×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Spirit Awards: ‘Moonlight’ Dominates En Route to the Oscars

Four of the last five Film Independent Spirit Award winners for best feature have gone on to secure the best picture Oscar. But that wasn’t always the status quo. Rather, it’s indicative of the Academy Awards’ slow evolution into something resembling the Spirits.

The last best feature Spirit winner to sit out the Oscars’ top race was “The Wrestler” in 2008, which was notably the last time the Academy’s best picture field was limited to five nominees. Since that shift, every Spirit champ has also been Oscar-nominated for best picture (some fudged in thanks to softly governed budgetary limitations).

Why? You have to go back to that very critical Academy decision eight years ago, expanding the best picture field first to 10 nominees, then to anywhere from five to 10 depending on how Byzantine math unfolds. It was a move meant to open the door to popular films, but instead it ballooned the category into a slate of smaller movies like “A Serious Man,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “Winter’s Bone,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Nebraska,” “Whiplash,” “Room” — Spirit thoroughbreds, essentially.

Interestingly, this all happened just as the major studios were focusing less and less on the kinds of stories that attract Academy Award nominations, and more on scalable intellectual properties that have turned the business of Hollywood into something very different than what it was even a decade ago.

It used to be that the Oscars and the Spirits were more like far, far distant cousins. “Stand and Deliver,” “sex, lies, and videotape,” “Rambling Rose” — these were movies the Spirits celebrated, but the Academy could only bring itself to recognize in performance and screenplay categories at best. However, amid a general mid-1990s boom for American indies, these movies slowly began to infiltrate the best picture Oscar scene. “Pulp Fiction” and “Fargo” poked through first, and before long — as studio-affiliated arms like Fox Searchlight and Focus Features enjoyed a heyday — “Lost in Translation,” “Sideways” and “Little Miss Sunshine,” among others.

But victory at the Academy Awards remained elusive, so much so that an industry maxim was born: “Win on Saturday, lose on Sunday.” You had to go all the way back back to 1986’s “Platoon” for the last Spirit/Oscar victor. But that all changed with “The Artist” five years ago. Since then, “12 Years a Slave,” “Birdman” and “Spotlight” have followed in its wake.

Which brings me to this year. “La La Land,” a pure product of the modern awards movie road map — fall festival debut followed by platform release — was made at a mid-range price point ($30 million) that took it out of Spirits consideration. That ceded the territory to Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight,” which won six awards Saturday afternoon including best feature, best director and best screenplay. It would have been interesting to see them head to head on this particular turf, but a $1.5 million passion project from a filmmaker nearly a decade removed from his debut feature is right at home at the Spirits.

These two films have danced with each other since world premiering mere days apart five months ago. They were neck-and-neck throughout the critics’ awards circuit, but “La La Land” eventually pulled away with major guild victories. If the usual best picture tea leaves are correct, we’ll be back to “win on Saturday, lose on Sunday” this year, but Saturday unequivocally belonged to a vital, soft-spoken artist from Miami who gave the industry and audiences a gift in 2016.

Whatever happens tomorrow, “Moonlight” is forever.

More Film

  • Nicolas Cage

    Film News Roundup: Nicolas Cage's 'Jiu Jitsu' Obtains Cyprus Support

    In today’s film news roundup, Cyprus is backing Nicolas Cage’s “Jiu Jitsu”; “The Nanny” and “Amityville 1974” are moving forward; “Milk” is returning to theaters; and Garrett Hedlund’s “Burden” is getting distribution. CYPRUS REBATE Nicolas Cage’s “Jiu Jitsu” has become the first international film to use Cyprus’ new tax credit-rebate program by filming entirely in [...]

  • Zhao Tao

    Zhao Tao Gets Candid in Kering's Shanghai Women in Motion Showcase Interview

    Zhao Tao is one of the most recognizable faces in Chinese art cinema thanks to her longtime collaboration with director Jia Zhangke, whom she married in 2012. From 2000’s “Platform” to last year’s “Ash is Purest White,” her work has plumbed the moral depths of modern China and brought stories of the country’s drastic change [...]

  • Skyline on the Huangpu River with

    Chinese-American Film Festival Seeks Particular Dialog

    With U.S.-China ties at an ever-sinking low, the Chinese-American Film and TV Festival on Tuesday pledged to improve communications between the two countries —  at a Chinese language-only press conference Tuesday that had few foreigners present. Most attendees who took to the stage to give congratulatory speeches that seemed more intent on heaping praise upon [...]

  • Murder Mystery

    Netflix Reveals Record-Breaking Stats for Sandler-Aniston 'Murder Mystery' Flick

    “Murder Mystery,” the latest Adam Sandler film to debut on Netflix, broke viewing records on the streaming service, the company revealed Tuesday. The film, which is co-headlined by Jennifer Aniston, was seen by close to 30.9 million households in its first 3 days, according to a tweet sent out Tuesday afternoon. 🚨ADAM SANDLER AND JENNIFER [...]

  • Agents Accuse Writers Guild of Refusing

    Writers Guild 'Plans to Respond' to Agents' Proposal as Frustration Mounts

    In a sign of increasing frustration, Hollywood agents have accused the Writers Guild of America of foot-dragging in the bitter two-month dispute. “It has become clear as more days pass that the Guild is not interested in making a deal,” said the negotiating committee for the agents in statement issued Tuesday. “Over the past year, [...]

  • Jermaine Fowler arrives at the 69th

    Jermaine Fowler to Co-Star With Eddie Murphy in 'Coming 2 America' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jermaine Fowler is set to play one of the leads opposite Eddie Murphy in Paramount’s sequel “Coming 2 America,” sources tell Variety. “Hustle & Flow” helmer Craig Brewer is on board to direct the pic with the studio planning an August 7, 2020 release. Plot details of “Coming 2 America” are unknown, as are the [...]

  • Henry Golding attends the Fragrance Foundation

    Henry Golding Starts Long House Shingle With 'Inheritance,' 'Harrington's Greatest Hits'

    “Crazy Rich Asians” star Henry Golding has started Long House Productions in partnership with China’s Starlight Cultural Entertainment Group with two features in the works. Golding’s first feature under the Long House banner is action adventure “The Inheritance,” based on an original story idea by Alistair Hudson and Golding. Hudson is writing the script for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content