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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.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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