Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland” won Best Feature Film at the 36th Independent Spirit Awards in a ceremony that turned the annual beach soiree into a virtual, largely pre-recorded event and possibly an Oscar preview.
Usually held in a huge tent on the southern California coast, the spirits were sometimes a laid-back rehearsal for the Academy Awards. “Moonlight”, “Spotlight”, “Birdman” and “12 Years a Slave” all won at the Spirits before taking the best picture at the Oscars the next day, despite the top winners (“The Farewell” 2020 taking the grand prize of Spirits won)) have diverged in recent years. But many of the same competitors overlapped this year, including “Minari,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Promising Young Woman,” and “Sound of Metal”.
And “Nomadland” is on a steady march to the Oscars. The movie’s Spirit win follows others in the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, Producers Guild, and Directors Guild. Zhao also won Best Director at Spirits on Thursday, an honor she was very happy to win at the Academy Awards.
It was a fitting victory for Zhao’s humble drama about rootlessness and community in the American West. Three years earlier, on the day of the Spirit Awards, Zhao and Frances McDormand met for the first time to discuss the project.
Most of the other Oscar nominees have also received Spirit Awards. Academy Awards Favorite Yuh-Jung Youn won Best Supporting Actress for “Minari”. Paul Raci, the 72 year old veteran actor who soaked up his moment in the sun, won Best Supporting Male Actor for Sound of Metal. Emerald Fennell, the writer and director of Promising Young Woman, wrote the best screenplay.
In a twist, the best male lead went to Riz Ahmed for his appearance on “Sound of Metal” – an award usually given this year to the late Chadwick Boseman for his last appearance on “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”.
Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”) was named Best Actress in the category that might be best to win at the Academy Awards. Previous awards were split between Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”), McDormand, and Mulligan.
The spirits staged by the non-profit independent film were hosted by Melissa Villaseñor from “Saturday Night Live” and broadcast on Thursday evening at IFC. Independent Film went out of its way to virtually mimick the awards experience, including grouping the enlarged attendees by table, presenting virtual wine and bourbon bars, and hosting an after-party karaoke. Josh Welsh, President of the Film Independent, called it “the first Spirit Awards with the option of pants”.
The nominees were particularly diverse. None of the top nominees – “Nomadland”, “Minari”, “First Cow”, “Ma Rainey’s Black Butt”, “Never Seldom Sometimes Always” – were led by white men. All nominees – Zhao, Fennell, Eliza Hittman (“Never Seldom Sometimes Always”), Kelly Reichardt (“First Cow”) and Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”) – were women or people of color.
Nominations to the Spirits, the leading independent film awards, must be awarded for less than $ 22.5 million.
The Robert Altman Award, an award for the ensemble of a film, went to Regina King’s debut feature film “One Night in Miami …”, the fictional report of a meeting between Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown from the 1960s. The documentary film “Crip Camp” by the disability rights movement was awarded as the best documentary film. The best first film went to Darius Marder’s “Sound of Metal”.
The Spirit Awards were also extended to television this year. Among those winners was Michaela Coel’s “I May Destroy You” for Best New Screenplay Series and Best Ensemble in a New Screenplay Series.
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