Spirit Awards the night before the Academy Awards, winning Best Feature, Best Director (for Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris), Best First Screenplay (for Michael Arndt), and Best Supporting Male (for Alan Arkin).

Was LMS the best indie film of the year? I'd have chosen Fast Food Nation, which clocks in at No. 11 on my best-of list for 2006 ... but LMS is close behind at No. 15. It's a film that's charming on its surface, subversive underneath, and even its appropriation of a plot point from National Lampoon's Vacation (which more than a few movie lovers have complained about, as if this were something unfair) seems a deliberate invocation of the past -- it doesn't make LMS less noteworthy but, paradoxically, seems to elevate that older film as LMS winks at it, as if to tweak those who say that comedy can't be serious.

The Indies recognized serious comedy in the Best Screenplay category, too (Jason Reitman took the honors for Thank You For Smoking) and in the Best Supporting Female category (Frances McDormand for Friends with Money. The just-plain-serious stuff of Half Nelson also did well, with Ryan Gosling and Shareeka Epps taking, respectively, Best Male Lead and Best Female Lead. The Indies predicted the Oscars in the Best Cinematography category (winner: Guillermo Navarro for Pan's Labyrinth) and Best Foreign Film (winner: The Lives of Others). Best Documentary, though, was my No. 2 doc for the year, the deeply unsettling The Road to Guantanamo, Michael Winterbottom's devastating critique of the United States' disregard for international law in its prosecution of the war on terror.

The Indies don't overwhelm themselves with categories: the only other winners were Sweet Land for Best First Feature (which is so indie it doesn't even have a distributor) and Quinceanera, which took the John Cassavetes Award for the best feature made for under $500,000. I would never have guessed that that elegant film was produced on that kind of cheap, which is, along with the simultaneous success of LMS at the Oscars and the Indies, another indication of the still-rising authority of independent film, and a gentle smack at the big-budget mindset of studio movies.

See the complete list of winnere at the Indies' Web site.

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MaryAnn Johanson
author of The Totally Geeky Guide to The Princess Bride
minder of FlickFilosopher.com