Saturday’s Independent Spirit Awards opened with host John Waters telling a shaggy-dog story about how he inadvertently undermined the Motion Picture Association of America’s anti-piracy efforts by letting his year-end ”screener” video of the indie ”Pieces of April” get loose. At the end of his tale, MPAA chief Jack Valenti himself emerged from the wings to handcuff the ”Hairspray” director and, presumably, haul him off to movie jail. It was a funny take on this year’s screener controversy, which many observers feared would result in independent movies getting ignored at Oscar time. But the irony is that most of the indie-bred winners at the Spirit Awards did get recognized as Oscar nominees, and some are likely to repeat their Spirit wins at the Kodak Theatre podium on Sunday night.
The big winner was ”Lost in Translation,” whose four awards included Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay (all for writer-director-producer Sofia Coppola) and Best Actor (Bill Murray). The movie is up for the same four trophies at the Academy Awards. Best Actress winner Charlize Theron (”Monster”) is the front-runner to win in that field at the Oscars. (”Monster” writer-director Patty Jenkins also took home a Spirit trophy for Best First Film.) Supporting Acting winners Djimon Hounsou (”In America,” which also picked up the Best Cinematography award) and Shohreh Aghdashloo (”House of Sand and Fog”) both have shots at Oscars as well, as does Best Documentary winner ”The Fog of War.”
Also at the Spirit Awards (given out, as always, the day before the Oscars, at a casual-dress ceremony held in a tent on the beach in Santa Monica), ”The Station Agent” took three prizes – Best First Screenplay (Tom McCarthy), the John Cassavetes Award (for the best film budgeted at under $500,000), and a Producers Award (Mary Jane Skalski). ”Whale Rider” took Best Foreign Film, though its star, 13-year-old Oscar nominee Keisha Castle-Hughes, did not win the Best Debut Performance prize; that went to her contemporary, ”Thirteen” star and co-screenwriter Nikki Reed.