Ahead of Oscars, Room takes two prizes at Spirit awards

Wins for one of the Irish films vying for best picture at tonight’s Academy Awards

Irish director Lenny Abrahamson talks to donald Clarke about his Oscar-nominated film 'Room'.


Lenny Abrahamson’s Room, one of two Irish films competing for best picture at the Oscars tonight, took two prizes at the Film Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday.

Emma Donoghue won best first screenplay for her adaptation of her own novel. Brie Larson, odds on favourite for the Academy Award, won best female lead.

The biggest winner of the night was Tom McCarthy’s incisive drama Spotlight. That film won best feature, director, screenplay and editing.

The result doesn’t say much about Spotlight’s chances in the race for the best picture Oscar as neither of its main rivals, The Big Short or The Revenant, was eligible for the Independent Spirits.

Taking place in a marquee on the beach next to Santa Monica pier, the Spirits, awarded by the non-profit body Film Independent, have established themselves as a delightfully informal precursor to the Oscars.

Honouring films that cost less than $20 million, they have recently handed best film to Oscar winners such as The Artist, 12 Years a Slave and Birdman.

Kate McKinnon and Kumail Nanjiani, the show’s hosts, allowed themselves a few digs at the controversy surrounding the Oscars’ perceived lack of diversity. “We’re going to cuss. We’re going to flash some nip. We’re going to nominate some people who aren’t white,” McKinnon said.

Larson seemed genuinely thrilled to be honoured at such an event. “I’m so excited to be with all of you because independent film is the best,” she said. “It is what helped me grow up. It’s what helped make me see what a real woman was, what real love looked like, what messiness of life looks like.”

Having won at the Golden Globes, Bafta and the Screen Actors Guild, Larson now look close to unbeatable at the Oscars.

Donoghue took a few deep breaths before delivering her own acceptance speech. “Thank you everyone who has welcomed this ignorant newbie into the movie business, but especially Element Pictures and our great director, Lenny Abrahamson, ” she said. “Lenny led me into the world of independent film like mighty Gandalf to my Bilbo. I couldn’t have had a wiser or kinder or funnier guide.”

As Oscar night looms, there has been much chatter about increased levels of security and the continuing discontent concerning the lack of black faces among the acting nominees.

The Reverend Al Sharpton, who is calling for a boycott of the broadcast, is to lead a protest outside the auditorium. “If major advertisers know that people are tuning out and the ratings are down, that will impact the bottom line of the value of the Academy and the Academy has to, at some point, determine whether or not it is in their interest to continue excluding people and excluding them at what price,” the veteran campaigner said.

This offers an added headache for police and private security, already on edge about potential terrorist attacks. The news that US vice president Joe Biden would be attending to introduce Lady Gaga further sharpened nerves.

Journalists have been warned that credentials will be withdrawn if they photograph their badges and have been informally advised to wear them back to front, so the design can only be seen when strictly necessary. Helicopters buzz over the Dolby Theatre. Uniforms are everywhere.

“It’s a very robust footprint,” deputy chief Beatrice Girmala, the LAPD official in charge of security, said cryptically. “We want to make sure that we protect what we consider a very valuable asset, the film industry, which is our most valuable export in connecting with the rest of the world.”

The unprecedentedly large Irish contingent will be relieved to heat they are so treasured.