Artist winning streak continues at Spirits

A film that its producers say was difficult to fund because it seemed so uncommercial has won another cluster of prizes at the final ceremony before the ultimate night of the awards calendar – the Oscars.

The silent and black-and-white love-letter to early cinema, The Artist, collected Independent Spirit Awards – for lower budget movies – at a beach-side ceremony in Santa Monica.

At the start of the ceremony, when Jean Dujardin was announced as the winner of the Best Male Lead, Guillaume Schiffman was revealed as the Best Cinematographer and Michel Hazanavicius was announced as the Best Director, their awards were collected on their behalf by one of the film’s stars, Penelope Ann Miller, because they’d been in Paris, attending France’s own version of the Oscars, the Césars, where everyone collected an award – except Dujardin. But by the time The Artist was revealed as the Best Film, the director was on hand to collect the honour himself, having received a police escort from the airport, to arrive in time for the end of the ceremony.

A quirk of the system is that the Artist – a French film – was able to contest all the major categories, even though last year’s Oscar favourite, The King’s Speech – a British film – qualified only for the Best Foreign Film at the Spirits. Both had the same status – funded in their home countries but picked up for distribution by The Weinstein Company. Perhaps Harvey Winstein was more skillful in his campaigning this year.

With The Artist being the film to beat at the Oscars, as well as it has been at every major ceremony since the Golden Globes six weeks ago, it’s almost a shame that the Independent Spirit Awards, which while not setting out to be different from the rest, by definition usually turn out that way, ended up following the big boys, when films such as Drive, 50/50 and Margin Call were also in contention.

Will Reiser, who wrote 50/50 did pick up the Best First Screenplay award and Margin Call collected the corresponding award for a director’s first feature as well as the Robert Altman Award for the best ensemble cast. JC Chandor said he could not have got Margin Call made had his producer, the actor Zachary Quinto, not taken on a role in the film and attracted the big name leads. The other award aimed at new filmmakers, the John Cassavetes Award, went to the low-budget Pariah.

The other acting honours went to Michelle Williams, for her portrayal as Marilyn Monroe in another British – but qualifying – film, My Week With Marilyn, Christopher Plummer, the hot favourite for Oscar success for his supporting role in Beginners and Shailene Woodley for her supporting role in The Descendants, which also won the prize for the Best Screenplay.

Film Independent, the group which hands out the Spirits, picked Iran’s A Separation as it’s Best International Film, a day before it goes up against Israel’s Footnote in the corresponding category at the Oscars.

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