There were many highlights during the 2021 Independent Spirit Awards on Thursday, which celebrated the best in indie filmmaking from the past year and took place in a virtual format hosted by Saturday Night Live castmember Melissa Villaseñor.
The show included appearances from Borat Subsequent Moviefilm star Maria Bakalova, Cate Blanchett, Laura Dern, Kathryn Hahn, who addressed viewers from her backyard; Kumail Nanjiani, who also appeared from his house and joked that quarantine has been going for “seven years,”; Adam Sandler, Phoebe Waller Bridge, Renee Zellweger, Daveed Diggs and more.
“I love independent movies, because they tent to be wildly inventive, and tend to stray away from mainstream fare,” said Villaseñor in her opening monologue jokingly giving the example of Kitty Green’s drama The Assistant, which is set in the film industry.
Among the winners of the evening was Chloe Zhao for directing Nomadland, which also won the coveted best feature award. Yuh-Jung Youn was recognized for her performance in Minari, who referred to director Lee Isaac Chung as her “captain” in her acceptance speech; Darius Marder for best first feature for Sound of Metal, the ensemble cast of I May Destroy You, actors Riz Ahmed and Paul Raci for Sound of Metal, writer and director Emerald Fennell for her Promising Young Woman screenplay.
The 36th annual event aired, just three days before the Oscars, on IFC and AMC+. Judas and the Black Messiah director Shaka King served as honorary chair.
From Villaseñor’s introduction to powerful acceptance speeches and more, The Hollywood Reporter has rounded up all of the highlights from the 2021 Independent Spirit Awards — including the night’s most powerful moments and even an odd surprise.
Host Melissa Villaseñor Kicks Off Show By Acknowledging Pandemic
“As you may have noticed, we’re not in the big tent on the beach. Instead we’re in a place more familiar to independent film fans: a completely empty theater,” Villaseñor said to an audience only consisting of production crew. She utilized her monologue to poke some fun at the lack of moviegoing amid the pandemic: “This was a tough year to get people to watch independent movies. Who spends all day reading COVID statistics and says ‘ooh, I could really go for a long film with an ambiguous ending right now.’ “Though Villaseñor didn’t deliver any major jabs at the nominated films, that didn’t stop the host from poking some fun. Of Minari, Villaseñor quipped that the film featured the “funniest grandma not played by Tyler Perry.” Of Sound of Metal, which centers on a deaf drummer, she said that “it would sound like every metal band.” Meanwhile, Villaseñor described Regina King’s One Night in Miami — which is being honored with the Robert Altman Award (“which honors films where people talk over one another, ” she joked) — as the “best film that sounds like porn but isn’t.” “Better luck next time Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” she added. Then of Nomadland, she said the film “really changed the way I look at people who drive around alone in beat up vans.” “I used to think, ‘oh there goes a sex offender.’ But now I think, ‘there goes a nice lady navigating grief and economic uncertainty.’ – Lexy Perez
One Night in Miami Cast and Crew Win Robert Altman Award
One Night in Miami was honored Thursday with the Robert Altman Award, presented by Don Cheadle to the cast and crew, who discussed the film’s creative and social impact over a montage of clips. Regina King described her directorial debut — which depicts a fictional night where Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown gather to discuss their roles in the Civil Rights Movement — as “a love letter to Black men.” Leslie Odom Jr., who portrays Cooke in the film, added that the cast fully recognized screenwriter Kemp Powers’ goal of putting forth “a private conversation publicly about Black life and our humanity.” One Night in Miami joins the ranks of movies like Marriage Story, Spotlight, Moonlight, Mudbound and Suspiria that have won the Robert Altman Award in the past. – Sharareh Drury
Villaseñor Plays Owen Wilson in Sketch With Nomadland star Frances McDormand
Host Villaseñor impersonated Owen Wilson as a worker in a sporting goods store in South Dakota, where he bumps into Nomadland star Frances McDormand. “I’m out of the movie game,” Villaseñor declared, in character as Wilson, explaining that he has hypertension and his mother forced him to move. Later, he pressed McDormand on the struggle of independent filmmaking. “Are you okay? You seem kind of down.” McDormand did not engage too much with Wilson, who continued chatting. He brought up his brother Luke, and asked McDormand to ask her husband, Joel Coen, to put him in a “buddy movie” with McDormand. “Maybe we can find a baby on the street,” said Villasenor in character, coming up with a premise for the potential movie. “Don’t wait too long. I’m next in line for night manager and I don’t want to do that.” At the end, Wilson was called to clean up some golf balls in aisle nine. – Trilby Beresford
I May Destroy You Wins Ensemble Award
I May Destroy You was honored with the best ensemble trophy, recognizing the HBO limited series cast including Michaela Coel, Paapa Essiedu, Weruche Opia and Stephen Wight. The series also received a win for best new scripted series earlier in the show. “I felt nothing but encouragement and support from my wonderful humble cast who brought these characters to life in a way that I never imagined possible,” Coel said as she expressed her gratitude to the castmembers. “I realize that this project had a lot of giving actors who were very giving of themselves to these character to the stories to the truth of these characters and stories,” said Opia. The boundary-pushing series created, executive produced, co-directed, written by lead star Coel is based on her personal story of sexual assault. – Lexy Perez
Adam Sandler Appears With “Unintentional, Extremely Hip” Beard
“Hello I’m Adam Sandler: the face of the Independent Spirit Awards. If you’re wondering why I have an extremely hip beard now, it wasn’t intentional.” He quipped that after winning for his “incomparable performance,” his “beard just appeared on my face.” “Was it magic or was it the independent spirits that did it? Yes, my wife and kids haven’t looked at me without cringing in over 12 months.” He then joked that things are ok because he was given a “bag of CBD coffee” for his birthday and he does yoga with Bon Iver. Of the best female lead nominees: “You just poured your soul into a role and dug deeper than you knew you were every capable. Now do your next movie with Rob Schneider and David Spade. It’s fun, less painful and it keeps people guessing.” – Lexy Perez
Yuh-Jung Youn Wins for Minari
Yuh-Jung Youn won the first award of the night for best supporting female. “When I made this film, I never even think about having an award or something but wow,” she said when virtually accepting her award. “This is amazing and I’m very grateful even though without money, without time, but we survived all right. And somehow we got together very closely because we don’t have any luxury, space so we got together in the trailer and then we became really family. I think it’s all because of that we made this far.” She also thanked Minari helmer Lee Isaac Chung who she described as “our captain, my captain.” The win comes amid Youn achieving a best-supporting actress Oscar nomination, a first for a Korean actress. She also made history by securing trophies at the recent BAFTA Awards and SAG Awards as she became the first Korean actress to ever win the best female actor in a supporting role category. – Lexy Perez
Villaseñor Impersonates Kristin Wiig Explaining How the Spirits Will Honor Indie Television
Tackling a Kristin Wiig impersonation, Villaseñor emerged at one point during the first half of the show and explained that, usually, someone would be giving a “boring speech” about the Spirit Awards at this time, but that wasn’t going to happen this year. “Instead they asked me to share with you,” she said. “For the first time in history, Spirits will honor the best in independent television,” she said. And then she posed a query: But what is an indie TV show? Villaseñor went into the two relevant questions, such as “What’s the vibe?” She said that indie films tend to be more sad than happy. “Is it popular?” was the second question, followed by the Villaseñor noting that the TV shows had to come out in the last year. – Trilby Beresford