Should we care about an awards show whose host tells us at the beginning of the show that awards shows are dead and nobody watched the nominated films?
That was the gauntlet thrown down by Hasan Minhaj at the beginning of Saturday’s Film Independent Spirit Awards in a monologue that did not pull punches in its acerbic look at Hollywood. But voters did their best to say “not so fast, buddy” by giving a slew of awards to the film that was watched by more people than any other nominee, “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
The film has made more than $100 million at the box office and seems to be on an unstoppable roll through next weekend’s Oscar ceremony. That made it a clear leader going into an afternoon ceremony that has developed a taste for the most high-profile and most Oscar-likely nominees.
Once upon a time — say, 30 years ago or so — the Spirit Awards specialized on indie alternatives to the Oscars’ mainstream choices: “Sex, Lies and Videotape” instead of “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Pulp Fiction” instead of “Forrest Gump,” “Fargo” instead “The English Patient,” “Lost in Translation” instead of “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” …
But beginning in 2011, when “The Artist” became the first Spirit Award winner in 25 years to also win the Best Picture Oscar (the first and only other one being “Platoon” in 1986), the Spirit Awards have gone for the Oscar winner (“12 Years a Slave,” “Birdman,” “Spotlight,” “Moonlight,” “Nomadland”) or the closest thing they could find (“Silver Lining Playbook,” “Get Out,” “The Lost Daughter”).
This year, even though the nominees also included fellow Oscar contenders “Women Talking” and “Tár,” “Everything Everywhere” was clearly the movie with all the Oscar heat going into the Spirit Awards. And so when Ke Huy Quan won the show’s first award for “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and the room erupted in support of this awards season’s happiest and most beloved winner, it was clearly only a matter of time (a little more than two hours) until “Everything Everywhere” bookended the show by winning the final award, Best Feature.
In between, the film didn’t lose in any of the seven categories in which it was nominated. It won for screenplay, editing and breakthrough actress (Stephanie Hsu), and then, in the homestretch, director and lead performer. At one point, when the show’s producers chose “Everything Everywhere” costar Jamie Lee Curtis to present the Best Screenplay award, which went to her own film, it was almost as if Film Independent was conceding in advance that the afternoon would belong to that film.
It made for a Spirit Awards that was almost completely predictable — and also brisk, given that, as Minhaj pointed out in his monologue, IFC declined to pick up the contract to televise the show. That made it a live-streamed event, which meant no commercials and none of the breaks during which Spirit Awards attendees would normally mingle and work the room.
Maybe that’s the new normal as one awards show after another loses its TV deal: The SAG Awards were live-streamed this year, the Golden Globes came back to NBC for one year and is now up for grabs, and, as Minhaj noted, the Independent Film Channel declined to televise the independent film awards.
The host, his tongue at least partially in cheek, made it sound as if that were a disaster for the Spirit Awards and for independent film. And maybe, when combined with the fact that this year’s ceremony simply hopped on the “Everything Everywhere” bandwagon, the show felt less independent than it should.
On the other hand, should we argue with the Spirit Awards for agreeing with almost every other awards body, and with moviegoers, on this year’s top independent film? Probably not. Besides, if your host kicks off the show by saying that nobody has seen any of these films, it might be smart to prove him wrong with the first award, the last award and a whole lot of awards in between.