Call it an act of justice or just plain old good taste.
"Election" finally got the kind of props it deserved.
After getting all but snubbed by Oscar voters, the critically acclaimed high school satire, starring Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick, was vindicated at today's IFP/West's 15th Annual Independent Spirit Awards, taking a field-best three mentions for best indie feature, best screenplay and best director.
The indie-minded types, who gathered here in a tent for the afternoon beachfront ceremony, also assured Oscar nominees Hilary Swank, Charlie Kaufman, Richard Farnsworth and Chloë Sevginy of glory -- regardless of whether Academy voters deign them worthy of gold statuettes Sunday.
Swank, who faces the daunting task of trying to defeat Mrs. Warren Beatty (aka Annette Bening) in the Oscar race, was tapped best lead actress in an indie film for the gender-bending "Boys Don't Cry." Her co-star, Chloë Sevigny, a Best Supporting Actress nominee at the Academy Awards (where she's expected to lose to Angelina Jolie), was named best supporting female.
Another big winner was Richard Farnsworth, named best actor for "The Straight Story." He's also up for an Oscar (and also expected to lose -- to either "American Beauty's" Kevin Spacey or "The Hurricane's" Denzel Washington.)
At the Oscars, writer/director Alexander Payne is up for one award (best original screenplay). But today, he personally took three in the "Election" sweep.
Though a bit shocked by the sudden attention, Payne was not a bit surprised that Spirit voters remembered the flick (released in April) -- even if Academy voters mostly didn't.
"Everybody always says that movies that come earlier [are forgotten because of audiences'] short memory," Payne told reporters backstage. "I don't know how much that actually applies. ... I don't know [how much that matters.]"
Kaufman, also a nominee in Sunday's best original screenplay competition for "Being John Malkovich," took the Spirit Award for best first screenplay. "Malkovich" also was tapped best first feature, among flicks with budgets larger than $500,000.
"Malkovich" and "Boys Don't Cry" were the afternoon's other multiple winners, winning two categories each.
While Kaufman and "Malkovich" director Spike Jonze remained relatively curt with their responses backstage, R.E.M. rocker Michael Stipe, one of the film's behind-the-sceners, was unabashed on why the film appealed to him as a producer.
"It's not like the usual Hollywood trash," stated Stipe flatly. "[The script takes] the narrative and changes its order. [It's] something's that not the cookie-cutter Hollywood feature."
Here's a complete look at the winners of the 15th Annual Independent Spirit Awards:
Best Feature: "Election" Best First Feature (Over $500,000): "Being John Malkovich" Best First Feature (Under $500,000): "The Blair Witch Project" Best Director: Alexander Payne ("Election") Best Female Lead: Hilary Swank ("Boys Don't Cry") Best Male Lead: Richard Farnsworth ("The Straight Story") Best Supporting Female: Chloë Sevigny ("Boys Don't Cry") Best Supporting Male: Steve Zahn ("Happy, Texas") Best Debut Performance: Kimberly J. Brown ("Tumbleweeds") Best Screenplay: Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor ("Election") Best First Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman ("Being John Malkovich") Best Cinematographer: Lisa Rinzler ("Three Seasons") Best Foreign Film: "Run Lola Run" (Germany)
In a surprising move, the members of the New York Film Critics Circle, an association of film reviewers from major Manhattan-based newspapers and magazines, selected "Topsy-Turvy" as the Best Picture of 1999.
Part biopic, part backstage drama, "Topsy-Turvy" is an opulent motion picture that focuses on the prickly relationship between librettist William Schwenk Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan. Mike Leigh was selected as Best Director for the same film, which now becomes poised with "American Beauty" (selected by the National Board of Review), "Three Kings" (the Boston Critics' choice) and "The Insider" (the L.A. Film Critics Association winner) as frontrunners in the upcoming Oscar race.
The top acting honors were awarded to two performers who portrayed real-life figures. Veteran Richard Farnsworth was named Best Actor for his turn as Alvin Straight, a man who rode a tractor several hundred miles across the Midwest in order to reunite with his estranged brother, in "The Straight Story," directed by David Lynch. Hilary Swank was cited as Best Actress for her superlative portrayal of Teena Brandon, a Nebraska woman who lived her short adult life as a man, in "Boy's Don't Cry."
The quirky, highly original comedy "Being John Malkovich" earned three awards: Best Supporting Actor for John Malkovich (for playing a character based on himself), Best Supporting Actress for Catherine Keener and Best First Film for director Spike Jonze.
For the first time in its 65-year history, the Circle voted to present a prize for Best Animated Film, bestowing the honors to Trey Parker and Matt Stone for the uproarious and irreverent "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut." As Circle Chairman Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly explained, "You could almost say that this award category created itself. There has been such an increase in animated features targeted at adults as well as children, that as critics we felt we had to recognize superior achievement in the field."
"All About My Mother," directed by Pedro Almodovar, was selected as the Best Foreign Language Film, marking a clean sweep in all the critics' prizes presented to date.
Other award presented by the New York Film Critics Circle include Best Cinematography to Freddie Francis' lensing of "The Straight Story," Best Non-Fiction Film to "Buena Vista Social Club" and Best Screenplay to Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor for the little-seen "Election." A special award for distinguished achievement in film criticism was bestowed on Manny Farber.
Gleiberman and Vice-Chairman David Sterrit of The Christian Science Monitor made the announcement of the awards. The annual presentation of the awards will be held at a dinner at New York City's Windows on the World at the World Trade Center on Jan. 9.