Most of the media is focusing on the Academy Awards on Sunday, but a majority of them will also be at the Santa Monica Pier Saturday as most of Hollywood turns out -- rain or shine -- for the 2011 Independent Spirit Awards.  This pundit will be there in person and share my thoughts on the show via twitter (follow me at @HitFixGregory) ahd in this blog immediately after.  HitFix's own Dan Fienberg will be live blogging the "taped" show hosted by Joel McHale that will air at 10 PM ET/PT on IFC.  The always irreverent event actually occurs at 2 PM PT, but there are promises the taped version will not be edited (fingers crossed).

Last week, I had the opportunity to chat with Dawn Hudson, the Executive Director of Film Independent, the parent organization of both the Spirit Awards and the annual Los Angeles Film Festival.  Hudson has weathered a difficult economic downturn in the indie world that finally appears to be turning around.  Last year the show took a chance and aired on Saturday night from LA Live downtown.  While it lead to lots of glitter on the red carpet many Film Independent members missed the casual atmosphere of the show's traditional Santa Monica afternoon roots.  So, the Spirits return to the beach (if only Mother Nature had cooperated).

"I love our slot," Hudson says of the Academy's traditional Saturday broadcast. "I think it’s really fun to have.  People put their feet up and have more fun and starting drinking cocktails at 11:30.  It’s a fun weekend.  There's a great spirit where everybody’s excited about this community we work in and we’re all proud of film [whether it's] the Academy Awards or the Independent’s."

Considering the increasing starpower of the Spirits it's a sign of loyalty that the show has stuck with longtime broadcaster IFC.  And with presenters including Nicole Kidman, Paul Rudd, Zoe Saldana, Mark Ruffalo and nominees in the audience such as Natalie Portman, Ben Stiller, John C. Reilly, Samuel L. Jackson, Bill Murray and Oscar host James Franco, it's a bit surprising the show hasn't jumped to a bigger network.  Hudson says that at this point she prefers the freedom IFC brings them than other possible options.

"You know [other] people have offered to broadcast the show, but I feel like to have the creative control of the show that IFC not just allows but encourages and to have a partner, you know, that really is part of our community and gets our community, is a real luxury," Hudson says.  "It's a great thing that channel is growing and their viewership is growing."

That being said, the Spirits have a new producer this year who was smart enough to suggest McHale as a host. After disappointing turns two years in  a row by Steve Coogan (painful) and Eddie Izzard (the live audience didn't get it even if it played well at home) Hudson says the suggestion was a "stroke of genius."  And as any fan of "Community" or "The Soup" will tell you, McHale should have been an awards show host long ago. 

In order to get you ready for the Spirits, however, let's rundown the categories and some last minute predictions.  Look for a complete list of winners tomorrow afternoon on HitFix.

BEST FILM
"127 Hours"
"Black Swan"
"Greenberg"
"The Kids Are All Right"
"Winter’s Bone"

Winner: "Black Swan"
Upset Contender: "Winter's Bone"
Lowdown: Usually the biggest hit wins here and that's got to be "Swan." However, the indie community loves "Bone" (cough, to a fault) and it could be a surprise upset winner.


BEST DIRECTOR
Darren Aronofsky, "Black Swan"
Danny Boyle, "127 Hours"
Lisa Cholodenko, "The Kids Are All Right"
Debra Granik, "Winter’s Bone"
John Cameron Mitchell, "Rabbit Hole"

Winner: Darren Aronofsky, "Black Swan"
Upset Contender: Debra Granik, "Winter's Bone"
Lowdown: Aronofsky has won picture ("The Wrestler") and screenplay ("Pi") at the Spirits, but never director. That changes Saturday afternoon.


BEST SCREENPLAY
Stuart Blumberg, Lisa Cholodenko, "The Kids Are All Right"
Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini, "Winter’s Bone"
Nicole Holofcener, "Please Give"
David Lindsay-Abaire, "Rabbit Hole"
Todd Solondz, "Life During Wartime"

Winner: Stuart Blumberg, Lisa Cholodenko, "The Kids Are All Right"
Upset Contender: Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini, "Winter’s Bone"
Lowdown:  As much as we know the indie community loves "Bone," we just can't believe they won't spread the wealth and give some love to the equally deserving "Kids." 

BEST FIRST FEATURE (Award given to the director and producer)
"Everything Strange and New"
Director: Frazer Bradshaw
Producers: A.D. Liano, Laura Techera Francia
"Get Low"
Director: Aaron Schneider
Producers: David Gundlach, Dean Zanuck
"Night Catches Us"
Director: Tanya Hamilton
Producers: Sean Costello, Jason Orans, Ronald Simons
"The Last Exorcism"
Director: Daniel Stamm
Producers: Marc Abraham, Tom Bliss, Eric Newman, Eli Roth
"Tiny Furniture"
Director: Lena Dunham
Producers: Kyle Martin, Alicia Van Couvering

Winner: "Get Low"
Upset Contender: "Tiny Furniture"
Lowdown: "Low" is just more well known and accomplished than the impressive "Furniture." However, Lena Dunham's character piece could pull an upset. (My vote would go to the underrated "Night Catches Us.")

BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY
Diane Bell, "Obselidia"
Lena Dunham, "Tiny Furniture"
Nik Fackler, "Lovely, Still"
Bob Glaudini, "Jack Goes Boating"
Dana Adam Shapiro, Evan M. Wiener, "Monogamy"

Winner: Lena Dunham, "Tiny Furniture"
Upset Contender: Bob Glaudini, "Jack Goes Boating"
Lowdown: Dunham's "Furniture" has enough cache in the indie community to win. 

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD - Given to the best feature made for under $500,000.  Award given to the writer, director, and producer.  Executive Producers are not listed.
"Daddy Longlegs"
Writer/Directors: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie
Producers: Casey Neistat, Tom Scott
"Lbs."
Director: Matthew Bonifacio
Writer/Producers: Matthew Bonifacio, Carmine Famiglietti
"Lovers of Hate"
Writer/Director: Bryan Poyser
Producer: Megan Gilbride
"Obselidia"
Writer/Director: Diane Bell
Producers: Chris Byrne, Mathew Medlin
"The Exploding Girl"
Writer/Director: Bradley Rust Gray
Producers: Karin Chien, Ben Howe, So Yong Kim

Winner: "Daddy Longlegs"
Upset Contender: "Lovers of Hate"
Lowdown: Tough call, but Gotham Awards favorite "Longlegs" should win the prize.

BEST FEMALE LEAD
Annette Bening, "The Kids Are All Right"
Greta Gerwig, "Greenberg"
Nicole Kidman, "Rabbit Hole"
Jennifer Lawrence, "Winter’s Bone"
Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"
Michelle Williams, "Blue Valentine"

Winner: Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"
Upset Contender: Jennifer Lawrence, "Winter's Bone" or Michelle Williams, "Blue Valentine"
Lowdown: Portman should win here, but up and comer Lawrence could steal some of her thunder.  Williams should not be discounted for her work in "Valentine." The film is a much bigger hit than "Bone" (yep) which means many more of the org's large membership has seen it.


BEST MALE LEAD
Ronald Bronstein "Daddy Longlegs"
Aaron Eckhart, "Rabbit Hole"
James Franco, "127 Hours"
John C. Reilly, "Cyrus"
Ben Stiller, "Greenberg"

Winner: James Franco, "127 Hours"
Upset Contender: Ben Stiller, "Greenberg"
Lowdown: First off, Franco deserves it the most.  Secondly, the membership knows he's not winning the Oscar.  Sentimental wins the Spirit. 

BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE
Ashley Bell, "The Last Exorcism"
Dale Dickey, "Winter’s Bone"
Allison Janney, "Life During Wartime"
Daphne Rubin-Vega, "Jack Goes Boating"
Naomi Watts, "Mother and Child"

Winner: Naomi Watts, "Mother and Child"
Upset Contenders: Allison Janney, "Life During Wartime" or Dale Dickey, "Winter's Bone"
Lowdown:  Watts is just the most recognizable name here and that usually gets the win.  However, Janney or Dickey wouldn't be that shocking either.

BEST SUPPORTING MALE
John Hawkes "Winter’s Bone"
Samuel L. Jackson, "Mother and Child"
Bill Murray, "Get Low"
John Ortiz, "Jack Goes Boating"
Mark Ruffalo, "The Kids Are All Right"

Winner: John Hawkes, "Winter's Bone"
Upset Contender: Mark Ruffalo, "The Kids Are All Right"
Lowdown: This looks like Hawkes moment to shine, but Ruffalo has a shot.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Adam Kimmel, "Never Let Me Go"
Matthew Libatique, "Black Swan"
Jody Lee Lipes "Tiny Furniture"
Michael McDonough, "Winter’s Bone"
Harris Savides, "Greenberg"

Winner: Matthew Libatique, "Black Swan"
Upset Contender: MIchael McDonough, "Winter's Bone"
Lowdown:  One of your best picture previews.  Since this award will be announced long before the best picture winners, look for whoever comes out on top here to win the big prize.

BEST DOCUMENTARY (Award given to the director)
"Exit Through the Gift Shop," Director: Banksy
"Marwencol," Director: Jeff Malmberg
"Restrepo," Directors: Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger
"Sweetgrass," Directors: Ilisa Barbash, Lucien Castaing-Taylor
"Thunder Soul," Director: Mark Landsman

Winner: "Exit Through the Gift Shop"
Upset Contender: "Restrpo"
Lowdown: No antiquated Oscar voting issues here.  "Gift Shop" should easily win.  The question is will Bansky be in attendance?

BEST FOREIGN FILM (Award given to the director)
"Kisses
"(Ireland)
Director: Lance Daly

"Mademoiselle Chambo"(France)
Director: Stéphane Brizé

"Of Gods and Men" 
(Morocco)
Director: Xavier Beauvois

"The King’s Speech"
(United Kingdom)
Director: Tom Hooper

"Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
" (Thailand)
Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Winner: "The King's Speech"
Upset Contender: "Uncle Boomee Who Can Recall His Past Lives"
Lowdown:  It's got to be "Speech." Too few of the membership have seen any of the other films.

ACURA SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARD – The 17th annual Acura Someone to Watch Award recognizes a talented filmmaker of singular vision who has not yet received appropriate recognition.  The award includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant funded by Acura.

Hossein Keshavarz
Dog Sweat
Laurel Nakadate
The Wolf Knife
Mike Ott
Littlerock

Lowdown: Literally no idea.  Good luck to 'em though.

PIAGET PRODUCERS AWARD – The 14th annual Piaget Producers Award honors emerging producers who, despite highly limited resources demonstrate the creativity, tenacity, and vision required to produce quality, independent films.  The award includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant funded by Piaget.

In-Ah Lee
"Au Revoir Taipei"
Adele Romanski
"The Myth of the American Sleepover"
Anish Savjani
Meek’s Cutoff

Lowdown: Rooting for Svjani for "Meek's Cutoff," but your guess is as good as mine.

AVEENO® TRUER THAN FICTION AWARD – The 16th annual AVEENO® Truer Than Fiction Award is presented to an emerging director of non-fiction features who has not yet received significant recognition.  The award includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant funded by AVEENO®.

Ilisa Barbash, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, "Sweetgrass"
Jeff Malmberg, "Marwencol"
Lynn True, Nelson Walker, "Summer Pasture"

Lowdown: Go with "Sweetgrass," but again, it's a pick 'em.

Look for complete coverage of the 2011 Independent Spirit Awards all day long on HitFix.  And don't forget to follow me at @HitFixGregory from the latest from the show.