“Precious” tops the Indie Spirits

Gabourey Sidibe is Precious

This hasn’t been a very good year for people who like awards surprises. And, so, this year’s most high profile indie film, say it with me — “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” —  has won the lion’s share of the more high-profile awards at Film Independent’s Independent Spirit Awards, this year hosted by Eddie Izzard.

To be specific, “Precious” nabbed “Best Feature” from a field that included the very popular “(500) Days of Summer,” Berkeley-bred Cary Joji Fukunaga’s surprisingly assured directorial debut, “Sin Nombre,” and “The Last Station.” Director Lee Daniels, whose work on “Precious” has been the single most criticized aspect of the somewhat controversial film, nevertheless beat the Coen Brothers work on “A Serious Man,” Fukunaga, James Gray of “Two Lovers,” and Michael Hoffman of “The Last Station.” “Precious” also took the Best First Screenplay. The best not-first screenplay went to Scott Neustader and Michael H. Weber of “(500) Days.”

In the acting categories, Gabourey Sidibe received the Best Female Lead for playing Precious herself and, naturally, Mo’Nique proved to own her category fully across all award shows and won the Best Supporting Female category. Among the males, Jeff Bridges, took the Best Male Lead award that is deemed pretty much his due this year for the country music drama, “Crazy Heart.”

Since the $40 million dollar budget of “Inglourious Basterds” presumably put it beyond the realm of the Spirits, Christoph Waltz was not nominated for Best Supporting Male. Instead, he cut a deal in which he collected the award anyway in return for helping the show to end early. Just kidding. Woody Harrelson in his non-zombie-thwacking mode took the award for his work in the low-key stateside wartime drama, “The Messenger.” (My sympathies to Christian McKay of “Me and Orson Welles” — so much critical praise and so few awards even when this year’s male 500 pound gorilla is safely out of the room.)

Anvil! The Story of AnvilBest Foreign Film went to a film that doesn’t feel so foreign now that England is our 52nd state, “An Education.”  Best Documentary went to one some of you might actually have seen and found fun rather than upsetting, “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” defeated a list that included the highly praised “Food, Inc.” (For whatever reason, “The Cove” was not nominated.) Roger Deakins took the cinematography award for “A Serious Man.”

Among the special awards, the John Cassevettes Award, which goes to a film with a budget of less than $500,000, went to a favorite around these parts, Lynn Shelton’s “Humpday,” edging out another film we’ve kind of taken to our breast here, “Big Fan.” The latter film looked, literally, like a million dollars to me, so kudos to the penny-saving producers on that one. “A Serious Man” won the Robert Altman award for its acting ensemble.

You can see a complete list of nominees and winners here. You can also check and see if Indiewire ever corrects their typos here.

  

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Sin Nombre

You’ll want to watch the DVD of writer-director Cary Joji Fukunaga’s acclaimed feature debut on the biggest television set you can find. That’s not only because this film is full of astonishing Latin American location work from a newcomer with a stunning camera eye, but also because Universal saw fit not to make new subtitles for the DVD version of the film, leaving us with only the tiny, eye-strain inducing subtitles from the theatrical release. That technical annoyance aside, this blend of social drama, action-thriller and love story unites American filmmaking slickness with what feels like an insider’s view of the brutal travails of Central American immigrants and the sickness of life inside today’s gangs. The story brings together a heartbroken Mexican gangbanger on the run (Marco Antonio Aguirre) and an innocent Honduran teen (Paulina Gaitan) trying to unite with family in New Jersey in an involving and violent story that does a fine job of humanizing the “illegal immigrants” that fill the fevered imagination of America’s right wing.

On his first feature (produced by the “Y Tu Mama Tambien” twosome of Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal), Berkeley, California-bred writer-director Fukunaga has made an impossibly slick, extremely well-acted combination of indie subject matter and mainstream style that involves us with strong characterization, fine acting from a cast of unknowns, and visual brilliance. Even if “Sin Nombre” ultimately doesn’t quite justify the heartrending journey the film takes us on, it’s a mightily impressive debut that will inspire young filmmakers and seriously anger Lou Dobbs — two highly praiseworthy achievements.

Click to buy “Sin Nombre”

  

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