‘The Artist’ Winning Best Picture is Proof That Indie Movies are Taking Over

The Independent Spirit Awards and the Oscars never agree. Well, almost never. In 28 years of co-existing, the two organizations have only agreed once before – on Oliver Stone’s Platoon back in 1986. It’s not surprising since the Spirit Awards focus on celebrating a particular method of filmmaking that is often overlooked by the red-carpet-ready Academy Awards, but if both honor prestige movies, it seems at least likely they’d agree from time to time, right?

They didn’t until last night. The more-than-two-decades-long drought was finally broken when The Artist took home Best Picture less than a week after bringing home the top Spirit prize. It became the first movie since 1986 to win both the Oscar and the Indie Spirit Award. One was in an ornate theater, the other was in a tent on the beach, but the implication is clear: independent movies are breaking more and more into the mainstream.

It’s not wholly unexpected. The politicking from Team Weinstein is a factor, of course, but the trend was building this way on a bigger scale regardless of how many hands were shaken by one giant producer. In fact, the Spirts and the Oscars have had more chances to agree in the past few years than ever before.

  • After Platoon in 1986, The Indie Spirits and Oscars didn’t even agree on a single nominee until 1994’s Pulp Fiction (which won the Indie)
  • They also agreed on nominating Fargo in 1996 (which won the Indie), the only other film of the 90s to match up
  • From 2000-2012, they’ve agreed on a whopping 15 nominees
  • Whenever there’s an overlap in nominees, the Indies always pick one of the overlapping films as a winner

From 1 in the 80s, to 2 in the 90s, to 15 in the last decade and change. It’s an explosion of agreement from two disparate organizations with two different goals. With opportunities for Brokeback Mountain, Little Miss Sunshine, and Precious, it was just a matter of time before they’d celebrate the same Best Picture.

It could have been last year. In 2010, both awards had Black Swan, The Kids Are All Right, 127 Hours, and Winter’s Bone on the ballot. Even so, it was the year the Oscars lauded twice the amount of Best Picture nominees, and the move was seen broadly as an attempt to pay lip service to overlooked movies. The Artist obliterates that argument. Sure, it was a movie with buzz for months, but it’s also a 1) foreign 2) silent film from 3) an arguably unknown director produced 4) far outside of the studio system. Even without all those qualifiers, the bloated nominee list can’t be a hollow pat on the back, because they handed out gold. They made good. The movie praised by Film Independent was raised up on the shoulders of the Academy.

If it weren’t an isolated incident, it could be dismissed as a delightful diversion from the usual, but it comes at the end of a large wave of independent films crashing the mainstream of the Academy. It’s the culmination of a trend, not the outlier it might appear to be. Independent movies increased their presence on Oscar nomination lists, and the result was bound to be an overlapping winner sooner or later.

Will it mean more silent films get made? Probably not. Will it mean any huge tectonic shift in the way movies are made or distributed? Not a chance. This is a slow-burn revolution where the prize isn’t dominance, but a fairer share of the viewing space. Independent movies are taking over to fill a void (similar to the early 1990s when Pulp Fiction‘s nominations were watershed moments), and it’s just an issue of momentum and time. The Artist isn’t the cause; it’s the effect.

With options from Fox, Warners, DreamWorks, Paramount, and Sony, the stuffy old Caucasians of AMPAS chose an outsider without Hollywood headliners. Chalk it cynically up to the Weinstein touch, dismiss it because of its appeal to classics, but no matter the caveats, two organizations that haven’t agreed in over 25 years, just did.

A veteran of writing about movies for nearly a decade, Scott Beggs has been the Managing Editor of Film School Rejects since 2009. Despite speculation, he is not actually Walter Mathau's grandson. See? He can't even spell his name right.

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