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Independent Spirit Awards Dominated by Crowd-Pleasing Hits

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Sideways Virginia Madsen Paul Giamatti: Independent Spirit AwardsIndependent Spirit Awards: Virginia Madsen and Paul Giamatti in the sleeper hit Sideways. Alexander Payne’s Central California Wine Country-set road movie about two men-babies discovering their inner adult was this year’s big winner.
  • Audience-friendly box office hits prevailed at this year’s “alternative” Independent Spirit Awards. Most winners, in fact, have also been shortlisted for the “traditionalist” Academy Awards.
  • Top Independent Spirit Award winners include Alexander Payne’s dramatic comedy Sideways, three of the film’s stars, and Colombian actress Catalina Sandino Moreno.

Independent Spirit Awards mostly opt for crowd-pleasing, ‘Oscar-like’ fare

Ramon Novarro Beyond Paradise

In the last two decades, the Independent Spirit Awards have been hailed as a welcome alternative to the stuffy and commercially inclined Academy Awards.

Yet at their 20th edition, the “Indie Oscars” don’t seem all that different from their older, more famous, and more influential awards season sibling.

After all, at this year’s Independent Spirit Awards ceremony held on Feb. 26 in Santa Monica – that’s one of Los Angeles County’s beachfront communities – the big winners were nearly all crowd-pleasing, box-office-friendly fare.

Six Sideways wins

Alexander Payne’s sleeper hit Sideways, a (Southern) California Wine Country-set road movie about two emotionally underdeveloped men finding themselves, topped six categories: Best Feature, Director, Screenplay (Payne & Jim Taylor), Actor (Paul Giamatti), Supporting Actress (Virginia Madsen), and Supporting Actor (Thomas Haden Church).

The Best Foreign Film was Alejandro Amenábar’s sentimental euthanasia drama The Sea Inside / Mar adentro – a major box office hit in its native Spain – starring Javier Bardem as a tetraplegic man fighting church and government for the right to end his life.

Walter Salles’ feel-good Che Guevara road movie, The Motorcycle Diaries / Diarios de motocicleta, starring Gael García Bernal as the pre-revolution Argentinean-born revolutionary, topped two categories: Best Cinematography (Eric Gautier) and Best Debut (Rodrigo De la Serna).

All three films are Oscar contenders in various categories.

Colombian Best Actress

Lastly, Colombian performer Catalina Sandino Moreno was named Best Actress for Joshua Marston’s drug-trafficking drama Maria Full of Grace.

Daring Independent Spirit Awards choice?


Sandino Moreno is the only Academy Award contender among the nominees in that particular category. (Update: She lost the Oscar to Hilary Swank for Clint Eastwood’s non-indie Million Dollar Baby, the year’s other sentimental euthanasia drama.)

Remember: Different panels select the Independent Spirit Award nominees, clearly with an emphasis on “diversity” rather than quality. Film Independent members – anyone who pays their dues – can vote for the winners.

Independent Spirit Awards: Full list of winners & nominees

Best Feature
Maria Full of Grace.
* Sideways.

Best Foreign Film
Bad Education / La mala educación – Spain.
Oasis – South Korea.
Red Lights / Feux rouges – France.
* The Sea Inside – Spain.
Yesterday – South Africa.

Best Director
Shane Carruth – Primer.
Joshua Marston – Maria Full of Grace.
* Alexander Payne – Sideways.
Walter Salles – The Motorcycle Diaries.
Mario Van Peebles – Baadasssss!.

Best Actress
Kimberly Elise – Woman Thou Art Loosed.
Vera FarmigaDown to the Bone.
Judy Marte – On the Outs.
* Catalina Sandino Moreno – Maria Full of Grace.
Kyra Sedgwick – Cavedweller.

Best Supporting Actress
Cate BlanchettCoffee and Cigarettes.
Loretta Devine – Woman Thou Art Loosed.
* Virginia Madsen – Sideways.
Robin Simmons – Robbing Peter.
Yenny Paola Vega – Maria Full of Grace.

Best Actor
Kevin BaconThe Woodsman.
Jeff BridgesThe Door in the Floor.
Jamie FoxxRedemption.
* Paul Giamatti – Sideways.
Liam NeesonKinsey.

Best Supporting Actor
* Thomas Haden Church – Sideways.
Jon Gries – Napoleon Dynamite.
Aidan Quinn – Cavedweller.
Roger Robinson – Brother to Brother.
Peter SarsgaardKinsey.

Best Screenplay
Baadasssss! – Mario Van Peebles & Dennis Haggerty.
Before SunsetRichard Linklater, Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke.
The Door in the Floor – Tod Williams.
KinseyBill Condon.
* Sideways – Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor.

Best Cinematography
Dandelion – Tim Orr.
* The Motorcycle Diaries – Eric Gautier.
Redemption – David Greene.
Saints and Soldiers – Ryan Little.
We Don’t Live Here Anymore – Maryse Alberti.

Best First Feature
Brother to Brother.
* Garden State.
Napoleon Dynamite.
Saints and Soldiers.
The Woodsman.

Best Debut Performance
* Rodrigo De la Serna – The Motorcycle Diaries.
Anthony Mackie – Brother to Brother.
Louie Olivos Jr. – Robbing Peter.
Hannah Pilkes – The Woodsman.
David Sullivan – Primer.

Best First Screenplay
Brother to Brother – Rodney Evans.
Garden State – Zach Braff.
* Maria Full of Grace – Joshua Marston.
Primer – Shane Carruth.
Robbing Peter – Mario F. de la Vega.

Best Documentary Feature
Bright Leaves.
Chisholm ’72: Unbought & Unbossed.
Hiding and Seeking: Faith and Tolerance After the Holocaust.
* Metallica: Some Kind of Monster.

John Cassavetes Award
Down to the Bone.
* Mean Creek.
On the Outs.
Robbing Peter.
Unknown Soldier.

Truer Than Fiction Award
* Born Into Brothels.
Chisholm ’72: Unbought & Unbossed.
Control Room.

Producers Award
* Gina Kwon – The Good Girl, Me and You and Everyone We Know & The Motel.
Danielle Renfrew – November & Groove.
Sean Covel & Chris Wyatt – Napoleon Dynamite & Think Tank.

Someone to Watch Award
* Jem Cohen – Chain.
Bryan Poyser – Dear Pillow.
Jennifer Reeves – The Time We Killed.

Special Distinction Award
The ensemble cast of Mean Creek:
Rory Culkin, Ryan Kelley, Scott Mechlowicz, Trevor Morgan, Josh Peck & Carly Schroeder.

“Independent Spirit Awards” endnotes

Independent Spirit Awards website.

Paul Giamatti and Virginia Madsen Sideways image: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

“Independent Spirit Awards Dominated by Crowd-Pleasing Hits” last updated in September 2021.

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