A Day at the Beach: Focus Features at the Film Independent Spirit Awards

From Far From Heaven to Never Rarely Sometimes Always, a celebration of indie spirit

At this year’s Film Independent Spirit Awards, Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always leads all other films with seven nominations. Emerald Fennell’s directorial debut, Promising Young Woman, has been honored with three major nominations as well. Founded in 1984 — and originally called the FINDIE or Friends of Independents Award — the Independent Spirit Awards were created to celebrate the best of independent films. Normally held the day before the Academy Awards® as a luncheon event in a tented parking lot next to the ocean in Santa Monica, the Spirit Awards gained a reputation as the Oscars’® laidback, irreverent sibling.

With the 36th annual Film Independent Spirits Awards taking place tonight, we are taking a stroll through the past to remember some of the fun and festivities. You can watch this year's show on IFC and AMC+ tonight at 10:00 pm ET/7:00 pm PT.

The official trailer for Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Dennis Quaid and Julianne Moore in Far From Heaven.

2003 | Far From Heaven

Occurring three days after the US invaded Iraq, the 2003 Spirit Awards kicked off with Elvis Costello singing “(What’s So Funny) ’Bout Peace, Love and Understanding” and host John Waters quipping, “Saddam Hussein, George Bush — nothing will stop me from getting my gift bag.” It was also the year that Todd Haynes’s Far From Heaven swept the Awards by winning in five categories: Best Director (Todd Haynes), Best Actress (Julianne Moore), Best Supporting Actor (Dennis Quaid), Best Cinematography (Edward Lachman), and Best Feature (producers Jody Patton and Christine Vachon). (Far From Heaven marked the beginning of a winning relationship between Haynes and Lachman that has continued through their 2019 collaboration on Dark Waters.)

Watch Far From Heaven now on iTunes and Amazon.

Cinematographer Lance Acord and writer/director Sofia Coppola on the set of Lost in Translation.

2004 | Lost In Translation & 21 Grams

John Waters returned to host the 2004 Spirt Awards, and Lost in Translation —  another Focus film — proved the year’s big winner. Lost in Translation took home four awards: Best Director (Sofia Coppola), Best Male Lead (Bill Murray), Best Screenplay (Sofia Coppola), and Best Feature (producers Sofia Coppola and Ross Katz). A Special Distinction Award was given to Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 21 Grams. While its budget kept it out of the competition, the awards committee felt its cinematic excellence and independent spirit deserved special recognition.

Watch Lost in Translation now on iTunes or Amazon.

Watch 21 Grams now on iTunes or Amazon.

Heath Ledger and director Ang Lee on the set of Brokeback Mountain.

2006 | Brokeback Mountain

To kick off the 21st Film Independent Spirit Awards, host Sarah Silverman stepped up to podium with a hilariously racy monologue. That year, Brokeback Mountain became the star attraction. It was nominated in four categories and won Best Feature (producers James Schamus and Diana Ossana) and Best Director (Ang Lee).

Watch Brokeback Mountain now on iTunes or Amazon.

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Don Cheadle in Talk to Me.

2008 | Talk to Me and Lust, Caution

Host Rainn Wilson kicked off the afternoon Spirit party with a shout out to the enthusiastic audience of “indie weirdos.” Two Focus films, Kasi LemmonsTalk to Me and Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution, were up for five awards total, even competing against each other for Best Male Lead. At the end of event, Talk to Me’s Chiwetel Ejiofor walked away with an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Watch Talk to Me now on iTunes or Amazon.

Watch Lust, Caution now on iTunes or Amazon.

2009 | Milk

Host Steve Coogan brought his deadpan British wit to celebrate American filmmakers at the Independent Spirit Awards. Gus Van Sant’s Milk, nominated for four Spirit Awards, won two: Best Supporting Actor (James Franco) and Best First Screenplay (Dustin Lance Black).

Watch Milk now on iTunes and Amazon.

2010 | Sin Nombre & A Serious Man

In 2010, the Independent Spirit Awards changed its time and place but not its spirit. The Saturday afternoon beachside Santa Monica party moved to downtown Los Angeles for a Friday night gathering at the L.A. LIVE Event Deck with Eddie Izzard hosting. Two Focus films — Cary Fukunaga’s Sin Nombre and Joel and Ethan Coen’s A Serious Man — were up for a total of six awards. A Serious Man won Best Cinematography (Roger Deakins) and the Robert Altman Award, which honors an ensemble cast.

Watch Sin Nombre now on iTunes and Amazon.

Watch A Serious Man now on iTunes and Amazon.

Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Josh Hutcherson, Mia Wasikowska, and Mark Ruffalo  in The Kids Are All Right.

2011 | Greenberg & The Kids Are All Right

Back to its Santa Monica Saturday afternoon slot, the Independent Spirit Awards were hosted in 2011 by Joel Hale. Unfortunately, the usually fun-in-the-sun event was marred by grey skies and unseasonably cold winds coming off the Pacific. Two Focus films were up for multiple awards. Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg was up for four categories, including Best Feature. And Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right was up for five, winning for Best Screenplay (Stuart Blumberg and Lisa Cholodenko).

Watch Greenberg now on iTunes and Amazon.

Watch The Kids Are All Right now on iTunes and Amazon.

Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor in Beginners.

2012 | Beginners & Pariah

Hosted by Seth Rogen, the 2012 Independent Spirit Awards struck its usual tone of light-hearted celebration. Up for four awards, those at the table for Mike MillsBeginners cheered when Christopher Plummer won Best Supporting Actor. During his acceptance speech, Plummer quipped, “It’s taken me the longest time to realize that the Spirit Awards have nothing to do with booze!” Dees Rees’s Pariah was nominated for two awards and won the Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award for a feature budgeted under $500,000.

Watch Beginners now on iTunes and Amazon.

Watch Pariah now on iTunes and Amazon.

Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club

2014 | Dallas Buyers Club

In 2014, Patton Oswalt took over the hosting duties. Dallas Buyers Club won for Best Male Lead (Matthew McConaughey) and Best Supporting Male (Jared Leto), a feat the film would repeat the next day at the Oscars®. During an acceptance speech in which Leto humorously thanked “Ansel Adams, Kurt Cobain, and Mozart,” the actor hit a somber tone by dedicating the award to the millions “who have died of AIDS and the 35 million living with AIDS.”

Watch Dallas Buyers Club now on iTunes and Amazon.

2019 | BlacKkKlansman, Thoroughbreds, & Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Actresses Molly Shannon and Gemma Chan co-hosted the 34th Film Independent Spirit Awards. BlacKkKlansman’s Adam Driver was nominated for Best Supporting Male Actor, Cory Finley’s Thoroughbreds was up for Best First Screenplay, and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? — Morgan Neville’s profile of children's TV hero Mr. Rogers — won Best Documentary Feature.

Watch BlacKkKlansman now on iTunes and Amazon.

Watch Thoroughbreds now on iTunes and Amazon.

Watch Won’t You Be My Neighbor? now on iTunes and Amazon.