SANTA MONICA, California—If Harvey Weinstein was the easy punching bag at last year’s Independent Spirit Awards, there was a target even closer to home this time around.
Just one day before The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would finally hand out their trophies at the end of an especially beleaguered award season, Spirit Awards host Aubrey Plaza took aim at the Oscars in her opening monologue.
“The network’s first choice to host was no one,” she began after an elaborate cold open sketch that featured a canal of indie film actresses sacrificing “virgin” Finn Wolfhard. “But they’re already booked for tomorrow so you got me!”
Another highlight of the afternoon came in the form of a Fyre Fest-inspired sketch starring Plaza’s Parks and Recreation co-star Jim O’Heir, who explained on video how he had to “suck dick” to make sure the ceremony had enough Fiji water for everyone.
Besides the presence of a real-live host, the most significant difference between the Spirit Awards and the Oscars is that the former nominated three women for Best Director unlike the typically all-male field that will compete for that prize Sunday night.
“I’m very proud to say that 60 percent of our director nominees are women,” Plaza said. “Don’t get too excited. In this case, 60 percent just means three women. But calling it 60 percent makes it sound way scarier to your uncles and that's fun for me!”
Presenting the award, Laura Dern made sure to highlight that the nominees consisted of “three women and two men” before announcing as the winner Barry Jenkins for If Beale Street Could Talk.
“I’m not going to lie, I didn’t want to win this award,” Jenkins admitted in his acceptance speech, making the case for why more women should be given the opportunity to helm both independent and major motion pictures. In particular, he shouted out You Were Never Really Here director Lynne Ramsay for serving as a mentor to him early in his career.
Debra Granik, widely considered the most likely to break into this year’s Oscar field, took home the Bonnie Award, given to a mid-career female director, for her film Leave No Trace. And accepting the award for Best Screenplay for Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Nicole Holofcener brought director Marielle Heller—another woman snubbed by the Academy—on stage to join in the celebration.
For the first time in over a decade there was zero overlap between the eight films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar and the five competing for Best Feature at the Spirits. So we can’t divine any Oscar wisdom from the choice of If Beale Street Could Talk as the big winner of the night.
But if this year’s Independent Spirit Awards taught us anything, it’s that there is real value in having a host at these events. As always, this freewheeling party on the beach was more fun than the Oscars. But this time it was also funnier, thanks to the hilarious Aubrey Plaza.