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'12 Years a Slave' wins big at Independent Spirit Awards

9:34 AM, Mar 2, 2014   |    comments
Producer/actor Brad Pitt and director Steve McQueen pose with the award for best feature for "12 Years a Slave" at the Independent Spirit Awards.
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SANTA MONICA, Calif. - The show went on, despite rain and blustery winds blowing through plastic tents erected on the beach for theIndependent Spirit Awards on Saturday.

Film Independent, which gives out the awards, handed out umbrellas to anyone caught in a downpour.

"People took some precautions," said host Patton Oswalt. "Shia LaBeouf was wearing a plastic bag on his head."

Besides the rare Southern California downpour, the big story at the low-key event was how the awards could foreshadow the winners at the Oscarsceremony. 12 Years a Slave was the big winner, nabbing five awards including best feature. Top acting honors went to Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine and Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club.

The best supporting actress trophy was a fabulous 31st birthday present for Lupita Nyong'o, who won forportraying a brutalized slave in 12 Years a Slave. She dedicated her award to her mother.

"That beautiful woman drove me to rehearsals every day after school," said Nyong'o. "Your love has driven me this far."

She also thanked 12 Years co-star Chiwetel Ejiofor: "Your fortitude was our salvation."

Cate Blanchett raked in yet another award, winning best actress for her portrayal of the self-absorbed titular character in Blue Jasmine. Widely expected to win the Oscar Sunday night, Blanchett entered the press room and postponed comment until the best actor winner was announced.

"Should we find out who wins?" Blanchett good-naturedly asked reporters. She raised her trophy when she heard it was McConaughey and watched his acceptance speech on a backstage TV screen.

"Alright, alright, alright," repeated McConaughey, when he got the award, echoing his now famous phrase from the Screen Actors Guild awards show. "It's really been a strong year for independent films. ."

For her part, Blanchett joked about a being a "44-year-old woman and still having to have people brush my hair."

She spoke more seriously of the "theatricalized sense to Jasmine." She said she was drawn to the Woody Allen film when she saw the others in the cast. "99% of my work had already been done for me," she said.

When a huge wind blew through the tent backstage and a downpour pounded against the plastic tent, Blanchett said: "Whew! There's a storm coming. Nice to know you all. If we all die here, it's a service to the film industry."

After winning the supporting actor award for Dallas Buyers Club, Jared Leto, draped in scarves, a black leather jacket and boots, but sans the man bun, thanked, among others, his family, homemade burritos, the inventor of the zipper, Dr. Seuss, the latePhilip Seymour Hoffman and the 36 million who have died of AIDS.

He also honored Nyong'o, in his own singular way: "I'd like to thank all the women I've been with and all the women who think they've been with me ... and my future ex-wife: Lupita, I'm thinking about you."

12 Years a Slave also won awards for best director (Steve McQueen) best screenplay (John Ridley) and best cinematography (Sean Bobbit).

Bob Nelson won best first screenplay for Nebraska.

"This is really the fulfillment of a boyhood dream: to one day become the oldest recipient of the first screenplay award," said Nelson, 57.

12 Years a Slave producer Brad Pitt spoke of his affection for the film and director Steve McQueen.

"We were banging on Steve's door, after his other films," said Pitt. "This is a film I personally love. It's incredibly moving to me. To be a part of something like this doesn't come along that often. It's been a great, great experience. The risk was for me being a distraction in a film like this."

Pitt also thanked the cast and the city of New Orleans, adding: "I shouldn't be standing in front of Steve. Because we're all here because of him...It's interesting that it took a Brit to ask the question why more films haven't been made in America about this part of our history."

A trio of back-up singers - Darlene Love, Judith Hill, Merry Clayton and Tata Vega- from 20 Feet from Stardom performed about halfway through the ceremony. Nominated for both an Independent Spirit and an Oscar, the film won the award for best documentary film.

As Fruitvale Station won the best first feature award, director Ryan Coogler made an impassioned speech that inspired the day's first standing ovation. Many of those standing had tears in their eyes following Coogler's story about a man in North Carolina named Jonathan Ferrell, who, like the film's protagonist, Oscar Grant, was gunned down mistakenly by police

"There are thousands of Oscar Grants every year, people losing their lives to gun violence," said Coogler. "I can't help thinking that if Jonathan Ferrell looked like Matthew McConaughey he'd still be alive today. I keep wondering why the people who get shot look like me and look like Michael B. Jordan (who played Grant) . I'm so thankful to work in a medium that can allow me to ask those questions."

Backstage, star Jordan spoke of his appreciation for an awards show that honors films such as Fruitvale.

"Our film was shot for $900,000 and some duct tape," said Jordan.

Presenter Reese Witherspoon tried on Matthew McConaughey's signature phrase "Alright, alright, alright!"

She and McConaughey were honored, along with the rest of the cast of Mud, with the Robert Altman Award.

"I read the script and it was just sort of game over," said Witherspoon. "I was just haunted by the script. The story is told straight from the heart. I think some of the most exciting films that are in the marketplace are independent films."

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