Every year, on the Saturday before the Oscars, the proverbial cool kids of Hollywood get together to throw a little awards show of their own. With significantly less glamour—but a lot more moxie—the Independent Spirit Awards highlight films and performances that aren’t necessarily the flashiest, or which have the biggest For Your Consideration budgets behind them. But (ideally) they’re the ones with a little more independent spark powering their success, and maybe even a bit more artistic or non-commercial merit. (It’s kind of like if Film Twitter had its very own awards show, now that we think about it, except with less screaming about Paddington 2.)
Hosted for the second year running by Aubrey Plaza (who wasted no time pointing out the difference between today’s events and the Oscars—like, say, the presence of women and people of color in the direction and acting awards), this year’s Spirit Awards got off to a tone-setting start by giving Willem Dafoe’s hilarious, scary, absolutely bugnuts performance in The Lighthouse a win for Best Supporting Male. (Robert Eggers’ existential horror/comedy also ended up winning Best Cinematography for its claustrophobic black and white shots.) Also winning early on: American Factory, for Best Documentary, giving the Obamas, who co-produced it, their first ever win at the event.
The ceremony also took its time, as usual, to highlight newer and less established participants. The annual John Cassavetes Award—for movies that cost less than $500,000 to make—went to Kirill Mikhanovsky’s Give Me Liberty, while Fredrica Bailey and Stefon Bristol took home Best First Screenplay for their Spike Lee-produced time travel movie See You Yesterday, and Olivia Wilde won Best First Feature for Booksmart. Meanwhile, Parasite brought home Best International Film, and the Safdie’s jittery, compulsive Uncut Gems won the Best Editing award.
Back in the acting categories, Zhao Shuzhen can now put “Beat J.Lo” on her resume, having won Best Supporting Female for her turn in The Farewell. In a wider category, the cast of Marriage Story took home the annual Robert Altman Award, recognizing a great ensemble in film. (Noah Baumbach shouted out his old buddy Adam Sandler while collecting the award, one of several bits of recognition “The Sandman” would get over the course of the night.)
Speaking of Sandler’s pals: Josh and Benny Safdie also won the award for Best Director, giving simultaneous acceptance speeches that, to their credit, induced something approaching the same nervous-wreck-inducing soundscape as Uncut Gems itself.
Sandler followed it up a few minutes later with his own high-energy, self-deprecating speech while accepting Best Male Lead, before ceding the stage to Renée Zellweger, who won Best Female Lead for Judy. The night finished out with Baumbach taking home a Screenplay award for Marriage Story,before a minor upset came right at the end, as The Farewell ended up scoring the coveted Best Feature award. Director Lulu Wang accepted the award with a powerful speech, in which she questioned the idea that women need “encouragement” to make a movie and follow their dreams. Rather, she laid it all out there: “You don’t have to encourage women. There are lots of women making films, and who want to make films. Shadowing is great, programs are great. But really, what women need, is just the job.”