Political comments smatter ceremony

Far From Heaven” was blessed at the Independent Feature Project’s 18th annual Independent Spirit awards Saturday afternoon in Santa Monica, winning in all five of its nominated categories.

In addition to taking best feature, trophies went to its director, Todd Haynes, star Julianne Moore, supporting actor Dennis Quaid and cinematographer Edward Lachman.

Focus Features’ “Far From Heaven” was the only film to win in multiple categories. Lions Gate Films’ “Lovely & Amazing,” which had six nominations and the most of any film, took home only one for best supporting actress Emily Mortimer.

However, the 2003 Spirit Awards will be best remembered for taking place as American troops approached Baghdad and as Hollywood wondered if the Oscars would really take place as planned.

If the IFP’s red-carpet gala served a canary in a coalmine for a nation that’s still trying to figure out how to behave in a time of war, it was a task that the event pulled off with grace.

Elvis Costello set the tone with an opening performance of his hit “What’s So Funny (’bout Peace, Love and Understanding)” that drew extended applause. He was followed by M.C. John Waters, who opened his patter with, “Saddam Hussein, George Bush – nothing will stop me from getting my gift bag.”

Presenters and winners offered a smattering of anti-war remarks. IFP board member Don Cheadle read a statement stating the IFP’s position on the conflict that included, “We have the right to voice our concerns without being called un-American.”

Best screenplay winner Mike White (“The Good Girl”) ended his short speech with, “Let’s use a little of our spirit this year to get Bush out of office.”

Even the irrepressible Michael Moore, who received a trophy for his hit anti-gun doc “Bowling For Columbine,” kept his biting commentary brief.

“It’s strange to win a prize for a nonfiction film in a time when we have a fictitious president conducting a war for fictitious reasons,” he said. “This is a sad, sick and immoral lesson for the children of Columbine.”

While political commentary didn’t overwhelm the event, one actor’s performance came close.

Brittany Murphy, who currently can be seen as a speed freak in Newmarket Films’ “Spun,” made a confused and rambling appearance as the presenter for best debut performance. She began to open the winner’s envelope after reading one nominee, stopping only when the audience yelled at her, and repeated the mistake after reading the second nominated actor. Then, after reversing the first and last names of “Dahmer”-nommed actor Artel Kayaru, she finally read the winner, Nia Vardalos, without incident. The actress, however, was not present to receive her award.

However, even Murphy’s unique presentation could not upstage the unbridled glee of actor Derek Luke, who won Best Male Lead for his turn in “Antwone Fisher.” Bringing his wife of four years, April, on stage with him, the former Sony gift shop employee explained that it was only her support that had kept him from returning to New Jersey and handed the trophy to her.

Luke added that, four years ago, he was one of the waiters serving audience members at the Independent Spirit Awards. He concluded his speech by leaping in the air several times, clearing the stage by a good three feet.

WINNERS LIST

Best Picture
Far From Heaven (Focus Features). Jody Patton and Christine Vachon, producers

Best Director
Todd Haynes, Far From Heaven (Focus Features)

Best Screenplay
Mike White, The Good Girl (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Best First Feature
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys (THINKfilm). Peter Care, director

Best First Screenplay
Erin Cressida Wilson, Secretary (Lions Gate Films)

John Cassavetes Award (for the Best Feature made for Under $500,000)
Personal Velocity (United Artists). Rebecca Miller, writer/director; Lemore Syvan, Alexis Alexanian, and Gary Winick, producers

Best Debut Performance
Nia Vardalos, My Big Fat Greek Wedding (IFC Films)

Best Supporting Female
Emily Mortimer, Lovely & Amazing (Lions Gate Films)

Best Supporting Male
Dennis Quaid, Far From Heaven (Focus Features)

Best Female Lead
Julianne Moore, Far From Heaven (Focus Features)

Best Male Lead
Derek Luke, Antwone Fisher (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Best Cinematographer
Edward Lachman, Far From Heaven (Focus Features)

Best Foreign Film
Y Tu Mamá También (IFC Films). Alfonso Cuarón, director

Best Documentary
Bowling for Columbine (United Artists). Michael Moore, director

Motorola Producers Award
Effie T. Brown, producer, Real Women Have Curves and Stranger Inside

Turning Leaf Coastal Reserve Someone To Watch Award
Presmyslaw Reut, director, Paradox

DIRECTV/IFC Truer Than Fiction Award
Jennifer Dworkin, director, Love & Diane

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