The Independent Spirit Awards

Carmen Gray covers the anti-Oscars out in LA

ISA 2013 pic

With her column Judgment Daze, Dazed film editor and regular international film festival panellist Carmen Gray will report on new indie films from the jurists’ table.

"Oscars, fuck yourself," was one of the opening lines from host Andy Samberg at this year's Independent Spirit Awards. Honouring fringe filmmaking a day ahead of the Academy Awards, the 28th edition was held in a large tent on LA's palm-lined Santa Monica Beach, and Dazed was a guest. In keeping with its low-fi ethos the event shunned black tie in favour of a dress code of "LA chic", which worked for indie godfather John Waters, resplendent in a tomato-red Paul Smith suit in front of the stage.

First-time screenplay winner Derek Connolly was led off-stage by Django Unchained actress and presenter Kerry Washington after a drunken acceptance speech and a short time later was escorted out of the event by security

Booze flowed freely, with the giant-sized bottles of champers, and whiskey from sponsor Jameson, at each table seemingly too much for one of the first winners Derek Connolly. He had to be led off-stage by Django Unchained actress and presenter Kerry Washington when he wouldn't wind up his rambling, spacey acceptance speech for Best First Screenplay, and a short time later was escorted out of the event by security. But a dose of the next-day regrets shouldn't dull his deserved win for laid-back and smartly funny Safety Not Guaranteed, which turns on a classifieds wanted ad for a time travel partner and stars Aubrey Plaza as a morose magazine intern. 

The next trophy hand-outs were smoother. While Samberg ribbed mainstream fare through the ceremony, teasing the more blockbuster-leaning stars in attendance such as Bruce Willis (there for Moonrise Kingdom) and hating on Hathaway, there was a degree of Oscar cross-over. Director David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook cleaned up four awards, including Best Picture (which Beasts of the Southern Wild had been expected to take home) and its star Jennifer Lawrence took Best Female Lead ahead of her Academy triumph. Michael Haneke also shadowed his Oscar win the following night, striding on-stage in trademark black polo-neck to declare himself oldest man in the room and accept the Best International Film prize for Amour.  

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But more truly left-field successes also won deserved accolades. Laura Dern presented the Robert Altman Award to the director (Sean Baker), casting director (Julia Kim) and the partly non-professional ensemble cast of beautifully human and understated Starlet, a loosely episodic LA-set drama that for me was the stand-out indie of last year. Fresh young talent Dree Hemingway mixes gauche cockiness with brittle sweetness in playing a 21-year-old porn actress, who lives a life of desultory boredom with her self-absorbed flatmates (Stella Maeve and James Ransone), until a chance windfall leads to her striking up an unlikely relationship with a spiky elderly widow (Besedka Johnson).

Middle of Nowhere – for which Ava DuVernay also won Best Director at Sundance - was also recognised, winning the John Cassavetes Award for the best feature made for under half a million dollars. About an isolated young nurse and single mother (Emayatzy Corinealdi) who dedicates herself to her husband while he serves time, it’s an affecting and self-assured slow-burner that’s elegantly shot and refuses complacent stereotypes.

The Someone to Watch award - for a talented filmmaker with a singular vision who's not yet received appropriate recognition - went to director Adam Leon, whose Gimme the Loot (set for a May UK release) about two hustling Bronx teens met with a warm response when it screened at the Cannes, South by Southwest and London film tests.

These wins of Spirit gongs - which feature a bird atop a base with a gold shoestring wrapped around to symbolise paltry indie budgets - were encouraging.

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