Spirit Awards Thu 11.19.2015

Ten Groundbreaking Film Independent Spirit Awards Wins

Since its beginnings in the mid-80s the Independent Film world has always been the place where daring personal stories are told and great new artists are discovered. And all the while the Film Independent Spirit Awards have been there, identifying and honoring incredible filmmakers and diverse talent before they take the industry by storm.

As we look forward to next Tuesday’s announcement of the 2016 nominees, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the great wins from Spirit Awards past.

1987: Spike Lee wins Best First Feature
Two of the things that set the Film Independent Spirit Awards apart from other award shows are the awards they give for Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay. In 1987, the Best First Feature award was instituted and it went to a little-known filmmaker from Brooklyn and his film She’s Gotta Have It. Next month Lee will release his 22nd narrative feature, Chi-Raq. 

1991: Female directors win big
The Spirit Awards have also been at the forefront when it comes to honoring women. In 1991, writer-director Jane Campion’s first feature, Sweetie, won the Best Foreign Film Spirit Award. Two years later she followed up her victory by winning an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for The Piano. The Best Director Spirit Award also went to a woman in 1991 with Martha Coolidge winning for Rambling Rose.

1994: Robert Rodriguez wins Best First Feature for El Mariachi
In the last two years Mexican directors have been coming up big at the Oscars with Alfonso Cuaron becoming the first Mexican director to win the award in 2013 and Alejandro  González Iñárritu following last year. But the Spirit Awards first honored a Mexican-American in 1994 when they gave the Best First Feature prize to Robert Rodriquez’ milestone indie hit, El Mariachi. 

1995: David O. Russell wins Best First Screenplay for Spanking the Monkey
With just two short films under his belt, David O. Russell caught Film Independent Members’ attention with Spanking the Monkey, voted Best First Screenplay in 1995. He returned to the Spirit Awards podium in 2013 with two wins for Silver Linings Playbook. We may see him take the stage again this year: his film Joy marks his third straight collaboration with Jennifer Lawrence and hits theaters next month. 

1996: Best Supporting Male goes to Benicio Del Toro for The Usual Suspects
Years before he made a name for himself and took home an Oscar for Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, Benicio Del Toro took home a Spirit Award for his hilarious and barely intelligible performance in The Usual Suspects. This year, Del Toro is in the awards conversation again with his menacing turn in Sicario.

2000: Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich wins Best First Feature
There’s a rich history of audacious work that’s merely nominated for Oscars but wins Spirit Awards. That was the case with Spike Jonze’s zany and cerebral debut, which was nominated for three Oscars in 2000. Other films that have followed this trend include Sex, Lies and Videotape, which won Steven Soderbergh the Spirit Award for Best Director in 1990 and Christopher Nolan’s Memento, which won for Best Feature and Best Screenplay in 2002.

2003: Todd Haynes wins Best Director for Far From Heaven
In 2003, Todd Haynes was nominated for his only Oscar to date for Best Original Screenplay for Far From Heaven. Haynes’ first Spirit Award nomination came all the way back in 1992 when he was a double nominee (Best Director and Best First Feature) for his debut, Poison. Since then, Haynes has racked up six more Spirit Award nominations and two wins. This year, he could add to that total with Carol.

2004: Tom McCarthy’s The Station Agent wins two Spirit Awards
His latest, Spotlight, is generating major awards buzz for its pulse-pounding look at the journalists who exposed the scandal in the Catholic church. In 2004, Film Independent Members honored McCarthy’s understated debut The Station Agent with not one, but two Spirit Awards. The film took home the John Cassavetes Award as well as the prize for Best First Screenplay.

 2011: Best First Screenplay goes to Lena Dunham for Tiny Furniture
In 2011, Girls creator Lena Dunham was a virtual unknown. But Film Independent Members saw something special in her directorial debut Tiny Furniture. Dunham charmed Members at her Spirit Awards screening Q&A and went on to win at the ceremony on the beach in Santa Monica.  

2012: Spirit Awards nominate First Transgender Actress
In 2012 the Spirit Awards nominated transgender actress Harmony Santana for Best Supporting Female for her work in Gun Hill Road. With all of the praise that’s been heaped on the ladies of this year’s indie darling Tangerine, It’s only a matter of time before an openly transgender performer wins a major prize for acting.

Which trailblazing first-timers and daring filmmakers will take home statuettes this year? Only Members vote to determine the winners (and you’ve got until December 4 to join for full voting privileges). Check back Tuesday, November 24, as we announce the nominations and mark your calendars for the 2016 Film Independent Spirit Awards, which will air on IFC February 27.

Tom Sveen / Film Independent Blogger and
Jasmine Teran / Online Community Manager