“12 Years a Slave” dominated the Independent Spirit Awards, winning best feature and four other awards, including director for Steve McQueen, supporting actress for Lupita Nyong’o and screenplay for John Ridley.
Matthew McConaughey won the actor trophy for his role as an AIDS patient/activist for “Dallas Buyers Club” and Cate Blanchett took the actress award for her portrayal of the neurotic title character in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” at the event Saturday afternoon on the beach in Santa Monica.
Steve McQueen won for best director (“12 Years a Slave”) and dedicated the award to Solomon Northup, whose life and book was the basis for the searing historical drama. ”Michael Fassbender is a genius. Nothing he wouldn’t do, nothing he can’t do,” McQueen said, also giving thanks to Chiwetel Ejiofor — the “soul” of the film.
McQueen thanked “Mr. Brad Pitt” and gave a nod to indie legend John Cassavetes for inspiring him as a filmmaker.
McConaughey began his acceptance with a thank you, followed by his trademark “All right, all right, all right.”
Talking about low-budget indie filmmaking, the actor said, “There’s no time to be overly considerate…and there’s a freedom that comes with that… [Sometimes] we’ve only got one take, so let it rip,” he added.
He freely admitted that the film was “good medicine,” but noted it is also entertaining.
Blanchett gave a quick nod to Allen, a rare mention of him during her many acceptance speeches; some had speculated the renewed controversy over 1992 claims against him could hurt her chances at the Oscars due to his family charges and counter-charges. Blanchett has won many awards, and in her speeches often refers to what’s going on at that exact moment, such as a loud and low-flying helicopter during her speech. “That’s the drone come to pick me up,” she joked, with the best exit of the afternoon.
Lupita Nyong’o won the supporting actress award for her emotional portrayal of the slave Patsey in “12 Years a Slave,” while Jared Leto took the supporting actor award for his memorable role as a transgender AIDS patient in “Dallas Buyers Club.”
In her acceptance speech, a composed Nyong’o said breathlessly that she had not been aware initially of the distinction between independent and studio films, but said she then realized, “Independent film is where stuff actually happens.” Nyong’o noted that it was her birthday — “not a bad way to celebrate!,” she declared — and concluded her speech by thanking her mother for supporting her choice to become an actress.
An ebullient Leto cracked up the crowd with a massive thank-you list, including creative inspirations like Ansel Adams, Kurt Cobain and Mozart, home-made burritos and “all the women I’ve been with and all the women who think they’ve been with me,” makers of vegan butter, people who make size 12 heels, the 7 billion people on the planet. He also said he’s going to do “an opposite McConaissance and just do romantic comedies.”
Leto concluded on a serious note by dedicating the award to the 36 million who have died of AIDS and the 35 million living with AIDS.
John Ridley took the screenplay trophy for “12 Years a Slave.” He delivered an emotional acceptance speech, near tears as he said he had not fully realized the impact of the film until he saw it at the Toronto Film Festival. Ridley also gave a shout-out to Julie Delpy, a co-nominee for “Before Midnight.”
“12 Years” also took the cinematography award for Sean Bobitt, who said he wanted to spank director McQueen. He then corrected himself that he wanted to thank McQueen, but at times he DID want to spank him.
“Nebraska’s” Bob Nelson won the Spirit Award for first screenplay in the first award of the event. He said he wanted to not thank his wife, since she told him not to; he added that he had fulfilled his goal of becoming “the oldest recipient of best first screenplay.” Nelson is 57.
In jest, he also thanked former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Will Forte for losing three pounds to play his role.
Before the 29th edition of Film Independent’s Spirit Awards started, guests mingled and schmoozed, such as Angelina Jolie networking with Brad Weston, head of New Regency, and Leto glad-handing director Alexander Payne. Shailene Woodley and Nyong’o embraced and Willie Garson was hanging out near the gelato before host Patton Oswalt took the stage to deliver his opening monologue.
“We are living in a golden age of lesbian award show hosts and the men who look like them,” he said, referring to himself and Ellen DeGeneres, the Academy Awards show host.
As for the California weather, Oswalt quipped, “We lost the rain but that does not mean that God loves you. Alec Baldwin is moving here.”
Oswalt’s monologue had a mixed reception, getting some big laughs, but not always. He got his first groans by saying Mia Farrow would present the Someone to Watch award and that Bruce Dern was in attendance “to see the ocean one last time.”
The awards were held under the traditional big white tent on the beach.
In order to be nominated, each film has to have less than a $20 million production budget. To vote, one need only buy a $95 per year membership in Film Independent, the nonprofit arts organization that also produces the Los Angeles Film Festival.
Complete list of winners:
BEST FEATURE: “12 Years a Slave” BEST ACTOR: Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club” BEST ACTRESS: Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine” BEST DIRECTOR: Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave” BEST DOCUMENTARY: Morgan Neville, “20 Feet From Stardom” BEST SCREENPLAY: John Ridley, “12 Years a Slave” BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Sean Bobbitt, “12 Years a Slave” BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE: Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave” JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD: “This Is Martin Bonner” BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM: “Blue Is the Warmest Color” ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD: “Mud” BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club” FIRST FEATURE: “Fruitvale Station” FIRST SCREENPLAY: Bob Nelson, “Nebraska” PIAGET PRODUCERS AWARD: Toby Halbrooks and James M. Johnston BEST EDITING: Nat Sanders, “Short Term 12″