12 Years A Slave cleans up at Oscars Spirit Awards last night
The eve-of Oscars Spirit Awards has seen 12 Years A Slave scoop five gongs, including best feature at the annual independent film celebration.
The slavery tale won awards for director Steve McQueen, actress Lupita Nyong'o, screenwriter John Ridley and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt. In a more laid-back, beachside ceremony in Santa Monica, just west of Los Angeles, 12 Years A Slave was applauded as the clear favourite of the indie circuit.
The Spirit Awards could end up being - more than ever before - a dress rehearsal to the Academy Awards. Twelve Years is considered, albeit extremely narrowly, the favourite for best picture over the space spectacle Gravity and the 1970s con-artist American Hustle. Neither film was eligible at the Spirits, which honour films made for 20 million dollars (£12m) or less.
The acting winners, too, may line up. All of the Oscar favorites won at the Spirits, including best actor for Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club and Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine. McConaughey's co-star, Jared Leto, won best male supporting performance.
Leto gave what might be the acceptance speech to end all acceptance speeches, rattling off an absurd list of thank yous to not just those with Dallas Buyers Club, but Hermann Hesse, Wayne Gretzky, home-made burritos, "the seven billion people on the planet" and many more.
The actor-rocker added, with emphasis, "all the women I've been with and all the women who think they've been with me".
For many, the Spirit Awards conclude months of award-season events and they provide a chance to exhale before the Oscars. McConaughey, Blanchett, Leto and Nyong'o have racked up a slew of awards, often triumphing over the same colleagues.
"What am I going to say that I haven't already said?" Blanchett remarked in her acceptance speech. On her way into the luncheon, the actress also repeated her view of the renewed scandal surrounding Blue Jasmine director Woody Allen and Dylan Farrow's claims he sexually assaulted her as a child. "It's a family issue, and I hope they can resolve it as a family," she said.
This award, one of many for Nyong'o, stood out for the now 31-year-old actress: "Not a bad way to celebrate my birthday," she said.
Nyong'o dedicated the award to her mother Dorothy, who was in the audience, for years of driving her to auditions. "Your love has driven me this far," she said.
Presented by Film Independent - a group of film-makers, industry professionals and movie buffs - and hosted by Patton Oswalt, the Spirits are first and foremost a show to fete indie film and cast a spotlight on the little films that have to scrape money together to get made.
McQueen, with 12 Years a Slave producer Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie looking on, reflected on how the naturalistic films of John Cassavetes "changed my life". He dedicated his directing award to Cassavetes and Solomon Northup, the man on whose memoir 12 Years a Slave is based.
In accepting the award for best first feature, Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler provided the most emotional moment. His film is about Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old black man shot while handcuffed by police.
Coogler implored the audience to remember the "thousands of other Oscar Grants" and wondered why so many victims of such gun violence "always look like me". The crowd gave him a standing ovation.
Several beloved fixtures of independent film were also remembered. The deaths of James Gandolfini, Philip Seymour Hoffman and critic Roger Ebert over the last year were singled out. Gandolfini's wife, Deborah Lin, and one of their two children attended the ceremony.
The Spirits' Robert Altman Award, an honour for best ensemble and director, was given to Jeff Nichols' coming-of-age tale Mud. The John Cassavetes Award for films made for less than 500,000 dollars, went to the unlikely friendship drama This Is Martin Bonner, which director Chad Hartigan said was made for just 42,000 dollars (£25,000). Gasps of admiration were heard throughout the beachside tent.
Other winners included 20 Feet From Stardom for best documentary, Blue Is the Warmest Color for best international film, Bob Nelson Of Nebraska for best first screenplay, and Short Term 12 for best editing.