"The Artist" may be invincible at the Academy Awards on Sunday, but first it has to get through the Film Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday.
And that could be tricky – because if there's one thing the Indie Spirit Awards don't like to do, it's march in lockstep with Oscar.
This, after all, is the awards show that chose "Pulp Fiction" when the Oscars went for "Forrest Gump," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" when the Academy opted for "Gladiator," "Memento" over "A Beautiful Mind," "Sideways" over "Million Dollar Baby."
In the last six years they chose "Brokeback Mountain" when the Oscars took "Crash," "Little Miss Sunshine" when the Academy chose "The Departed," and "Black Swan" the day before the Oscars crowned "The King's Speech."
(In most cases, the Oscar winner was not eligible for that year's Spirit Award, which is currently restricted to U.S. productions made for less than $20 million.)
And if Michel Hazanavicius' black-and-white silent film manages to win at both shows this weekend, it'll be only the second time in the Spirit Awards' 27-year history that the two awards coincided – and the first time since the second Spirit Awards ceremony, in 1987, when Olivier Stone's "Platoon" was named Best Feature and went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture the next day.
But as the Oscars have increasingly turned toward independent film over the past two decades, the distinct territory that the Spirit Awards once staked out is looking more and more like a corner of the Academy's own terrain.
Last year, four of the Spirit Awards' Best Feature nominees were also Oscar Best Picture contenders; this year, two are. ("The Artist" and "The Descendants.")
Last year, the Oscar Best Actress lineup was made up entirely of women who'd already been nominated for Spirit Awards; this year Michelle Williams is the only double nominee in that category, but both Jean Dujardin and Christopher Plummer could easily win on both Saturday and Sunday.
In another sign of how closely linked the two shows can be, the Academy is now run by CEO Dawn Hudson, who came to the job in June after 20 years as the executive director of Film Independent.
(When she was at FIND, she liked to say that the Oscars may be bigger, "but our show is more fun.")
This year's Spirit Awards will take place on Saturday afternoon in a tent on the beach in Santa Monica, the second consecutive year in the show's traditional location after a one-year move to downtown Los Angeles for the 25th anniversary show in 2010.
Seth Rogen will host, IFC will air the show on a delay at 10 p.m., and "The Artist" may well walk off with a bunch of awards in preparation for another good day across town on Sunday.
But the voters could also show a little of that independent spirit that makes up part of the awards' name – maybe not by going for "Drive" or "50/50" in the top category, but by saluting "Beginners," or quintuple nominee "Take Shelter," or Oscar Best Picture contender "The Descendants."
After all, that last film's director, Alexander Payne, directed the winning films in both 2004 ("Sideways") and 1999 ("Election").
Others who could fare well at the Spirit Awards include actresses Michelle Williams or Elizabeth Olsen, actors Michael Shannon or Ryan Gosling, and supporting actresses Shailene Woodley or Jessica Chastain, who was nominated for "Take Shelter" but who seems primed to get an award in recognition of the quantity and quality of her work in 2011.
Film Independent will no doubt be hoping for less wind and a warmer climate than they got for last year's show, which presenter Rainn Wilson described, to a big round of applause, as "the coldest fucking awards show ever."
Presenters this year will include Chastain, Woodley, Shannon, Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Kingsley, Kirsten Dunst, Chris Pine, John Hawkes, Terrence Howard, Michael Moore and Willem Dafoe. Performers include My Morning Jacket, Kate Micucci and Garfunkel and Oats.
According to a Spirit Awards tipsheet, "the voice of God" will be played by John Waters.
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