SANTA MONICA, California — Sunday might be dominated by “La La Land,” but Saturday belonged to “Moonlight.”
Barry Jenkins’ luminous coming-of-age tale swept Saturday’s Film Independent Spirit Awards, taking home six awards including best feature. “Moonlight” won every award it was nominated for at the 32nd annual indie awards, the dressed-down, beachside ceremony held the day before the Academy Awards.
“Moonlight” won for its directing, screenplay, cinematography and editing. It was also honored for its ensemble cast in the Spirit Awards’ Robert Altman Award. Backstage, Jenkins said its tale of a poor, young, black kid in Miami stood in stark contrast to President Donald Trump’s administration.
“I think ‘Moonlight’ exists as a beacon of inclusivity,” said Jenkins, flanked by his African-American cast and producers.
The afternoon ceremony frequently had a strong political tenor. Casey Affleck, who won best actor for “Manchester by the Sea,” wore a shirt with the word “love” in Arabic.
“The policies of this administration are abhorrent and will not last,” said Affleck, accepting his award. Backstage, he spoke about “the torrent of terrifying news that comes out of Washington every day”
Some Oscar contenders were missing their presumed rivals at the Spirit Awards, which only nominated films made for USD $20 million or less (and thus disqualifying the Academy Awards favorite “La La Land”). But if “Moonlight,” nominated for eight Oscars including best picture, is to pull off the upset Sunday, it has some history on its side. The last three Spirit Awards best-feature winners – “Spotlight,” ”Birdman,” ”12 Years a Slave” – all went on to win best picture at the Oscars.
Host Nick Kroll and John Mulaney maintained a rigorously irreverent tone through a ceremony often punctuated by belly laughs. In their opening monologue, Kroll mockingly defended the common charge of “liberal elitism” often thrown at Hollywood events like the Spirits.
“We’re not in a bubble. We’re in a tent,” said Kroll, referring to the Spirits’ Santa Monica, Calif., home. “We’re fringe artists on a California beach. If we leaned any further to the left, we’d topple into the ocean.”
Instead of a lengthy in memoriam reel, they opted instead for a highlight of those who didn’t die, singling out Milos Foreman and Tim Allen while Andy Samberg, doing his best Eddie Vedder, sang Pearl Jam’s “Alive.”
Best actress went to Isabelle Huppert, the French actress of “Elle,” who bested Natalie Portman and Annette Bening. Just as Affleck wasn’t up against Oscar favorite Denzel Washington in best actor, the best actress category was missing Emma Stone of “La La Land.”
Molly Shannon, the former “Saturday Night Live” cast member, supplied one of the afternoon’s highpoints. She was visibly overjoyed by winning best supporting actress for her performance in “Other People.” She concluded her speech by exclaiming, “I really truly feel like a … SUPERSTAR!” – aping her old “SNL” character.
Other awards also went to films far outside the Oscar candidates. Robert Eggers’ well-researched “The Witch,” set in 17th century Massachusetts, won for both best first feature and best first screenplay. He thanked the Puritans for “writing down so much stuff.”
Ezra Edelman’s “O.J.: Made in America” took best documentary. Best foreign language film went to Maren Ade’s “Toni Erdmann.”
The Cassavettes Award, which honors the best feature made for less than USD $500,000 went to Andrew Ahn’s Korean gay-immigrant drama “Spa Night.” Taking the stage Ahn first remarked, “I’m going to barf,” but quickly collected himself, speaking tenderly about his parents’ acceptance of their gay son and the need for acceptance of immigrants, gays and other communities.
“We are part of this great country,” said Ahn. “And we are undeniable.”
Story: Jake Coyle