Independent Spirit Awards Report: 'Moonlight' Dominates at Politically Tame Ceremony

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If the Oscars are the wedding, then the Independent Spirit Awards are the rehearsal: They take place the day before, are far more casual, and play host to many of the same attendees.

Guests aren’t the only thing the two ceremonies have in common: For four of the past five years, the Spirit Awards have also named the same best picture winner as the Academy, with top honors at both going to Spotlight (in 2016), Birdman (in 2015), 12 Years a Slave (in 2014), and The Artist (in 2012).

This year, the dominant force at the Spirit Awards — held Saturday afternoon in a massive beachside tent in Santa Monica and cohosted by Nick Kroll and John Mulaney — was Barry Jenkins’ gorgeous coming-of-age drama Moonlight. The film went a perfect 5-for-5 in the awards it was nominated for and also snagged the Robert Altman Award, which recognizes the year’s best ensemble. (That honor explains why the film’s stars, like Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris, weren’t individually nominated.) Its wins included Best Film, Best Director (Jenkins), Best Screenplay (Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney), Best Cinematography (James Laxton), and Best Editing (Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders). Best Editing, by the way, was the sole award doled out before the ceremony’s broadcast went live on IFC, an odd move that Film Independent, the Spirit Awards’ hosting body, should rectify in the future.

Related: Watch Indie Spirit Hosts Nick Kroll and John Mulaney’s Hilarious Attempts to Summarize This Year’s Nominees

As beloved as Moonlight is within the film industry and indie cinema community — the movie received numerous standing ovations Saturday — it’s doubtful to be the fourth straight Spirit Award winner to repeat as Best Picture at the Oscars. Not with La La Land waiting in the wings. The hit musical tied the all-time Oscar record of 14 nominations, but was ineligible to compete at the Spirit Awards with its bigger budget of $30 million.

But there were some Spirit Awards winners that could very well repeat on Sunday. O.J.: Made in America, the epic 8-hour retelling of O.J. Simpson’s notorious court case, won Best Documentary on Saturday and figures to be the heavy favorite at the Oscars. Elle star and Golden Globe winner Isabelle Huppert once again proved a serious awards threat by upsetting Jackie‘s Natalie Portman for Best Female Lead. And fellow Globe winner Casey Affleck proved he still has plenty of support for his stellar work in Manchester by the Sea by beating out fellow Oscar nominee Viggo Mortensen (or “the agelessly pork-able Viggo Mortensen,” as Kroll called the Captain Fantastic star) in Best Male Lead. Neither Huppert, nor Affleck’s top Oscar competition — La La Land’s Emma Stone and Fences’ Denzel Washington, respectively — were in contention at the Spirit Awards.

Related: 2017 Oscar Predictions: Our Picks in Every Category

Sunday’s Oscar ceremony is expected to be politically charged given Hollywood’s overwhelming opposition to President Donald Trump and the policies he’s enacted in his first month in office, but the speeches at the Spirit Awards were relatively tame in that regard.

Film Independent president Josh Welsh set what figured to be a resistant tone in his opening remarks prior to the event’s live telecast, knocking Trump’s recent travel ban by calling independent film “globalism at its best” and taking time to honor the media as well as the National Endowment of Arts, two recent targets of the Trump administration.

Cohosts Kroll and Mulaney, who drew huge laughs throughout the show, seemed to be expecting more political jabs as well. In their hilarious opening monologue, they told future winners that, given the show was broadcast on IFC, any messages “straight into camera” would have the same reach as “whispering it to yourself in the bathroom mirror.” That’s not to say they didn’t partake themselves, at one point quipping that Trump’s chief advisor Steve Bannon “looks like if Nick Offerman drowned.”

There were quick social references from winners here and there (with Jenkins telling reporters backstage he was “pissed off” about the current political climate), but the only speech directly aimed at Trump was made by Affleck, who attended the ceremony wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the Arabic word for “love.”

“The policies of this administration are abhorrent and will not last,” said the actor, adding that they were “un-American.” Will Affleck get a chance to repeat that message on Oscar’s larger stage? We’ll see tomorrow night.

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