Freeheld stumbles over too many hurdles to recommend it. The film’s heart is in the right place, but its focus is not.
Based on his show-stopping speech at Saturday night's Independent Spirit Awards, if Mickey Rourke wins an Oscar on Sunday night the Oscarcast is going to be a lollapalooza. As his comeback film "The Wrestler" won for best film, male actor and cinematography, Rourke brought the show to a halt and the audience to its feet with an acceptance speech that was classic Mickey. The Indie Spirits are telecast live and unbleeped, which added considerably to the speech's charm.
Melissa Leo won as best female actress for "Frozen River," and Penelope Cruz for best supporting female, for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." The Indie Spirits nominees often include a few Oscar nominees, but are an uncertain predictor. For Rourke, the win may be an omen as he heads toward an Oscar duel with Sean Penn. Leo's win may give validity to recent rumors she may pull an Oscar upset. Cruz is widely seen as an Oscar front runner. The fourth acting category, supporting male, went to James Franco, of "Milk," who isn't an Oscar nominee.
The ceremony, clocking in at two hours and airing on IFC, was like a dream version of the Oscars--quick, irreverent, glamorous, and with no commercials. It was more a celebration than a ceremony. The entertainment segments of the Oscarcast are unlikely to equal anything like the Indies' use of actors to portray two of the presenters as a raging Christian Bale and a catatonic Joaquin Phoenix.
Funny, heartfelt, vulgar and fearlessly honest, Mickey Rourke opened his speech with praise for his friend Eric Roberts and a call for "one god-damned filmmaker in this room to let him fly." Roberts was Rourke's co-star in "The Pope of Greenwich Village" (1984). "I don't give a f--- what he did 15 years ago," Rourke said. "He deserves, like I got, a second chance."
In a rambling but never boring performance, Rourke cited "the thousands of letters I've received about my dog that died six days ago -- Loki." He praised his "Wrestler" co-star Marissa Tomei, who played a stripper: "Not many girls can climb the pole." He hailed director Darren Aronofsky: "You better work out first if you want to work with Darren." Forgetting the names of various executives he wanted to thank, he remembered "that little girl with the gap in her teeth" at his distributor. And his publicist, who "told me what to wear, where to go, what to say, who to f---, everything."
Another classic Indie Spirit Moment came from writer-director Charlie Kaufman, who won for best first feature for his "Synecdoche, New York." The film also won the Robert Altman Award, given to the entire cast of a movie. After the scripted intro named only the name stars in his cast, Kaufman stepped to the mike, pulled out a list, and read the names of every single actor with a speaking part in his film. There wouldn't be time for that at the Oscars, but as a gesture it was magnificent.
The best documentary was "Man on Wire," about Philippe Petit, who walked a wire between the towers of the World Trade Center. Petit was present, and emcee Steve Coogan confided he thought it was great, and all it was lacking was for Petit to fall.
The first annual awards of the Independent Feature Project took place in the living room of indie filmmakers Gregory Nava and Anna Thomas ("El Norte"). Now renamed Film Independent, the organization holds the ceremony in a vast tent on the beach in Santa Monica, with about 1,000 in attendance. The crowd included Catherine Keener, Ben Kingsley, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Richard Jenkins, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ellen Page, Sandra Oh, John Waters, Rosie Perez, Lucy Liu, Alec Baldwin, Cameron Diaz, Anne Hathaway, Robin Wright Penn, Tarra Riggs, Blair Underwood, Eric Roberts, Sara Simmonds and Kerry Washington.
There has been criticism over the years about a degree of overlap between the Indies and the Oscars. That perhaps reflects the increasing will by Academy voters to nominate independent films. The fact that Melissa Leo, Mickey Rourke, Richard Jenkins and Anne Hathaway and others are Oscar nominees makes their films no less independent.
Every year, viewers of the IFC telecast notice a film or two that may not win anything but gathered a lot of nominations. This year that film was Lance Hammer's brilliant feature "Ballast," which led the field in nominations: Female lead, supporting male, feature, director, first screenplay, and cinematography. If the many clips made it look good to you, you were right. If Tarra Riggs looked powerful as the angry woman in one of those clips, you'd be right again -- very right.
Other winners on Saturday were:
Someone to Watch Award: Lynn Shelton, "Effortless Brilliance."
Producer's Award: Heather Rea, "Frozen River."
Truer Than Fiction Award: Margaret Brown, "The Order of Myths"
An interview with Michael Shannon on Freeheld, 99 Homes, Boardwalk Empire, and more.
Our monthly series digs into the career of Wes Craven and comes out with his 3D 2010 film, "My Soul to Take".
A comparison of Frank Costello in The Departed and Whitey Bulger in Black Mass reveals weaknesses in the latter.
A letter to Angelina Jolie about the casting of her upcoming take on "Cleopatra."