24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Spirit Awards

Spirit Awards: Actors (and a producer) talk Oscar diversity

February 25, 2012 |  5:46 pm

Anthony Mackie
The entertainment world's spotlight Saturday is on the Film Independent Spirit Awards, but plenty of its attendees have their minds on Sunday's big show, the Oscars -- a ceremony where the winners, as a Times study recently revealed, are mostly determined by white men. At the Spirit Awards, nominees and presenters told 24 Frames what they think about the makeup of the motion picture academy.

Presenter Anthony Mackie: “I became a member this past year. I think the academy has made a concerted effort to bring more young actors in and more artists in to bring a younger pool of voters. I hope so.”

Oscar voters study“The Artist” actor James Cromwell: “It's really nice when the media tells the truth about something so that people can therefore put this in perspective and understand, 'Oh, it's not really a contest for the best film –- it's all a business deal made in back rooms.' And we are the Westminster dogs, and somebody else makes a lot of money.”

“A Better Life” actor Demian Bechir: “Not only in the academy –- everywhere, in every aspect of our daily lives [things should be more diverse]. We need a little more of everything. We all need to be included.”

“Pariah” producer Nekisa Cooper: “I think if the academy would reflect the population, you would have a more diverse representation at the Oscars. Films like 'Pariah,' films like 'Red Tails,' films like 'The Help'  help show that there is a desire for them.”

“Pariah” star Adepero Oduye: “I personally think it should be more diverse. I think all kinds of people watch film. And there should be more of a cross-section. We all watch movies and we all have opinions and our voices matter.”


Movie academy: Oscar voters overwhelmingly white and male

Oscar voters: When the motion picture academy is a family affair

Oscars 2012: Despite Halle and Denzel, gold mostly eludes nonwhites

-– Emily Rome and Amy Kaufman

Photo: Anthony Mackie at the Film Independent Spirit Awards Credit: Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

Spirit Awards: Cromwell, Hawkes on keeping the indie spirit alive

February 25, 2012 |  5:17 pm

The Artist Spirit Awards
On the surface, the Film Independent Spirit Awards and the Academy Awards don't appear to share much in common. The former honors low-budget movies made outside the studio system from a makeshift tent near the beach in Santa Monica in a casual afternoon ceremony. The latter, meanwhile, is the pinnacle of Hollywood pomp and circumstance that often hands out prizes to films that cost millions of dollars to produce.

But with every year that passes, it seems that the two award shows become more similar, recognizing many of the same films. This year, two of the five best feature nominees at the Spirit Awards -- "The Artist" and "The Descendants" -- were among the nine films up for best picture at the Oscars.

Christopher Plummer and Jean Dujardin, the respective front-runners in the supporting and lead male acting categories at Sunday's 84th Academy Awards ceremony, took home the top prizes Saturday, and, of course,"The Artist" -- the likely best picture Oscar winner -- danced away with the best feature prize. 

PHOTOS: Red carpet

Despite these similarities, "The Artist's" James Cromwell said he thinks Hollywood is still largely driven by star power and money and that the Spirit Awards have tremendous merit.

"If you have a $250-million film -- or you have a film with George Clooney in it -- George Clooney is going to bring you a lot of bucks. But Jean Dujardin? Meh," the actor said Saturday. "With independent film, it's a little different, because they're doing something that has a greater risk, and they're putting their own money in it, and they care very deeply about it."

Mark Duplass, who along with brother Jay helped to establish the low-budget, minimalist film movement deemed mumblecore, said he has noticed that big movie stars increasingly want to become a part of his films. Ed Helms, who stars in the Duplass brothers' upcoming "Jeff, Who Lives at Home," added that he doesn't notice many differences between the two ways of filmmaking -- outside of the promotion.

"Obviously 'The Hangover' gets a massive international media blitz. And a lot of the movies here today -- independent films -- really struggle for that recognition," "The Office" star said.

Many of the films that do reach a larger audience do so through television, on stations such as the Sundance Channel or Independent Film Channel, which will air the Spirit Awards ceremony later Saturday night.

"I know that in small towns, like where I'm from, [those channels] bring films to people who wouldn't normally see them," said John Hawkes, who was nominated for best supporting male for his role in "Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene." "That's a really great thing. I only had one channel on my TV when I was growing up, and it wasn't the Sundance Channel. "


Photos: Red carpet

Winners & Nominees

Spirit Awards: Christopher Plummer, Jean Dujardin among early acting winners

-- Amy Kaufman


Photo: From left, Michel Hazanavicius, Penelope Ann Miller, Thomas Langmann and James Cromwell accept the best feature award for "The Artist" at the Film Independent Spirit Awards Credit: Vince Bucci / Associated Press

Spirit Awards: 'Artist,' Michel Hazanavicius, Michelle Williams win

February 25, 2012 |  3:44 pm

Michel Hazanavicius

The seemingly unstoppable French film "The Artist," produced by Thomas Langmann, won best feature at the Film Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday. The black-and-white homage to silent cinema, which is also nominated for 10 Oscars, is considered a best picture front-runner heading into Sunday night’s 84th Academy Awards ceremony.

"The Artist's" Michel Hazanavicius was honored as best director, star Jean Dujardin won for best male lead for his turn as a dashing movie idol whose fame is on the wane and Guillaume Schiffman won the cinematography award for the film. Only Hazanavicius was on hand to claim his statuette, however, as the other two men had not yet arrived from France, where "The Artist" picked up even more accolades this weekend at the Cesar Awards.

Other big winners included Michelle Williams, who was named best actress for her role in the biopic "My Week With Marilyn," in which she portrays the iconic star Marilyn Monroe. Williams also won a Golden Globe for her performance and is nominated for an Academy Award.

PHOTOS: Spirit Awards red carpet

Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, writers of "The Descendants," took home best screenplay honors for their film, which Payne also directed and which is adapted from the novel of the same name by Kaui Hart Hemmings. The film tells of an indifferent father forced to reexamine his life and family after an accident puts his wife in a coma. Shailene Woodley captured the supporting female Spirit Award for her work in the drama.

 Iran's "A Separation," directed by Asghar Farhadi, was honored as best international film. Farhadi's film dramatizes the far-reaching consequences of a married Iranian couple's separation and is nominated for three Oscars.

The award for best documentary was presented to "The Interrupters' " director-producer Steve James and producer Alex Kotlowitz. The film follows three people who work as "violence interrupters" to intervene in conflicts in their Chicago communities before they get out of hand.

Director J.C. Chandor's "Margin Call" won the award for best first feature and also took home the Robert Altman Award, which recognizes one film's director, casting director and ensemble cast. The latter prize for the film, which chronicles the beginning of the 2008 economic crisis, was presented to Chandor, casting directors Tiffany Little Canfield and Bernard Telsey and the ensemble comprising Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Mary McDonnell, Demi Moore, Zachary Quinto, Kevin Spacey and Stanley Tucci.

The Truer Than Fiction Award, which is presented to an emerging director of nonfiction features who has not yet received significant recognition and includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant, was presented to Heather Courtney, director of "Where Soldiers Come From."

 The Piaget Producers Award, which honors emerging producers who have made the most of "highly limited resources" and demonstrated "creativity, tenacity and vision," recognized Sophia Lin, producer of "Take Shelter." The film, about a working-class father and husband troubled by visions of an apocalyptic storm, was also nominated for best actor, supporting actress, director and feature.

 The Someone to Watch Award, which "recognizes a talented filmmaker of singular vision who has not yet received appropriate recognition," went to Mark Jackson, director of "Without," a film about a young woman who becomes caretaker to an elderly man in a vegetative state on a remote wooded island.

The Jameson FIND Your Audience Award, which helps one low-budget independent film reach a broader audience, was awarded to filmmakers Benjamin Murray and Alysa Nahmias for "Unfinished Spaces." The documentary tells the story of three architects invited back to Cuba after four decades in exile to finish construction of the National Art Schools. The award includes a $40,000 grant for marketing and distribution.


Photos: Red carpet

Winners & Nominees

Spirit Awards: Christopher Plummer, Jean Dujardin among early acting winners

-- Oliver Gettell

Photo: Director Michel Hazanavicius in the audience at the 2012 Film Independent Spirit Awards. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images


Spirit Awards: Christopher Plummer, Jean Dujardin among early acting winners

February 25, 2012 |  2:42 pm


Christopher Plummer picked up the first statuette at the Film Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday, winning the award for best supporting actor for his role in "Beginners," in which he plays a father and widower who reveals he's gay, surprising his adult son.

The venerable actor, who is considered a front-runner to win in the same category at Sunday's 84th Academy Awards, took the stage with a quip in keeping with the irreverent nature of the beachside Santa Monica ceremony hosted this year by Seth Rogen.

"It's taken me the longest time to realize that the Spirit Awards have nothing to do with booze!" said Plummer, who previously has won Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA awards for the role in writer-director Mike Mills' film. 

PHOTOS: Spirit Awards red carpet

The top prize for the independent film community, the Spirit Awards hand out trophies in 14 competitive categories. The afternoon affair is designed to be a more casual answer to the motion picture academy's lavish Oscar gala.

Rogen opened the show with a series of jokes targeting Hollywood personalities. In discussing why awards season is necessary, he said, "Without awards season we wouldn't know what a bigot Brett Ratner was," referring to the anti-gay slur the filmmaker made last year at a point when we was set to produce the Academy Awards telecast.

The two-hour ceremony moved along at a quick clip, with a number of prizes handed out in the first hour or so. Will Reiser won for best first screenplay for "50/50," a cancer-themed comedy inspired by his personal experiences battling the disease as a young man. Reiser was diagnosed while working on "Da Ali G Show" alongside Rogen, who also stars in and produced "50/50."

Guillaume Schiffman won the best cinematography award for his work on the awards-season juggernaut "The Artist," the black-and-white homage to the silent era that is up for best feature at the Spirit Awards and is expected by many to win the best picture Oscar at the Academy Awards, where Schiffman is also nominated for his cinematography.

Shailene Woodley won the best supporting actress prize for her performance opposite George Clooney in the family drama "The Descendants." In the film, the actress plays a moody teenager who begins reconciling with her distant father when her mother falls into a coma.

The John Cassavetes Award, which honors the best feature made for less than $500,000, was presented to "Pariah" writer-director Dee Rees and producer Nekisa Cooper. The film tells the story of a black teenager embracing her identity as a lesbian while dealing with tension at home and other trials of adolescence. The film's star, Adepero Oduye, was nominated for best female lead for her performance.

And making it two for "The Artist," the film's star, French actor Jean Dujardin, received the award for best male lead. Dujardin's turn as silent-cinema star George Valentin has won him acting honors at the Golden Globes, the SAG Awards and the BAFTAs; he is also nominated for an Oscar.


PHOTOS: Red carpet

Winners & Nominees

Spirit Awards: Oscar preview as 'Descendants,' 'Artist' vie

-- Oliver Gettell and Amy Kaufman

Photo: Christopher Plummer accepts his Spirit Award for "Beginners." Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

Spirit Awards: Oscar preview as 'Descendants,' 'Artist' vie

February 25, 2012 |  9:15 am


“The Artist” and “The Descendants” will be competing for the best picture Oscar on Sunday night, but in just a few hours, the black-and-white homage to silent cinema and the Hawaii-set family drama also will be vying for the top prize from the independent film community, the Film Independent Spirit Awards, which will hand out trophies in 14 competitive categories in a relaxed beachside ceremony in Santa Monica.

Also nominated for best feature are “50/50,” “Beginners,” “Drive” and “Take Shelter.”

"The Artist" and "The Descendants" are facing off in other categories too, including the director contest in which French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius and Alexander Payne, respectively, will compete with Mike Mills ("Beginners"), Nicolas Winding Refn ("Drive") and Jeff Nichols ("Take Shelter") for the award. In the best screenplay contest, Hazanavicius and Payne, with his writing partners Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, will go up against Mills for his "Beginners" script, Tom McCarthy for "Win Win" and Joseph Cedar for the Israeli film "Footnote." 

FULL LIST: Nominees

In terms of the acting contests, Oscar nominee Michelle Williams is also nominated at the Spirits for her portrayal of Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe in "My Week With Marilyn." Competing against her in the female lead category are Lauren Ambrose for "Think of Me," Rachael Harris for "Natural Selection," Adepero Oduye for "Pariah" and Elizabeth Olsen for "Martha Marcy May Marlene."

Two of the men nominated for lead actor at the Academy Awards are nominated for Spirit Awards as well: Demian Bichir for his work in the immigration-themed drama "A Better Life" and Jean Dujardin for his turn as a charming movie star in "The Artist." They're up against Woody Harrelson for his role in the drama "Rampart," Michael Shannon for "Take Shelter" and Ryan Gosling for "Drive."

Bad news for Gosling watchers, though: The actor is shooting a movie and is not expected to attend the ceremony.

Check back soon for details on the winners at the ceremony, which gets underway at 1:30 p.m.


Full coverage: Oscars 2012

Oscar voters: Alfre Woodard talks membership, diversity

Cheat Sheet | Key Scenes | Pundit's picks | Ballot | Timeline

— Gina McIntyre

Photo: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley and Nick Krause in "The Descendants" (Fox Searchlight);  Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo in "The Artist" (The Weinstein Co.).

Film Independent names Sean McManus and Josh Welsh co-presidents

January 10, 2012 |  2:02 pm

Six months after executive director Dawn Hudson left Film Independent to head up the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization has appointed two insiders to share the role of president.

Film Independent board chairman Bill Condon announced today that senior director Sean McManus and director of artistic development Josh Welsh have been charged as the new co-presidents of the independent nonprofit.

McManus joined Film Independent in 1998 as development director and was promoted to senior director in 2006, overseeing fund development, marketing and communications, the annual Spirit Awards, the Los Angeles Film Festival and the screening series held at LACMA.

Since 2002, Josh Welsh has overseen all of Film Independent's artistic development programs, including its filmmaker labs for directors, screenwriters, producers and documentarians. He both designed the curriculum for the labs and the selection of the organization's annual fellows. Welsh also oversees the grants program for the organization.

"They are a seasoned team whose skills and expertise complement one another beautifully,"  Condon said. "We're confident they will build upon the solid foundation Dawn established and will successfully usher Film Independent into the future."


Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: New Leadership at AMPAS

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is under fire

--Nicole Sperling

Photo: Sean McManus speaks at the 2012 Film Independent Spirit Awards nominations press conference in West Hollywood last November. Credit: John Shearer/Getty Images for Piaget

'Take Shelter,' 'The Artist' top contenders for Spirit Awards [Updated]

November 29, 2011 |  9:32 am

Take ShelterWriter-director Jeff Nichols' apocalyptic drama "Take Shelter" and the black-and-white silent film "The Artist" emerged as top contenders for Film Independent's 2012 Spirit Awards on Tuesday morning, earning five nominations each. Both films were nominated in the feature category, along with "50/50," "Beginners," "Drive" and "The Descendants."

The Spirit Awards, in their 27th year, reflected the wide-open nature of this awards season, with "Beginners," "The Descendants," "Drive" and "Martha Marcy May Marlene" all collecting four nominations apiece.

In the female lead category, Michelle Williams was nominated for her role in "My Week With Marilyn," along with Elizabeth Olsen for "Martha Marcy May Marlene," Lauren Ambrose for "Think of Me," Rachael Harris for "Natural Selection" and Adepero Oduye for "Pariah."

Ryan Gosling was nominated for male lead in "Drive," as were Demian Bichir for "A Better Life," Jean Dujardin for "The Artist," Woody Harrelson for "Rampart" and Michael Shannon for "Take Shelter."

In the directing category, Film Independent acknowledged Michel Hazanavicius ("The Artist"), Mike Mills ("Beginners"), Nichols ("Take Shelter"), Alexander Payne  ("The Descendants") and Nicolas Winding Refn ("Drive").

J.C. Chandor's "Margin Call" received the Robert Altman Award, which is given to one film for director, casting director and ensemble cast.

The Film Independent committee evaluated 270 movies, all of which had budgets less than $20 million.

Last year's Spirit Awards top nominees were "Winter's Bone" and "The Kids Are All Right." Both films went on to be nominated for four Academy Awards, including best picture.

The Spirit Awards will take place Feb. 25 in Santa Monica.

[Updated at 10:55 a.m. Nov. 29] A full list of the nominees follows on the jump:

Continue reading »

'Dog Sweat': Underground filmmaking in Iran

November 18, 2011 |  2:14 pm

'Dog Sweat' scene Iran film

Iranian cinema has been much in the news of late, though far too often for legal and bureaucratic entanglements involving directors working in the country rather than for the films themselves. Abbas Kiarostami, arguably Iran's best-known filmmaker internationally, has taken to making movies outside the country. Jafar Panahi, facing a prison term and ban from travel, interviews and filmmaking, recently created the dazzling, inside-out "This Is Not a Film" as an act of creativity and protest. Asghar Farhadi's "A Separation" is considered among the front-runners for this year's foreign-language Oscar.

The film "Dog Sweat," directed and co-written by Hossein Keshavarz, was made within Iran but without the official permits and censorship approval normally given to films. Made in a guerrilla, underground style, its interweaving stories look to capture the small, everyday rebellions that make up life in Iran, such as trying to have a drink, steal time with a lover, follow your own path and simply be yourself. "Dog Sweat" — the name refers to local bootleg liquor — earned Keshavarz a Spirit Award nomination and opened Friday in Los Angeles at the Music Hall.

"It's not hard making a film through official channels, but then you have to go through the censorship board," said Keshavarz, 34.

Keshavarz, who has both Iranian and U.S. passports and went to Columbia University's film school, was planning to make a movie titled "This Modern Love" in Iran with permits when his mother was in a car accident. Once he helped her back to good health, he found the political climate changing in the build-up to the 2009 elections, and his plans were adjusted accordingly.

"Things were more open and there was a space to make films that were about social topics in an artistic way," said Keshavarz, "but as things got restricted more and more, it was very hard to do in a way that felt honest, up to the point where a lot of young filmmakers would just make short films they knew would never be shown."

Keshavarz's sister Maryam Keshavarz made the film "Circumstance," which won a prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival. The two each helped out on the production of the other's film, with Maryam opting to shoot in Lebanon rather than deal with the difficulties she had seen her brother go through.

Hossein Keshavarz is a bit cagey as to the specifics of how he pulled off his shoot without interference, though he acknowledges that it took about 30 actual shooting days over many, many months. He has not tried to return to Iran since "Dog Sweat" began appearing on the festival circuit, and he somewhat coyly added that "I officially don't know" whether or not the film has been seen in Iran.

"The film hopefully is evenhanded," he added. "Even though it has politics in it, I think the thing I'm trying to get at is these very human people looking for a connection. In living their everyday lives, sometimes there's politics, but it's not like I want to make a political point. I'm trying to make a film. I want to make a point about how people live and how political things come into it." 


Young Iran seen through '"Circumstance" and its cosmopolitan crew

Abbas Kiarostami returns to narrative form with "Certified Copy"

— Mark Olsen


Photo: A scene from Hossein Keshavarz's "Dog Sweat." Photo credit: IndiePix.

SXSW 2011: An odd couple in 'The Dish and the Spoon'

March 14, 2011 |  8:56 am


In "The Dish and the Spoon," which had its world premiere Saturday as part of the Emerging Visions section of the South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas, a young woman (Greta Gerwig) is spiraling out of control after having discovered her husband has cheated on her with a woman she knows. At a diner, she meets a waifish young man (Olly Alexander) who is another seemingly lost soul, having come to America from England chasing a girl who promptly dumped him. Each in the pair, a genuine odd couple, finds solace and support in a person who is more or less a stranger.

Directed and co-written by Alison Bagnall, perhaps best known as co-writer of "Buffalo 66," the project came together quickly at the end of 2009 when financing for another project Bagnall had been working on with Gerwig abruptly fell apart. Having auditioned Alexander for that stalled film, and very much wanting to work with him, Bagnall wrote "The Dish and the Spoon" specifically for her two lead actors, with the setting an out-of-season seaside Delaware vacation town.

Enlisting current indie stalwarts Eleonore Hendricks and Amy Seimetz (who is also credited as a producer), Bagnall rounded out her cast and crew. Rather than the ironclad vision of some filmmakers, Bagnall was interested in turning the production process into one of discovery and was especially open to the input of her lead actors as to where they thought the story should go.

"I'm as controlling as any person who wants to direct a film," said Bagnall by phone from her home in Philadelphia before the premiere, "but in this film I wanted to see what they would do. I was more interested in what they thought about what the characters should do than what I wanted."

"There was a script she had written out that had the trajectory of essentially what's in the movie," said Gerwig by phone from New York. "I think we got a lot of the specificity from when we would talk through the scenes every night before we shot. We were just in this very weird place, an abandoned beach town in Delaware, so I think once we were all there, there was a lot of stimulus to creating scenes that were site specific in a way."

Alexander, on the same phone call with Gerwig but from London, said the film was shot pretty much chronologically, which allowed the actors and filmmaker to discover new things about the characters and "change it as we went."

Continue reading »

'Kids Are All Right' director Lisa Cholodenko: Awards are great, but it's time to get back to work [video]

February 27, 2011 | 11:13 am

For months director Lisa Cholodenko has been talking to press, schmoozing at parties and indulging in free meals. Now that that's all coming to a close, will she go through withdrawal?

"I know I'm going to have a whole identity existential crisis," she joked Saturday at the Film Independent Spirit Awards. "I think a little R&R might be in order. It's been a long road."

A road, she said, that has largely prevented her from working on new projects. Alhough Cholodenko said she had been attempting to multitask, she admitted the promotional push for "The Kids Are All Right" had taken over the last year of her life. (The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2010.)

"You get caught up in the swirl and the events and the publicity, and it's very consuming," she said. "I've enjoyed it. It's been a fun ride and it's like a novel experience. But I'll be glad to have a little more calm and regularity going on."

The director had one of the more memorable appearances at the Spirits when she made out onstage with co-writer Stuart Blumberg after Blumberg said that "when we first started the script we were just a couple of lesbians with a hope and a dream." As for the Oscars, Cholodenko said she'd treat the ceremony as a "last hurrah." "Let's put on our fancy clothes and have a glass of champagne," she said.

-- Amy Kaufman



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