'Precious' tops Spirit Awards

Jeff Bridges, Woody Harrelson win acting prizes

"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" proved an emotional favorite at the 25th Film Independent Spirit Awards, where it took the top prize as best feature Friday night. The gritty drama about cycles of abuse released by Lionsgate also earned trophies for director Lee Daniels, best female lead Gabourey Sidibe, best supporting actress Mo'Nique and Geoffrey Fletcher, who took the prize for best first screenplay.
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Jeff Bridges, in what could well be a rehearsal for Sunday night's Oscar ceremony, was named best actor for the country-flavored "Crazy Heart," while Woody Harrelson was hailed as best supporting actor for "The Messenger."

In a change of venue, the free-wheeling awards show devoted to indie cinema -- which traditionally has taken place under a big top on the beach in Santa Monica on the Saturday before the Oscars -- traded in the ocean breezes for the glittering lights of the new LA Live complex, where it set up shop under a rooftop tent.

The move did lead to more ladies in cocktail dresses and more gentlemen in coats and ties. And with skyscrapers providing the backdrop, the look of the event, broadcast live by IFC, was decidedly more grown-up.

But Eddie Izzard, the evening's emcee, looking to maintain the event's typical irreverence, downplayed the change, saying, "We moved it to a carpark in the tent...and I think that says independence."

The determinedly iconoclastic ceremony took something of an odd turn as Ben Stiller read off the names of the best picture nominees while a trio that he described as late night porn stars gyrated to his stage left. But they were quickly forgotten as the victorious "Precious" crew stormed the stage.
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Daniels turned the microphone over to his fellow producers Sarah Siegel-Magness and Gary Magness, and Siegel-Magness said, "Thanks so much for allowing two white people from Colorado to enter your world." Speaking for the whole cast and crew, she added, "we together have made an amazing film that will be our children's legacy."

Just moments before, Daniels accepted his directing prize, at first joking, "Kathryn Bigelow's not here tonight, I am." With a shout-out to Film Independent executive director Dawn Hudson, he related how, while serving on one of the Spirit juries last year, he'd duck into the bathroom, where he was editing "Precious" on his computer. As he offered emotional testatments to each member of his cast, at one point, he locked eyes with Mo'Nique and almost couldn't continue.

It was hardly a night for understatement.

"It makes me weak in the knees," Bridges exclaimed, raising aloft his best actor award, which he accepted from his costar Maggie Gyllenhaal. Looking as comfortable as he always does, Bridges was hardly in danger of losing his footing, though, as he continued to say of "Crazy Heart," "it's so dear to me. It's really a gem of an independent film, and you know what makes these gems shine, it's passion," which in this case he attributed to director Scott Cooper, who also shared in the evening's best first feature award.

An elated Sidibe virtually danced to the stage. Recalling how as a schoolgirl she saved up her allowance to see "Welcome to the Dollhouse," she recalled "that's the fist film I saw where I thought I could do that, so perhaps that's where my independent spirit was born." Thanking her fellow actors for all their guidance, she added, "I showed up not knowing anything. I still hardly know anything."

Mo'Nique, who's already had plenty of practice at the podium, still managed to be spontaneous as she accepted the award for best supporting female for her ferociously abusive mother in "Precious." "Wow, I'm tickled," she smiled before thanking her director Lee Daniels and executive producer Lisa Cortes, and saying of her husband, "thank you for showing me what an independent spirit surely is."

Harrelson, singled out for his performance in "The Messenger," claimed the first award of the evening as best supporting male.

"I don't know how you distinguish one performance from another -- it's never felt right to me to declare a winner," said the actor, who plays a soldier charged with notifying families of the death of their loved ones.
But then he added slyly, "Of course now, it feels a little more right."

The best first feature award went to "Crazy Heart," directed by Cooper and produced by Cooper, T Bone Burnett, Judy Cairo, Rob Carliner and Robert Duvall.

Before Cooper could even speak, Duvall interjected, "He never directed a high school play before, but he did a great job." Responded Cooper, "This movie never would have happened if it were not for Bobby."

Concluding his remarks, Cooper attempted to thank his wife, but teared up.
That emotion seemed contagious when Fletcher followed him to the stage as the winner of best first screenplay for adapting "Precious." Thanking the novelist Sapphire, "for putting me through the wringer, but the most fulfulling and satisfying creative experience of my life," he also found himself at a loss for words as he acknowledged his late father, collected himself, and then thanked his mother, who was present.

The light-as-air romance "(500) Days of Summer" brought Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber to the podium as winners of the best screenplay prize.

Among distributors, Lionsgate led the tally with its five awards for "Precious," while Fox Searchlight collected three wins between "Crazy" and "Summer."

Although it didn't rate an Oscar nomination, "Anvil!, The Story of Anvil," which chronicles a real-life Canadian heavy metal band, drew cheers when it was named best documentary. Said its director, Sacha Gervasi, "When I was 15 years old, this band took me out on the road and they showed me a lot of things, some of which I can't discuss on live television."

Danish filmmaker Lone Scherfig took the prize for best foreign film for "An Education," set in Britain in the '60s.

The Robert Altman Award, which recognizes a film's director, casting director and cast, was bestowed upon Joel and Ethan Coen's "A Serious Man," its casting directors Ellen Chenoweth and Rachel Tenner and the cast that included Richard Kind, Sari Lennick, Jessica McManus, Fred Melamed, Michael Stuhlbarg and Aaron Wolff.

Roger Deakins earned his second Spirit Award for cinematography for his work on the the same film. He last won in 1997 for the Coens' "Fargo."

"Humpday," the low-cost comedy about two straight guys who decide to have sex together on camera on a dare, earned its writer, producer and director Lynn Shelton the John Cassavetes Award for the best feature made for under $500,000. "I can't believe I'm up here two years in a row," said Shelton, who was last year's recepient of the Acura Someone To Watch Award.

This year, that prize went to Kyle Patrick Alvarez, director of "Easier with Practice."

Karin Chien took home the Piaget Producers Award for "The Exploding Girl" and "Santa Mesa."

Roger Ebert was acknowledged with a standing ovation when it was announced that Film Independent's annual award given to an emerging documentary filmmaker has been renamed the Chaz & Roger Ebert Truer Than Fiction Award, thanks to a gift from the Eberts' family foundation. The prize, which includes a $25,000 grant, was presented to Bill Ross and Turner Ross for their doc about daily life in an American town, "45365."

The 82nd Annual Academy Awards, taking place Sunday night, has opted to forego live musical performances, but not the Spirit Awards. At one point, Bridges ambled on stage to sing "Falling and Flying" from "Crazy Heart." And later in the evening, the Canadian heavy-metal band Anvil rocked the house.