Spirit Awards Toasts ‘Sideways’ With Sweep of Six Major Categories

Times Staff Writer

The IFP Independent Spirit Awards raised a glass to “Sideways” on Saturday with six major awards: best feature, director, screenplay, actor, supporting actor and supporting actress.

The dark, acerbic comedy about two losers on a road trip to the Santa Barbara wine country has received the majority of the 2004 best picture accolades from critics’ groups, and won the Golden Globe for best comedy or musical.

Director Alexander Payne and writing partner Jim Taylor also picked up the Golden Globe for screenplay and took the Writers Guild Award for best adapted screenplay. “Sideways” also is up for five Academy Awards, including best picture and director.

Although shut out of the Oscar nominations, “Sideways” star Paul Giamatti won the Spirit Awards’ best actor honors for his role as a middle-aged wine snob. Fellow cast members and Oscar contenders in their respective categories Thomas Haden Church picked up supporting actor honors for his performance as a randy has-been actor and Virginia Madsen received supporting actress honors as a divorced waitress who takes a shine to Giamatti.

Oscar nominee Catalina Sandino Moreno won for best female lead as a young Colombian woman who becomes a drug mule in “Maria Full of Grace.” The film also picked up best first screenplay honors for director Joshua Marston.


The bittersweet romantic comedy “Garden State,” written and directed by “Scrubs” star Zach Braff, was named best first feature.

The Independent Spirit Awards, which are held under a big tent on the beach in Santa Monica, celebrated their 20th anniversary Saturday.

The annual event put on by the Independent Feature Project may have begun as a small, grass-roots program honoring work from the then-burgeoning independent film scene, but over the last two decades it has turned into a big, hip party -- sort of a flip, irreverent cousin to the more traditional Oscars.

Stars eschew Harry Winston diamonds, Vera Wang gowns and Armani tuxes for shabby-chic casual and blue jeans, leather jackets and athletic shoes.

Despite the increasingly elevated profile of the Spirit Awards and the fact that several nominees routinely are Oscar contenders, many of the nominated films barely or never see the inside of a commercial theater.

“Cavedweller,” which was not distributed theatrically, for example, was sold to cable channel Showtime. A film recognized with the John Cassavetes Award for best feature made for under $500,000 and for its distinctive youthful ensemble cast, “Mean Creak” received limited theatrical exposure.

The two-hour Spirit Awards ceremony -- complete with clever ditties composed for each of the best feature nominees and awards presented by several of the same stars (host Samuel L. Jackson, for example, as well as Jake Gyllenhaal, Laura Linney and Robin Williams, among others) who will walk the red carpet tonight at the Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre -- aired live on cable’s Independent Film Channel and on a taped-delay basis, complete with a one-hour red carpet special, in the evening on Bravo.

Jackson took over as emcee this year for director John Waters, who took a break after serving as the host for the last few years. Quentin Tarantino and Salma Hayek (also an Oscar presenter tonight) served as honorary co-chairs.

Others winners Saturday:

* Best debut performance: Rodrigo de la Serna, “The Motorcycle Diaries”

* Best cinematography: Eric Gautier, “The Motorcycle Diaries”

* Best foreign film: “The Sea Inside”

* Best documentary: “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster”

* Bravo/American Express Producers Award: Gina Kwon

* Turning Leaf Someone to Watch Award: Jem Cohen, director of “Chain”

* DirectTV/IFC Truer Than Fiction Award: Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman, directors of “Born Into Brothels.”