The McNeil Minute | The 2021 Film Independent Spirit Awards Winners

The Oscars of the Indie World

Yes, I'm aware I did these out of order. But, I just had to get my Oscars thoughts out there while they were fresh. Lest we forget about the Spirit Awards (I would never). The Pre Oscar Indies. The lead-in to the "real show." Whatever you wanna call em, I almost give em more credence than I do the actual Oscars. And oftentimes, they even have better nominees. Shots fired, I know. In any case, the Film Independent Spirit Awards were on the Thursday before the Oscars. And, did they give us an indicator for how the Oscars would go? Not really. And that's okay. In some ways, they corrected the Oscars before they even happened. Pre-emptive correction. Anyway, before I ramble on any further, let's jump into the winners.

The Robert Altman Award

Here's the first way in which the Spirit Awards corrected the Oscars before we even knew they needed correction. The Robert Altman Award was given to Regina King for her work on One Night in Miami. Regina King, as you well know, was robbed of a Best Director nomination as well as One Night in Miami being snubbed out of Best Picture. Do I believe that Regina should have won director or that One Night in Miami needed to win Best Picture? No, but a nomination at the very least would have been nice. For these reasons, I feel that this award was deserved and it was nice to see her recognized when the Academy wouldn't give her the time of day.

Best First Screenplay

This was another award I thought went over nicely. Palm Springs did not receive any sort of recognition throughout the course of Awards Season. Whether that's right or wrong, you tell me. But I felt this was a fun movie and it had an especially hilarious screenplay. I was glad to see this receive some kind of accolade for something that it profoundly difficult to do: write comedy. Of course, the execution has to be there, and it was if you ask me. I was happy to see Palm Springs earn something and this was definitely that thing it deserved.

Best Screenplay

It's no real surprise that Best Screenplay went to Promising Young Woman here. It also won Original at the Oscars, and that was to be expected. Unless we felt that the academy would literally give anything to Aaron Sorkin (which they would). Regardless, Emerald Fennell received her due, even before taking home that golden statue. It's one I cannot argue with, although I would have liked to see someone else walk home with the Spirit Award since she won the Oscar. Still though, it's deserved and I won't put up too much of a fight.

Best Editing

A nice little surprise here as Chloe Zhao won Best Editing for her work on Nomadland. It's certainly not flashy editing, or anything you would expect to win this award. It's well deserved and I'm happy for Chloe, who of course, cleaned up at the Oscars as well. I would have expected something like The Invisible Man or Never Rarely Sometimes Always to win this award. This is not to say those films have overly flashy editing by any means, but they feel more like the types of films to take it home. It makes sense though, as best film or best picture is typically tied to best editing, but not always.

Best Cinematography

Joshua James Richards took home the Cinematography prize for his work on Nomadland. This seemed indicative of what would happen at the Oscars, until Erik Messerschmidt upset him for his work on Mank. Richards had pretty much won everything throughout awards season, except ASC. Which had proven crucial, given the outcome of the Oscars. This is not to say that Richards did not deserve the award, that's not my meaning by any stretch of the imagination. I would have liked to see Helene Louvart win for her cinematography in Never Rarely Sometimes Always, which was the best and my favorite of the bunch.

Best First Feature

I was really glad to see Sound of Metal win in this category here. I felt it was the most deserving of the bunch and the film is excellent to boot. Especially when we consider that this was Darius Marder's first film he directed, it's quite impressive. With the help of Derek Cianfrance, whom everything he touches turns to gold. There was clearly a ton of talent behind this and it's no surprise to me it took home the award.

Best Documentary

It was pretty clear to me that Time was not going to win the Oscar when it couldn't take home the Spirit Award here. Crip Camp surprised nearly everyone when it brought home the bacon at the Spirit Awards. I didn't think it had a shot at the Oscar, but it received its due here.

Best New Scripted Series

Although I don't talk about TV much, I felt this was worthy of note. I May Destroy You winning here felt a lot like a big "fuck you" to the Globes. And rightfully so. Especially when the writer of Emily in Paris says that I May Destroy You deserves the nomination over her own series, I think there's probably a lot of truth to it then. Since I May Destroy You seemed to be snubbed almost everywhere, most notably the Globes, it was nice to see the acclaimed series bring something home for once. It's also worth mentioning that I May Destroy You also won Best Ensemble at the Spirits.

Best International Film

Another Round wasn't even nominated here, so it had no chance to continue its awards season dominance. So, in its absence, other films had a chance to finally take home an award. Quo Vadis, Aida? took home the Spirit Award, giving some solace to those who believed it should have earned the Oscar over Thomas Vinterberg's dramedy about drinking. Whether or not it actually should have, I really couldn't say. But hey, fans of the Spirit Award winner can rest easy knowing it won here, even if it fell short at the Oscars.

Best Director

Surprising absolutely no one, Chloe Zhao continued her dominance in the Best Director category all throughout awards season. And adding insult to the other directors' injuries, she also won the Oscar. To say it's not deserved would be completely ill advised and out of my element, so that's not my aim here. What I want to say is that I would have liked to see someone else win for once. Someone like Eliza Hittman for Never Rarely Sometimes Always or Kelly Reichardt for First Cow.

Best Supporting Actress

Yuh Jung Youn kept up her win streak here with her win at the Spirit Awards. And you may or may not know, that she didn't stop there. She also took home the Oscar. Maria Bakalova had been winning practically everything up until Youn started her accolade collection. It's no surprise here that she won and it's well deserved if you've seen her performance in Minari.

Best Supporting Actor

This is one of the Spirit Award winners that made me the happiest. Paul Raci had been losing out to Daniel Kaluuya for the entirety of Awards Season, and who could argue against that performance? However, it was just nice to see that Raci finally won something for his terrific performance in Sound of Metal. As I've said before, the Spirit Awards can correct some things sometimes. And sometimes that thing is category fraud at the Oscars. Despite Kaluuya's performance being my favorite, it probably should have been a lead performance. But they knew that had absolutely no chance at beating Anthony Hopkins or Chadwick Boseman. Hence, the category fraud. Category fraud aside, I am ecstatic for Paul Raci as his award here was more than deserved.

Best Actress

I felt this was another situation in which the Spirit Awards preemptively corrected the Oscars. Many thought that Carey Mulligan might receive her first golden statue, but not so. She did win here, yes. And rightfully so, if you ask me. But she fell to Frances McDormand at the Oscars. Still though, winning here is huge and it's almost better in my opinion. The indies tend to be better than the Oscars, but I digress. Congratulations to Carey Mulligan on her win here, but I am deeply sorry for your undeserved loss at the Oscars.

Best Male Lead

Riz Ahmed finally received his due here for his performance in Sound of Metal, which really won big here. I always felt bad for him constantly falling short to Chadwick Boseman and Anthony Hopkins. I'm glad that someone finally recognized him for his wonderful performance in this excellent film. I had actually predicted this would happen on Gold Derby, as Film Independent probably assumed that Chadwick would receive the Oscar, so they felt Riz should win this. I don't know if that was the exact thought process, obviously, but that makes some good sense, doesn't it? Well, unfortunately Chadwick wasn't given his posthumous Oscar and it was all for naught. Chadwick dominating Awards Season until lately was a solid indicator that it would continue, and we saw no signs of him slowing down. All that aside, I want to bring the spotlight back to Riz Ahmed who earned this well deserved Spirit Award and I'd like to applaud him for it. Bravo.

Best Feature

After a string of surprise wins, we now return to your regularly scheduled programming: completely unsurprising victories. Nomadland took home the top prize here, as well as the Oscar. Yes, it's a great film and it's well deserved. Blah blah blah. I would still like to see something like First Cow or Never Rarely Sometimes Always win instead. I just felt those films took the minimalist approach and utilized them better in their respective stories. Still though, I can't be too mad as it's not at all an undeserving film by any means. I just don't like to be bored. And I was pretty bored with it winning literally everything throughout the entirety of Awards Season. Congratulations to Chloe Zhao and her Nomadland team. Now, we don't have to talk about this film anymore as we gear up for Awards Season 2022. I have an idea of what to watch out for next year, so stay tuned for that.

What did you think about the Film Independent Spirit Awards winners this year?

Let me know in the comments.

Rob McNeil

My name is Rob McNeil. I was born and raised in Normal, Illinois and I am a 28 year-old award winning screenwriter. I am very passionate about film, so much that I watch far too many films on a daily basis. I have written fifteen feature screenplays, a spec pilot thriller series, and several short scripts. I aim to make filmmaking a career, but for now, I will write about it.

Rob McNeil

My name is Rob McNeil. I was born and raised in Normal, Illinois and I am a 28 year-old award winning screenwriter. I am very passionate about film, so much that I watch far too many films on a daily basis. I have written fifteen feature screenplays, a spec pilot thriller series, and several short scripts. I aim to make filmmaking a career, but for now, I will write about it.

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