Last year, it was the bulldozer momentum of Oliver Stone's "Platoon" that plowed through the Independent Feature Project/West's Independent Spirit Awards, capturing four key awards.
But this year's kudos--handed out Saturday before a starry but dressed-for-comfort capacity crowd at Rosalie's 385 North restaurant--reflected the sheer number and diversity of independently produced and distributed films released in 1987.
Certainly there were favorites: Both the anomie-laced "River's Edge" (best feature, best screenplay) and John Huston's graceful last film "The Dead" (best director, best supporting actress--Anjelica Huston) picked up two Spirits apiece.
And the awards generally reflected a playful thumb-to-the-nose attitude toward those other statuettes being handed out tonight at the Shrine Auditorium.
Yet the lack of pretension of the luncheon and ceremony--where down-on-their-luck screenwriters can hobnob with the likes of ex-Columbia Pictures chief David Puttnam and revered French director Louis Malle--remained from last year (and the year before that), a bracing pause amid so much Oscarmania.
The attendees' outlook was nicely summed up in the saucy attitude of emcee Buck Henry (returning from last year), who remarked on Puttnam's flight from Columbia that "now I can kiss up to David Puttnam because of his films, not because of his studio clout."
As they were last year, a number of Oscar hopefuls were on hand for the dispersal of Spirits: "Matewan" cinematographer Haskell Wexler (who won the Spirit for cinematography), "Anna" star Sally Kirkland (slightly embarrassed to have to stoop down to the podium microphone to accept her Spirit for best actress), and Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom, who accepted the nonprofit project's best foreign film award for his "My Life as a Dog."
Both "River's Edge" and "The Dead" had claques cheering lustily whenever those films were mentioned. But the latter's table went wild when the best director Spirit went to the late John Huston. Accepting the award, Tony Huston--in an eerie echo of his father's trademark speech and accent--said John Huston "was indeed a most independent spirit--which we children quickly learned, to our profit and, sometimes, our dismay."
After accepting his best screenplay award, Neil Jimenez briefly charted the ascent of "River's Edge" from the netherworld of development to production and success. "All along, I never imagined it would get this far," Jimenez said. "Now, since I have such luck foretelling the future, I predict a landslide victory for (Vice President) George Bush in the fall."
Malle delivered the halting but heartfelt keynote address, which reminded the audience that "the more money associated with a film, the more greed that comes with it, and the less freedom you have to make the film you must . . . and your vision becomes more and more warped by the pursuit of the paycheck." Instead, Malle suggested, "You must remember that making a film is like fashioning a love story between you and the medium of film."
Morgan Freeman--also nominated for an Oscar--took the best supporting actor Spirit, and "Dirty Dancing" director Emile Ardolino accepted the project's award for the year's best first feature.
Dennis Quaid, who won the best actor award for his performance in "The Big Easy," spoke of the independent state of mind in his acceptance speech.
Quaid thanked Puttnam, who, as chairman of the Coca-Cola Co.-owned Columbia, distributed "The Big Easy" domestically, for "carrying the film into the U.S. over the objections of everyone over there at the Bill Cosby Studios"--a reference to Puttnam's well-publicized spats with megastar and Coke spokesman Cosby over the latter's unsuccessful Christmas movie "Leonard Part VI."