Indie Spirit Awards Smell a Lot Like Oscar This Year

It's hard to stay “alternative” when most of your nominees will hit the beach on Saturday — then the Kodak on Sunday

Saturday brings us the Film Independent Spirit Awards, the adventurous, low-budget alternative to the Oscars. And the nominees are …

The same movies that are nominated for Oscars.

Winter's Bone"Black Swan," "The Kids Are All Right," "Winter's Bone" (left), "127 Hours" and "The King's Speech," all Oscar Best Picture nominees, are also in the running for the 26th Indie Spirit Awards – the first four in the Best Feature category and the last in the Best Foreign Film category.

The Best Female Lead category, meanwhile, contains six nominees, including the entire Oscar Best Actress slate: Annette Bening, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lawrence, Natalie Portman and Michelle Williams.

And throughout the list of Spirit nominees, you'll find folks who'll be on the beach on Saturday and at the Kodak on Sunday: James Franco, John Hawkes, Mark Ruffalo, "Exit Through the Gift Shop," "Restrepo," Darren Aronofsky, Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg, Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini, Matthew Libatique …

All of which leads to a question that has been surfacing for years, as the Oscars have been embracing smaller, independent films: Are the Spirit Awards really an alternative honor if they're nominating the same people as the show to which they're an alternative?

Absolutely, said Dawn Harris, the executive director of Film Independent (FIND), the organization that puts on the show, which this year returns to the beach at Santa Monica after a 2010 25th anniversary show in downtown Los Angeles. (IFC will televise the Joel McHale-hosted ceremony at 10 p.m. Eastern/Pacific.)

"Our territory is the entire territory of independent film," Hudson told TheWrap. "That's specific to the Spirit Awards, whether those artists are being embraced by other awards shows and by mainstream audiences, or whether they're the ones that mainstream audiences haven't heard of yet."

Hudson rejoices in the fact that the Oscars and other shows are recognizing that the best films are coming from the ranks of independent filmmakers, and that Spirit Awards mainstays like Lisa Cholodenko ("The Kids Are All Right") and Darren Aronofsky ("Black Swan") are now Oscar nominees as well.

In addition, she said, 70 percent of Spirit Awards nominees "are not nominated by any other awards show." Examples this year include the Best Feature nominee "Greenberg," along with the likes of "Daddy Longlegs," "The Exploding Girl," "Tiny Furniture," "Jack Goes Boating," "Get Low" and "Cyrus," all of them passed over by the Oscars.

In many categories, overlap between the Spirit Awards and the Oscars is minimal: one director (Aronofsky), one actor (Franco), no supporting actresses.

"The Spirit Awards are really about a community whose art informs popular culture," said Hudson. "And I think it's great that all these independent films are getting so much attention and being embraced by the mainstream and by the Oscars.

"But just because 'The Kids Are All Right' is nominated for an Academy Award doesn't mean that Lisa Cholodenko isn't quintessentially a filmmaker with a unique vision and point of view that make her an independent spirit. It's the same thing with Christopher Nolan, whether he's making 'Following' or 'Memento' or 'Inception.' Just because they gave him more money to work with doesn’t mean that his independent spirit has diminished."

("Inception," of course, is not a Spirit Awards nominee, because the field is limited to films made for less than $20 million.)

Spirit Awards tentSpirit Awards winners will be chosen by several thousand members of Film Independent, which is made up of filmmakers, industry staffers and film fans who pay the yearly fee. Typically, more high-profile films dominate the final voting, possibly because they've been more widely seen than smaller productions, which can't always afford to send out thousands of screeners to the FIND membership. 

The film with the most Spirit nominations this year is "Winter's Bone," which is competing in seven categories and goes into the ceremony as something of a favorite in many of those categories.

Film Independent moved both the Spirit Awards and its Los Angeles Film Festival to the L.A. Live campus in downtown Los Angeles last year. While the festival drew mostly raves for its new home, reaction was more mixed to the late-night version of an awards show that had established a firm identity as the show that takes place on the beach the afternoon before the Oscars.

"I liked being downtown at night, and I liked having Saturday off," said Hudson. "But I did miss the real casualness of the beach, which seems like something that you can't manufacture in any other location.

"There's something about that setting that seems essential to the Spirit Awards."