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Three-way tie at top of Spirit Award noms

'Ballast,' 'Frozen River,' 'Rachel' all grab six nominations

With six nominations each, "Ballast," a drama about survival in the Mississippi Delta, "Frozen River," a portrait of two single moms on the Canadian border, and "Rachel Getting Married," the account of a dysfunctional family wedding, led the nominees for Film Independent's Spirit Awards, announced Tuesday morning.

All three films were nominated for best feature along "Wendy and Lucy" and "The Wrestler."

Charlie Kaufman's "Synecdoche, New York," a twisty, M.C. Escher-like film, was singled out as the winner of the group's Robert Altman Award, give to one film's director, casting director and ensemble cast. Kaufman will share the award with casting director Jeanne McCarthy and his actors Hope Davis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Tom Noonan, Emily Watson, Dianne Wiest, and Michelle Williams when the Spirit Awards are handed out Feb. 21.

"Synecdoche" also figure in the best first feature lineup, along with Antonio Campos' "Afterschool," Barry Jenkins' "Medicine for Melancholy," Christopher Zalla's "Sangre De Mi Sangre" and Alex Rivera's "Sleep Dealer."

The actresses who will compete for best female lead include Summer Bishil ("Towelhead"), Anne Hathaway ("Rachel"), Melissa Leo ("River"), Tarra Riggs ("Ballast") and Michelle Williams ("Wendy and Lucy").

The actors in the best male lead category are Javier Bardem ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona"), Richard Jenkins ("The Visitor"), Sean Penn ("Milk"), Jeremy Renner ("The Hurt Locker") and Mickey Rourke ("The Wrestler").

"Rachel" also scored two nominations in the supporting female category for Rosemarie De Witt and Debra Winger. Also nominated are Penelope Cruz ("Vicky"), Rosie Perez ("The Take") and Misty Upham ("River").

Nominated for best supporting male are James Franco ("Milk"), Anthony Mackie ("The Hurt Locker"), Charlie McDermott ("River"), JimMyron Ross ("Ballast") and Haaz Sleiman ("Visitor").

When it came to best director, the nominations mixed it up a bit. Of the five best feature nominees, "Rachel's" Jonathan Demme, "Ballast's" Lance Hammer and "River's" Courtney Hunt all earned nominations. But "Wendy's" Kelly Reichardt and "Wrestler's" Darren Aronofksy didn't make the cut. Instead, the nominations embraced Ramin Bahrani, who directed "Chop Shop," and Tom McCarthy, who directed "The Visitor."

Hammer and Hunt were also nominated for best first screenplay, along with Dustin Lance Black ("Milk"), Jonathan Levine ("The Wackness") and Jenny Lumet ("Rachel").

Woody Allen will be invited to visit the awards, which take place in a tent on the beach in Santa Monica, since he was nominated for his "Vicky Christina Barcelona" screenplay. His fellow nominees in the screenplay category are Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck ("Sugar"), Kaufman ("Synecdoche"), Howard A. Rodman ("Savage Grace") and Christopher Zalla ("Sangre De Mi Sangre").

Cited for their cinematography are Maryse Alberti ("Wrester), Lol Crawley ("Ballast"), James Laxton ("Medicine for Melancholy"), Harris Savides ("Milk") and Michael Simmonds ("Chop Suey").

The Spirits handed out nominations for best foreign film to Laurent Cantet's "The Class" from France, Matteo Garrone's "Gomorra" (Italy), Steve McQueen's "Hunger" (U.K./Ireland), Abdellatif Kechiche's "Secret of the Grain" (France) and Carols Reygadas' "Silent Light" (Mexico/France/Netherlands/Germany). The most obvious omission was the Mumbai-set "Slumdog Millionaire," one of the critical hits of the season.

The documentary nominees are "The Betrayal," directed by Ellen Kuras & Thavisouk Phrasavath; "Encounters at the End of the World," Werner Herzog; "Man on Wire," James Marsh; "The Order of Myths," Margaret Brown, and "Up the Yangtze," Yung Chang.

Nominees for the John Cassavetes Award, given to the best first feature made for under $500,000 are "In Search of a Midnight Kiss," "Prince of Broadway," "The Signal," "Take Out" and "Turn the River."

The winner of the Acura Someone to Watch Award, given to a filmmaker who has not yet received "appropriate recognation" will be chosen from among directors Barry Jenkins ("Medicine for Melancholy"), Nina Paley ("Sita Sings the Blues") and Lynn Shelton ("My Effortless Brilliance").

Nominated for the Lacoste Truer Than Fiction Award given to an emerging director of non-fiction films are Brown ("The Order of Myths"), Sacha Gerevasi ("Anvil! The Story of Anvil") and Darius Marder ("Loot").

Nominees for the Piaget Producers Award are Lars Knudsen and Jay Van Hoy, producers of "Treeless Mountain" and "I'll Come Running"; Jason Orans, producer of "Goodbye Solo" and "Year of the Fish," and Heather Rae, producer of "River" and "Ibid."

Among distributors, Sony Pictures Classics easily outpaced the competition by picking up 18 nominations and fielding two of the best feature nominees, "River" and "Rachel." IFC Films followed with 11 nominations.

Jason Bateman and Sandra Oh announced the nominations at the Sofitel L.A. hotel.

A list of nominees follows:

Best feature
"Ballast"
"Frozen River"
"Rachel Getting Married"
"Wendy and Lucy"
"The Wrestler"

Best director
Ramin Bahrani, "Chop Shop"
Jonathan Demme, "Rachel Getting Married"
Lance Hammer, "Ballast"
Courtney Hunt, "Frozen River"
Tom McCarthy, "The Visitor"

Best first feature
"Afterschool"
"Medicine for Melancholy"
"Sangre De Mi Sangre"
"Sleep Dealer"
"Synecdoche, New York"

Best screenplay
Woody Allen, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, "Sugar"
Charlie Kaufman, "Synecdoche, New York"
Howard A. Rodman, "Savage Grace"
Christopher Zalla, "Sangre De Mi Sangre"

Best female lead
Summer Bishil, "Towelhead"
Anne Hathaway, "Rachel Getting Married"
Melissa Leo, "Frozen River"
Tarra Riggs, "Ballast"
Michelle Williams, "Wendy and Lucy"

Best male lead
Javier Bardem, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Richard Jenkins, "The Visitor"
Sean Penn, "Milk"
Jeremy Renner, "The Hurt Locker"
Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler"

Best supporting female
Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Rosemarie DeWitt, "Rachel Getting Married"
Rosie Perez, "The Take"
Misty Upham, "Frozen River"
Debra Winger, "Rachel Getting Married"

Best supporting male
James Franco, "Milk"
Anthony Mackie, "The Hurt Locker"
Charlie McDermott, "Frozen River"
JimMyron Ross, "Ballast"
Haaz Sleiman, "The Visitor"

Best cinematography
Maryse Alberti, "The Wrestler"
Lol Crawley, "Ballast"
James Laxton, "Medicine for Melancholy"
Harris Savides, "Milk"
Michael Simmonds, "Chop Shop"

Best documentary
"The Betrayal"
"Encounters at the End of the World"
"Man on Wire"
"The Order of Myths"
"Up the Yangtze"

Best foreign film
"The Class" (France)
"Gomorra" (Italy)
"Hunger" (U.K./Ireland)
"Secret of the Grain" (France)
"Silent Light" (Mexico/France/Netherlands/Germany)

Robert Altman Award
"Synecdoche, New York"