On a sunny Saturday afternoon near the Santa Monica Pier, the 2017 Film Independent Spirit Awards got underway as hosts Nick Kroll and John Mulaney—fresh off their hit Broadway collaboration Oh, Hello!—unleashed a barrage of acerbic punchlines, mostly targeting the country’s current political turmoil and racial strife. The opening sequence poked fun at and highlighted the emotionally wrenching themes of this year’s nominees: “Who will win? Will it be: ‘Bad Dad’ [Chronic], ‘Bad Dad’ [Manchester by the Sea], ‘No Dad’ [Moonlight], ‘No Dads’ [American Honey] or ‘Dead Dad’ [Jackie]?”
Taking home six Spirit Awards including Best Feature, Best Cinematography and Best Director, Moonlight now holds the record for the most Spirit Award wins in the past decade. Before presenting the Robert Altman Award to its ensemble cast, actress Kerry Washington lauded the film about a black man struggling with his sexuality in a Miami housing projects thusly: “Robert Altman once said, ‘I never knew what I wanted, except that it was something I hadn’t seen before.’ Here’s a look at a film that none of us has ever seen before. Now that it’s here, we know that we needed it, and in witnessing it, we are forever transformed.”
Accepting the Best Screenplay award with writer/director Barry Jenkins, Moonlight co-writer Tarell Alvin McCraney recalled, “many actors pushed that script away from them, saying that it might affect their career in the long run.” This made him especially grateful for the actors who mustered up the courage to participate in the film. “They found the truth in the story that we were telling. And they told it, and they told it well.”
While Moonlight may have dominated the afternoon with its six trophies, it was Best Female Lead Isabella Huppert, a winner for her role in Elle, who encapsulated the fervently defiant passion of independent filmmaking the best: “I think independence makes art win.”
The Best Supporting Male statue went to actor Ben Foster for his role as emotionally volatile ex-con in Hell Or High Water. Before thanking fiancée Laura Prepon for “reminding me of the things that are truly important.” He also extolled the importance of independent artistic expression. “This is a room full of beautiful architects and poets. This room is filled with people who say, ‘I feel.’”
One of the night’s most hilarious segments came when the hosts decided that, since 2016 had infamously seen the loss of far too many cultural icons to name, that it would instead be more efficient to simply highlight those who were lucky enough to still be alive. The “Not In Memoriam” montage displayed pictures of actors who are still with us, including Matt Damon (“Mattie D-Bones”) and Viggo Mortensen (“Alive and kickin’”), as Andy Samberg growled through a cover of Pearl Jam’s “Alive” doing his very worst Eddie Vedder impersonation.
Fellow SNL alum Molly Shannon nabbed Best Supporting Female for her role as a cancer-stricken mother in Chris Kelly’s Other People. Before wrapping up her exuberant and passionate speech with her trademark “Superstar” pose, she thanked director Chris Kelly for telling the kinds of stories that are “full of messy crazy maddening relatable real life moments that magnify the human comedy and tragedy that binds us as a kind of family together. And we need that now more than ever.”
David Oyelowo and Kate Beckinsale had the honor of awarding the Best Male Lead trophy to first-timer Casey Affleck for his turn as a grief-stricken father in Manchester by the Sea. After being the butt of several jokes throughout the ceremony (“a man who is living in the shadow of his older brother—what a reach!”) Affleck jokingly admitted that he didn’t appreciate that. “I don’t like what those guys said about me,” he chuckled about the hosts. “I’m in Ben’s shadow and I’m sad and morose. I’m not sad and morose…that was a joke! It was really funny when I thought of it two hours ago,” he quipped.
Two-time Spirit award winner (and multiple Spirit Awards host) Samuel L. Jackson presented the most coveted trophy of the evening—Best Feature—to the producers of Moonlight, based on a play penned by co-writer McCraney entitled In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. In her acceptance speech, producer Adele Romanski promised to deliver more thought-provoking films that tell the stories that need to be heard. “I am inspired to keep going. The films that have been lauded in this last year really speak to this appetite and this need for stories that are bold and defy easy categorization, and I think that’s what people are telling us that’s what they want to see. We hear you and we’ll keep answering that call.”
(header: Presenter John Hamm and Best Director winner Barry Jenkins)