TV Eye

American Spirits

Jennifer Tilly, host of this year's Independent Spirit Awards
Jennifer Tilly, host of this year's Independent Spirit Awards

Of all the awards shows, the Oscars ceremony is the granddaddy of them all. At least it's the oldest. Going into its 72nd year, this year's Annual Academy Awards show airs this Sunday (3/26, 7:30pm, ABC). Billy Crystal makes a welcome return as host of this year's gala event, filled with gowns, glam, jewels, and a hint of Hollywood haughtiness. But it's not the only awards show honoring film this weekend. It's lights, camera, a touch of irreverence, and a whole lot of fun at the Independent Spirit Awards (3/25, 4:30pm, IFC and repeat at 8:30pm, Bravo). Held in a huge tent on the beaches of Santa Monica, the Spirit Awards, now in its 15th year, was created by members of the Independent Feature Project/West to recognize filmmakers who work outside the Hollywood studio system, the so-called "indie" filmmakers who get by with low budgets, favor originality over the formulaic, and feature lesser-known or unknown talent in front of the camera. Well, that's what it used to be like. With indie-friendly companies like New Line Cinema offering works that have made it solidly into the mainstream, the Spirit Awards' claim to outsider status may be a little strained. But no matter. The show is a whole lot of fun, and definitely not the Oscars.

Transmitted live, first on the IFC and later rebroadcast on Bravo, the show is surprisingly entertaining, perhaps because the stuffiness of the Oscars is out in favor of a more laid-back atmosphere (the beach setting helps). You're as likely to see tuxes and gowns in the audience as jeans, thrift-shop glam, and jelly-colored hair. Last year's ceremony featured Queen Latifah as host, with appearances by Jesse Ventura, a 10-minute acceptance speech by Best Actress winner, the ecstatic Ally Sheedy (there's no nagging "play-off music" at the Spirit Awards), and a bravura performance by the King of Trash, John Waters, who spoke on his work outside the margins.

The marvelous Jennifer Tilly is this year's host. There are 14 award categories: Best Feature, Best Feature under $500,000, Best Feature over $500,000, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best First Screenplay, Best Male Lead, Best Supporting Male, Best Female Lead, Best Supporting Female, Best Debut Performance, Best Cinematography, and Best Foreign Film. Three special awards are given to emerging filmmakers and producers: The Truer-Than-Fiction award is given to new documentary filmmakers. The Someone to Watch award is given to emerging feature filmmakers, and the Producer's Award is given to a producer who stands behind high-quality work with limited budgets. Some of the key nominees include:

  • Best Feature: Election, The Limey, The Straight Story, Sugar Town, Cookie's Fortune

  • Best Female Lead: Diane Lane (Walk on the Moon), Janet McTeer (Tumbleweeds), Hilary Swank (Boys Don't Cry), Susan Traylor (Valerie Flake), Reese Witherspoon (Election).

  • Best Male Lead: John Cusack (Being John Malkovich), Richard Farnsworth (The Straight Story), Terence Stamp (The Limey), David Strathairn (Limbo), Noble Willingham (The Corndog Man).

  • Best Feature Over $500,000: Being John Malkovich, Boys Don't Cry, Three Seasons, Twin Falls Idaho, Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl

  • Best Feature Under $500,000: The Blair Witch Project, La Ciudad, Compensation, Judy Berlin, Treasure Island

    Two awards are given in the spirit of encouraging emerging talent:

  • Best Debut Performance: Kimberly J. Brown (Tumbleweeds), Jessica Campbell (Election), Jade Gordon (Sugar Town), Toby Smith (Drylongso), Chris Stafford (Edge of Seventeen).

  • Best First Screenplay: Tod Williams (The Adventures of Sebastian Cole), Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich), Kimberly Pierce and Andy Bienen (Boys Don't Cry), Anne Rapp (Cookie's Fortune), John Roach and Mary Sweeney (The Straight Story).

    Ready for Take-Off

    According to The Hollywood Reporter, several new sitcom and drama pilots are in or near production:

    At NBC: Paul F. Tompkins and Amy Adams star in a new sitcom, The Peter Principle. Amy Pietz, who played Annie Spadaro on Caroline in the City, joins Steven Weber (Wings) in the sitcom Cursed. John Stamos (Full House) plays a private eye in the drama Fortunate Son. Patrick Warburton, who played the sexy doof Puddy on Seinfeld, has the title role as a superhero in a live-action comedy titled The Tick.

    At Fox: David E. Kelley is at work on a new high school drama, The Faculty. The cast includes Fyvush Finkel (Picket Fences), Anthony Heald (The Practice), and Jessalyn Gilsig (The Horse Whisperer).

    At the WB: Elena Lyons is at work on the sitcom Nick, featuring Nick Turturro. Eric Mabius (Welcome to the Dollhouse) and Debbi Morgan (All My Children) are featured in a high school drama, The Learning Curve.

    At CBS: Gregory Nava is shooting a pilot for a new series, An American Family. Based on his feature film Mi Familia, the potential series is described as an hourlong "dramedy" starring Constance Marie.

    At UPN: Aaron Spelling is backing a new, supernatural medical drama, All Souls. It features Daniel Cosgrove (Beverly Hills 90210), Serena Scott Thomas (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Adam Rodriguez (Brooklyn South), and Megan Ward (Dark Skies).

    Jennifer Lumley and Jennifer Saunders of Absolutely Fabulous are said to be working on another sitcom, all new, but with some of the Ab-Fab cast members joining them.

    Michael Moore's irreverent The Awful Truth has been picked up for a second season of exposing ethically challenged corporations on Bravo.

    Take a station break at
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