SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- The persistent irony of the Film Independent Spirit Awards is that as much as they're positioned as the DIY antidote to the Academy Awards, the indie film with the most Oscars recognition almost invariably reaps the greatest rewards.
So it was that David O. Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook" -- a fine film, mind you, though one that earned eight Oscar nominations, features the stars of two recent blockbusters (Bradley Cooper of "The Hangover" and Jennifer Lawrence of "The Hunger Games") and has grossed more than $100 million in North America for the Weinstein Company -- was the big victor at Saturday's Spirit Awards ceremony in a large tent on Santa Monica Beach.
"Silver Linings" snagged the awards for best feature, director (Russell), screenplay (Russell again) and female lead (Lawrence) while Benh Zeitlin's "Beasts of the Southern Wild," the year's true indie sensation with four Oscar nominations (including best picture) and a budget believed to be under $2 million (compared to the reported $21 million for "Silver Linings"), took home just the cinematography award for Ben Richardson's rich work in a Louisiana bayou.
The Spirits did rectify a couple of Oscar snubs in the male acting categories, however, naming John Hawkes of Ben Lewin's "The Sessions" best male lead for his nuanced portrayal of a polio-stricken man who hires a sex surrogate (the category also included Cooper of "Silver Linings") and Matthew McConaughey best supporting male for his spirited take on a strip-club owner not afraid to strut his stuff in Steven Soderbergh's "Magic Mike." ("Silver Linings" Oscar nominee Robert De Niro was not up for a Spirit.)
"I had to take my pants off to win a trophy," McConaughey playfully sang as he reached the microphone. "I had to drop my drawers to win an award."
McConaughey, also a male lead nominee for "Killer Joe" and co-star of best feature nominee "Bernie," eloquently reflected upon how much more rewarding his career has become since he rededicated himself to independent films.
Oscar nominee Helen Hunt received the best supporting female award for her fearless, sensitive work as the sex surrogate of "The Sessions." The best international film award went to Michael Haneke's "Amour," which also earned five Oscar nominations.
"I am the oldest man in the whole room," the 70-year-old Austrian filmmaker said upon looking out from the stage.
Kirby Dick's Oscar-nominated "The Invisible War," about sexual assault in the military, won the best documentary award; Stephen Chbosky's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" was named best first feature, and Derek Connolly won the best first screenplay prize for "Safety Not Guaranteed" and delivered a speech was so long and meandering that actor Bryan Cranston eventually leapt to the stage to pour him a drink.
In her acceptance speech, Lawrence testified to how much she loves working on independent films even when days last into the wee hours in the freezing cold. "I love that feeling," she said. "I mean, I'd rather be warm, but you know what I mean."
Russell recalled winning his first Spirit Award 19 (though actually 18) years ago -- best first screenplay for "Spanking the Monkey" -- close to the time that his son Matthew was born. Russell dedicated his "Silver Linings" writing award to Matthew, who was in the audience and whose mental-illness struggles inspired the movie.
Former "Saturday Night Live" star Andy Samberg hosted the relatively lean show, which came in at less than two hours with no musical guests or production numbers. Samberg was fine, scoring points off Anne Hathaway (to whom he applied IFC motto "Always On, Slightly Off"), the Hollywood stars in attendance (including Bruce Willis, a supporting male nominee for "Moonrise Kingdom") and the other Oscar (Pistorius).
But the afternoon's biggest laugh came as a typically out-there Samberg spoof video -- which co-starred a crazy-haired Jack Black and involved the phrase "Beast It!" -- ended, and befuddled 9-year-old "Beasts" star Quvenzhane Wallis was showing mouthing the words, "What the..."