"Far From Heaven" dominated the Independent Spirit Awards with five nods, including best feature, as weekend awards ceremonies got off to a decidedly political start Saturday with winners and presenters voicing their opinions on the war in Iraq.
With the 75th annual Academy Awards scheduled for today, many in the industry wonder whether presenters and winners will follow suit. While Independent Feature Project West Executive Director Dawn Hudson, who organized the Spirit Awards, encouraged guests to "speak out and speak out today," Oscars coordinators have pleaded with their presenters to stick to the script.
The tone of the Spirit Awards was set when Elvis Costello opened with a live acoustic guitar rendition of his classic, "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding."
Saturday's Spirit Awards, a much looser, more spontaneous cousin to the tightly orchestrated Academy Awards, recognized achievement in independent filmmaking. Every year the ceremony takes place amid a party-like atmosphere under a giant tent at the beach in Santa Monica.
Most of the audience seemed to support the sentiment expressed by Dennis Quaid, who told the crowd, "I'd like to send out a prayer of peace to the Iraqi people and safekeeping for our troops" when he accepted his award for best male supporting actor for his role in the 1950s-set melodrama "Far From Heaven."
"Any time you have the pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, you are not long for the White House," said Moore to cheers from the crowd.
Taking things a step further, White urged his colleagues, "Let's use a little of our spirit this year to get Bush out of office."
Others, like best actress winner Julianne Moore, also nominated for Oscars in the same category for "Far From Heaven" and for supporting actress for "The Hours," were more diplomatic. "We are parents and we teach our children that fighting is not the answer," Moore said.
As lively as it was, the event was pure Hollywood, with guests treated to a fancy lunch of roast beef loin, broiled vegetables and mozzarella and Belgian endive.
In troubled times or not, irreverence has been a trademark of the Spirit Awards. Host John Waters told bawdy jokes and expressed his hope that someday, someone would make a "gay children's movie." Actress Leslie Ann Warren performed a vampy rendition of "Stand By Your Man" -- altered to "Cheat on Your Man" -- in a tribute to the film "The Good Girl," which had been nominated for best feature.
The ceremony was a sweep for "Far From Heaven," which took best director for Todd Haynes and best cinematography for Edward Lachman, in addition to best feature and the awards won by Moore and Quaid.
One of the more moving moments came from newcomer Derek Luke, who won best male lead for his role as the troubled young man who redeems himself in "Antwone Fisher."
Luke, who only four years ago was waiting tables at the very same event, said, "I want to thank God because my mother told me at an early age that he exists. There is no other way to explain how I went from the gift shop to the stage," he said, recalling one of his previous jobs.
Other winners included Erin Cressida Wilson for best first screenplay for "Secretary"; best debut performance for Nia Vardalos in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" (also nominated for an Oscar in the original screenplay category); best supporting female for Emily Mortimer for "Lovely and Amazing"; best foreign film for the Mexican road-trip movie "Y Tu Mama Tambien" (also Oscar-nominated for original screenplay); best first feature for Peter Care, "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys"; best feature under $500,000 for "Personal Velocity"; plus $20,000 in grants each for producer Effie T. Brown, documentarian Jennifer Dworkin and director Przemyslaw Reut.