'Wrestler' tops Spirits

Named best film; star Mickey Rourke also wins

Fox Searchlight's "The Wrestler" was named best feature at the 2009 Film Independent's Spirit Awards. It also scored trophies for actor Mickey Rourke and cinematograper Maryse Alberti.

"The thing I love about the Spirit Awards is every film here is a passion piece; we all bled to get to this room," director-producer Darren Aronofksy said as he accepted the award with fellow producer Scott Franklin at the free-wheeling ceremony held Saturday in a tent on the beach in Santa Monica.

"I realized while doing special effects on a space movie that I really loved working with actors more than anything else," Aronofsky said about his decision to make a movie about a washed-up wrestler trying to reclaim his life.

In the weekend's first showdown between Rourke and "Milk's" Sean Penn, it was Rourke who triumphed as best male lead.

In a raucous acceptance speech, in which he freely lobbed "f"-bombs to the delight of the crowd, Rourke exulted in his comeback performance, dedicated his award to his recently departed dog, Loki, and urged directors in the audience to give his fellow actor Eric Roberts a good part, saying "he deserves a second chance."

Melissa Leo also delivered a rousing speech, praising independent filmmaking as she celebrated her win as best female lead for her hard-scrabble performance in "Frozen River."

"You are my people, you know you are my people," the veteran actress, who has suddenly been elevated to leading-lady status, said. After acknowledging her director, Courtney Hunt, and co-star Misty Upham, she had special praise for the crew of "Fozen River" and the local people of Plattsburgh, N.Y., who "made this dream come true."

Tom McCarthy was named best director for his work on the immigrant drama "The Visitor."

"Milk" copped two awards early on as the ceremony got under way.

James Franco took home the afternoon's first trophy as best supporting male for his performance as Harvey Milk's longtime lover in the film directed by Gus Van Sant, and the movie's screenwriter, Dustin Lance Black, quickly followed him to the stage when he won the award for best first screenplay.

"This means so much to me," said Black, who thanked Milk's old associate Cleve Jones for opening doors to him and eventually passing his screenplay along to Van Sant. He added, "It's been 30 years since Harvey Milk gave his life for this movement, and I've got to say, I don't think we can wait 30 years more" for full civil rights for gays and lesbians.

Accepting his award, Franco added that he jumped at the chance to join the film because "before I even started acting, I fell in love with Gus Van Sant's movies, and I'd watch them repeatedly."

Penelope Cruz took the prize for best supporting female for her turn as a Latin spitfire in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."

Among her thank-yous, she paid tribute to the film's director, Woody Allen.

"He really is the symbol of independence in our industry," she said. "He really does whatever he wants at all times."

She proceeded to crack up the room with a story about how Allen walked out on one of her love scenes so he could visit a dermatologist about a freckle he had just discovered.

Allen also earned the prize for best screenplay, though he wasn't present to accept.

After presenter Aaron Eckhart stumbled over the title of "Synecdoche, New York," Charlie Kaufman, the film's writer-director, joked, "I guess it really is a bad title," as he picked up the prize for best first feature.

Kaufman, his casting director Jeanne McCarthy and the movie's ensemble cast also were the recepients of the Robert Altman Award, given to a director, casting director and cast. "I'm glad I said yes, very glad I said yes," Philip Seymour Hoffman, the film's leading man, said succintly.

James Marsh was presented with the award for best documentary for "Man on Wire" as the film's subject, French acrobat Philippe Pettit, smiled approvingly from the audience.

Director Laurent Cantet took the prize for best foreign film for "The Class," set in a French schoolroom.

The John Cassavetes Award for best first feature made for under $500,000 went to the New Year's Eve-set "In Search of a Midnight Kiss" from writer-director Alex Holdridge and producers Seth Caplan and Scoot McNairy.

Lynn Shelton, director of "My Effortless Brilliance," was presented with the Acura Someone to Watch Award, recognizing a talented filmmaker who has "not yet received wider recognition."

The Lacoste Truer Than Fiction Award, for an emerging director of nonfiction films, went to Margaret Brown, director of "The Order of Myths," and Heather Rae, producer of "Frozen River" and "Ibid," earned the Piaget Producers Award.

Fox Searchlight, headed by Peter Rice, and the Sony Pictures Classics team of Michael Barker and Tom Bernard got plenty of shout-outs from the winners.

Searchlight got three nods for "The Wrestler," while SPC was represented by the five awards spread around "Frozen River," "Synecedoche, New York" and "The Class."

British comic actor Steven Coogan was host of the ceremonies, with Alec Baldwin serving as honorary chair.

"I want to get back into the movie business so bad," Baldwin joked during his trip to the microphone.

The show, exec produced by Diana Zahn-Storey, aired live on IFC. An edited version of the show is set to air on AMC at 10 p.m. Saturday.

A list of nominees and winners is on the next page.

2009 Film Independent's Spirit Awards

Nominees list (winners in bold):

Best feature
"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," Antonio Campos, Sean Durkin, Josh Mond
"Medicine for Melancholy," Barry Jenkins, Justin Barber
"Sangre de mi sangre," Christopher Zalla, Per Melita, Benjamin Odell
"Sleep Dealer," Alex Rivera, Anthony Bregman
"Synecdoche, New York," Charlie Kaufman, Anthony Bregman, Spike Jonze, Sidney Kimmel

John Cassavetes Award (films less than $500,000)
"In Search of a Midnight Kiss," Alex Holdridge, Seth Caplan, Scoot McNairy
"Prince of Broadway," Sean Baker, Darren Dean
"The Signal," David Bruckner, Dan Bush, Jacob Gentry, Alexander Motlagh
"Take Out," Sean Baker, Shih-Ching Tsou
"Turn the River," Chris Eigeman, Ami Armstrong

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 first screenplay
Dustin Lance Black, "Milk"
Lance Hammer, "Ballast"
Courtney Hunt, "Frozen River"
Jonathan Levine, "The Wackness"
Jenny Lumet, "Rachel Getting Married"

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"
Jim Myron Ross, "Ballast"
Haaz Sleiman, "The Visitor"

Best foreign film
"The Class"
"Secret of the Grain"
"Silent Light"

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

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

Robert Altman Award (filmmaker, casting director and acting ensemble)
"Synecdoche, New York," Charlie Kaufman (director), Jeanne McCarthy (casting director), Hope Davis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Tom Noonan, Emily Watson, Dianne Wiest, Michelle Williams

Piaget Producers Award (emerging producers)
Lars Knudsen and Jay Van Hoy, "Treeless Mountain," "I'll Come Running"
Jason Orans, "Goodbye Solo," "Year of the Fish"
Heather Rae, "Frozen River," "Ibid"

Acura Someone to Watch Award (emerging actor)
Barry Jenkins, "Medicine for Melancholy"
Nina Paley, "Sita Sings the Blues"
Lynn Shelton, "My Effortless Brilliance"

Lacoste Truer Than Fiction Award (emerging nonfiction director)
Margaret Brown, "The Order of Myths"
Sacha Gervasi, "Anvil! The Story of Anvil"
Darius Marder, "Loot"