By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood March 1, 2014 at 7:59PM
"To be a part of that does not come along all that often," said Brad Pitt of producing "12 Years a Slave," backstage at Saturday's alternative to the Oscars, the Independent Spirit Awards. The Spirits offered few surprises inside the tent in rainy Santa Monica. The rain held off during the early cocktail schmooze but descended toward the end of the ceremony. As usual, many low-budget Oscar contenders (under $20 million) took home awards.
The Spirits offered an advance preview of the Oscars this year, although '12 Years a Slave' is unlikely to win five. It scored not only best feature but director Steve McQueen, supporting actress Lupita Nyong'o, cinematographer Sean Bobbitt and screenwriter John Ridley. "That's what film is about, magic," said McQueen of assembling the elements for this extraordinary movie, which is a frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar.
"Yes there was pain but there was also so much beauty," says Lupita Nyong'o of playing the slave Patsey. "To be present is what has got me through this crazy period of time. The first and hardest thing to get over was my self-doubt."
While "12 Years a Slave" had a near sweep, Chiwetel Ejiofor lost out to "Dallas Buyers Club" star Matthew McConaughey, as he will likely do on Sunday. "All right all right all right," said McConaughey, who also mounted the stage for Robert Altman ensemble winner "Mud," which took Jeff Nichols a decade to make. "It's a good strong year for indie film," said McConaughey, who when he starts a low-budget indie thinks: "'I'm going to choose the experience here.' It's not about the paycheck...You got to walk plank together."
And Michael Fassbender lost to McConaughey's "Dallas Buyers Club" costar Jared Leto, who is also expected to pick up another statue at the Oscars. Just in case, he thanked just about everybody he could think of, from Bruce Dern and the mother who took him to arthouse films to every woman he's ever been with-- or thought they slept with him --and his future ex wife Lupita. "I'm fucking proud to be part of this gang who take risks," he said.
Best Actress winner Cate Blanchett will also repeat at the Academy Awards for her role in Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine." Unlike the BAFTAs, she thanked the writer-director, and also presented a memoriam to James Gandolfini and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
While Brie Larson did not take home a prize for "Short Term 12," the film did win the Indie Spirits first award for best editing. First feature was won handily by "Fruitvale Station," whose writer-director Ryan Coogler's moving speech about the other Oscar Grants--who would have turned 28 today--in the world inspired a standing ovation from the crowd.
Alexander Payne's "Nebraska" took home a win for writer Bob Nelson, who said his "Spirit Award is the fulfillment of a boyhood dream of becoming the oldest recipient of a first screenplay award." Morgan Neville's doc Oscar frontrunner "20 Feet from Stardom" was the first Spirit winner to be delivered by drone--and Darlene Love, Judith Hill and Tata Vega sang "Lean on Me." "Dream bigger than you can ever think of dreaming," said Love. French lesbian romance "Blue is the Warmest Color," which was not eligible for the Oscar, won best foreign. The micro-budget John Cassavetes award went to $42,000 "This is Martin Bonner."
The edited Spirit Awards show, hosted by Patton Oswalt, aired on IFC Saturday night. Oswalt did a great job, even if he did alienate Bruce Dern with agist barbs. "It's a heavy year for movies," Oswalt said at the start of the evening, "when the feel-good movie is 'All is Lost.' It's 'Life of Pi' without the tiger budget."
(My Spirits picks are at Goldderby.)