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Great Moments in Spirit Awards History

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: Ally Sheedy at the 1999 Independent Spirit Awards, courtesy of FIND. For more on the awards, including a list of the winners, see the official site.]

Another year, another awards season over, another reason why the Spirit Awards are still more fun than the Oscars: the Spirit Awards don’t have interpretive dance. Ever.

Originally called the “FINDIE Awards” upon their inception in 1984, and the Independent Spirit Awards shortly (and wisely) thereafter, the ISAs remain, more than twenty years after their creation, a place for young talent to get noticed and for deserving talent to get recognition.

There may well be campaigning and politicking and all that unsavory awards season stuff as well, but it doesn’t seem to interfere with the results; the Spirit Awards have a remarkable knack for getting it right. Comparing the list of Spirit Awards Best Feature winners to the one from the Oscars is mind-boggling; you don’t need the benefit of decades of hindsight to realize which award is building a better, more groundbreaking, more watchable catalogue of winners. Consider the two competing canons over the last decade: One has celebrated “Short Cuts,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Fargo,” “Election” and “Memento.” The other has spotlighted “Forrest Gump,” “Shakespeare in Love,” “Gladiator,” “A Beautiful Mind” and “Chicago.”

And, in the end, the Spirit Awards are just plain fun to watch. Here are a few of our favorite Spirit Awards moments and the reasons why the Spirit Awards pretty much rock.

(Most, coincidentally, are available for viewing on our Spirit Awards video player here.)

They’re Not Politically Correct

Every year the Spirit Awards have an Honorary Chair; recent ones include Tom Cruise, Naomi Watts, Halle Berry, Quentin Tarantino and Salma Hayek. In 1992, the honorary chair was filled by Jodie Foster, who delivered a speech about the studio system entitled, “The Scum Sucking Vampire Pig Theory of Hollywood.” In contrast, if one were to use the phrase “Scum Sucking Vampire Pig” at the Oscars, one would almost certainly be removed forcefully from the premises. Foster got to do it while speaking (honorarily) on behalf of the whole damn show.

They Don’t Take Themselves Too Seriously

As evidenced this year, and pretty much every year, the Oscars love a good bit of witty presenter banter. So much of it is banal and intentionally inoffensive, but you can count on a Spirit Awards script to have some balls (as evidenced by provocative comedienne Sarah Silverman serving as host for the last two years). A classic example came in 2004, in a brilliant bit delivered by Jake Gyllenhaal and Emily Mortimer on the subject of awards season screener copies. “We’re not saying all independent films are depressing,” Mortimer began. “Many of them are uplifting, as well as depressing.” That’s why screening tapes are so important, added Gyllenhaal. “They enable Hollywood’s elite to watch gloomy movies in the comfort and safety of their own homes, surrounded by friends, nurturing family and servants who can help them through the difficult awards screening season.” The gag went on to include a 1-800 support line — it pretty much outfunnies the entirety of the 2007 Academy Awards.

They’re Educational

The Spirit Awards are always a good platform to learn about young filmmakers or to sort out confusion over names. This year, after a pronunciation gaffe, we all definitively learned that the young female star (and Spirit Award winner) from “Half Nelson” was Shareeka — not Shakira — Epps. In 1996, Laurence Fishburne used a moment at the podium to clear a similar miscommunication. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he intoned, “this is Samuel L. Jackson. I am Laurence Fishburne. Please do not get us confused with each other again.” If only Bill Paxton and Bill Pullman were just a little more indie, we could finally get that one cleared up as well.

The Songs Are Better

The Academy Awards always include performances of the nominees for Best Song and, invariably, at least four out of the five from every show are totally awful. The Spirit Awards songs, in contrast, are parody numbers aimed at poking a little fun at the Best Feature nominees (again, not taking things too seriously). One of the best — and most surreal — came in 2005, when Michael McKean and backup singers Annie O’Toole and Jane Lynch paid tribute to “Kinsey” with a song that name-checked Nebutol addiction and masturbation and included the phrases “And Kinsey has sex — with — GUYS!” Why this is awesome feels fairly self-explanatory.

People Get Drunk and Do Crazy Shit

Held in a big party tent on the beach in Santa Monica, California, The Spirit Awards are notorious for their laid back attitude and dress code, and for the fact that they serve booze throughout the show and people tend to say things they might otherwise hold in. The all-time classic example, and really, one of the all-time greatest acceptance speeches in the history of all awards shows, came in 1999, when Ally Sheedy won Best Female Lead for her role in “High Art.” After her name was announced, Sheedy leapt onto the stage without using the stairs, then let everything out: “I’ve never been nominated for anything before,” she yelled, “This may never happen again. I’m taking my fucking time!” She dragged Rosanna Arquette, who presented the award, back over to the podium, and made Arquette stand with her as she said “You have no idea how much the two of us have been through. At least twelve years of not being able to get an audition for a sitcom!” Too much information, Ally. When a brief opportunity arose, Arquette, along with co-presenter Don Cheadle, literally ran from the stage to escape the scene. And yet, when I watch it online, I cannot look away.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.