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The 23rd Annual Spirit Awards Sets Up Its Tents on the Beach:

Despite wind-swept rains drenching Santa Monica, guests and honorees showed at the beach wearing their best, or not so best, t-shirts, jeans, and tennis shoes to participate in the Film Independent’s 2008 Spirit Awards, which pays tribute to independent filmmakers who are not constricted by studio demands and can make the films that are true to their vision.  

The films receiving awards were among some of the most outstanding of the year including I’m Not There, Juno, The Savages, and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which garnered the Best Director award for Julian Schnabel.

Among those walking the blue carpet were Dennis Hopper, Parker Posey, John Waters, Keri Russell, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie. Though still mum on the subject, Jolie was sporting what undeniably looked like a baby bump.

Unlike the Oscars, tasteless sketches and the generous use of the “f” word were plentiful.  One wonders why there is so little dignity to proceedings, which were created to honor daring and creativity.  Master of Ceremonies Rainn Wilson delivered material that was just plain stupid and tasteless, paying a great disservice to the incredible collective talent of the honorees. 

That said, here are award highlights and comments:

Best Supporting Female: Cate Blanchett, I’m Not There

Blanchett commented on her background in independent films saying, “I’m a product of the Australian film industry which by its very nature is independent – sometimes better, sometimes worse – and it’s very hard for directors, in particular, to get their second feature made, let alone their first feature.  I suppose the collaborative nature of independent films is what feels natural to me.” She added, “The independent spirit is not just about financing, but the creative thinking behind it.”  When the very pregnant Blanchett was asked about the gender of her baby, she quipped, “I’m having a baby, that’s about all I know.”

Best First Screenplay: Diablo Cody, Juno

“Getting the film made is the award,” said a very animated Diablo Cody, and when asked what kind of advice she would give to someone starting out, she said, “Don’t listen to anybody, ever.  You have to tune in to your own voice even if it doesn’t coincide with what is fashionable or what is seemingly cool.”  She commented about the number of female screenwriters being nominated this year saying, “Me and all those women have been herded together on panels during the course of this season.  We all have these complicated relationships because there’s that feeling of being singled out as a woman, which sometimes makes you feel like you’re in a special Olympics. ‘Like oh my God, you’re a woman and you wrote a screenplay and it’s so amazing that you could do that.’  But it’s very nice to be in the company of such smart dames and I’m honored to be among their number.”

As far as what is next on her agenda, Cody said, “I’m going to be getting arthroscopic shoulder surgery on this very arm with which I clutched this statue,” jokingly adding, “Not because of the weight of the statue but because this is a very old injury.  So that’s the first weird thing I have to do like two days after I get home.”  

Best Screenplay: Tamara Jenkins, The Savages  

When asked where the idea for this film came from, Jenkins said, “Inspiration for this particular film came from some personal experience with two family members who were in nursing homes at the end of their lives.”

Best Male Lead: Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Savages

Asked what he learned as a result of this film, Hoffman said, “It’s difficult to say, as you don’t realize what you’ve learned until it comes up in your life and you say, ‘Oh yeah, I think I got that from that film.’  He noted that this was the first film where he “actually felt like a sibling with Laura [Linney] and Tamara after it was over.”  He also commented, “Working with Tamara was no different than working with any other director, and gender was not an issue.”

Beating out some formidable competition, Ellen Page, who just turned 21, took away the Best Female Lead prize for her wonderful performance as a young pregnant teenager in Juno.

This gifted young actress just celebrated her 21st birthday and said, “Juno was a lovefest all the way through.”

The ceremony ended with Wilson jumping off the stage and running through the packed tent to where Philip Seymour Hoffman was seated.  He then pulled him off his chair and wrestled him to the ground where the two of them kept rolling over.  It was supposed to be funny but from the surprised look on some faces, clearly it was more shocking than funny, and even though Hoffman is one of the finest actors in Hollywood, seeing his butt crack was just more than anyone needed to be treated to at that point.

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