Outside of the mainstream

Small-scale films without the Hollywood flash or a major studio launching million-dollar campaigns to secure a nomination are being acknowledged with the 20th annual Independent Spirit Awards. While the Academy Awards failed to recognize the brilliance of films such as American Splendor and The Station Agent, both movies received multiple nominations from the IFP. IFP is a supporter of independent filmmakers and helps to get their unique visions seen.

Sideways, Maria Full of Grace, Kinsey and The Motorcycle Diaries are not just the best-reviewed films of the year, but are also receiving multiple Independent Spirit Award nominations. The Spirit Awards honor filmmakers daring to show the public something new and strange, moving, vibrant and intelligent and while not being pressured, watered down or saturated with choppy animation to rake-in the big bucks.

Before Sunset focused on two people reconnecting while strolling through France after one night, nine years ago. Kinsey, despite what many conservatives dismissal as a glorification of one of the men responsible for the sexual revolution, is a poignant biopic that perfectly captures the work of this controversial researcher. Sideways is the story of two friends taking a simple road trip and the subsequent changes that occur. But unlike the usual backwash of films with similar plotlines, Sideways is smart, witty and incredibly entertaining, which can’t be said for numerous other high-profile releases. The film also has the distinct honor of leading the nominations with six, including a second consecutive nomination for Paul Giamonti in the Best Lead Actor category.

The biggest award of the night pits Sideways against Primer, Maria Full of Grace, Kinsey and Baadassss! competing for Best Feature. But the night’s biggest battle will come in the Best First Feature category, with Napoleon Dynamite and Garden State, two of the year’s most successful independent films, squaring off for the shiny statuette. Both Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry) and Charlize Theron (Monster) won their Spirit Awards before landing the ultimate accessory: Oscar.

Many A-listers are now ready to embrace independent films and waive their million-dollar contracts for the potential of earning industry accolades. Low-budget indies are attracting stars such as Halle Berry, Julia Roberts, Sean Penn and Bill Murray. It has proven a successful way for actors to reinvent themselves and shed their all-too-familiar images. Swank turned herself into a man, Theron transformed her flawless physique into cellulite city and Bill Murray finally played a character closer to his own personality. Stars are now forcing audiences to acknowledge their talent while stopping the industry from typecasting them in roles that have proven successful before.

The Independent Spirit Awards acknowledges films that dare to be original while the Golden Globes and Academy Awards often overlook these films. The glaring omission is due to the film’s release date (especially if the film is released before the Nov./Dec. timeframe), relatively quiet performance at the box-office or maybe because FoxSearchlight, Focus Features, NewMarket and Lion’s Gate can’t afford to spend half as much as Universal will to promote Ray.

Do yourself a favor and check out some of these titles adorning theaters and video stores near you. Mainstream flicks aren’t the enemy, but indies open your mind to all new horizons of what a movie can be. The Independent Spirit Awards have nominated some of the year’s best films that are floating slightly under the radar.

Contact Entertainment Editor Pablo Saldana at oraclepablo@yahoo.com