‘Precious’ dominates Spirit Awards with 5 prizes

The Independent Spirit Awards turned into the Precious Oscars.

On the Friday night before Sunday’s Oscar award-season finale, Hollywood gathered on a rooftop in downtown Los Angeles to honor the best in movies made outside of the major studio system.

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Most of the top honors went to that one film: Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire.

The harrowing tale of an obese, illiterate abused black teenager, and her struggles to survive amid poverty and psychotic parents, collected five awards — including best picture, best first screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher, and best director for Lee Daniels.

Kathryn Bigelow is not here tonight. I am!” Daniels declared, since The Hurt Locker filmmaker is widely considered a shoo-in for best director at the Academy Awards.

Mo’Nique, whose role as Precious‘ violent, neglectful mother is considered the frontrunner for a supporting actress Oscar, won best supporting female, while newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, as the lead character, claimed best actress.

In contrast to the morose, mumbly heroine of Precious, Sidibe’s own personality got to shine as she collected her trophy: that of a cheerful, chipmunk-voiced young woman whose Hollywood dreams are coming true.

“I’m kind of a dork,” she said. “My Mom used to pay me $2 every day to go to school, and I used to ride by an independent film theater. And I saved up my money for a week so I could see Welcome to the Dollhouse,” Todd Solondz‘s dark 1995 coming of age story.

“That’s the first film I saw where I said, ‘I can do that!'” she laughed. “To be corny, I’d say that’s where my ‘independent spirit’ was born … And now I’m officially corny.”

On the blue carpet prior to the event, Precious director Daniels called Sidibe a ” special gift to the universe.” Meanwhile, Sidibe admitted the awards season has run its course. “I can’t wait ’til it’s over.”

The event, held at the LA Live entertainment complex in downtown Los Angeles, and hosted by comedian Eddie Izzard, marked the 25th anniversary of the awards. It also brought significant changes.

The gathering previously took place Saturday afternoon, on the eve off the Oscars, and was held on the beach in Santa Monica. The switch to late Friday night (the event, broadcast live on the IFC cable network, didn’t begin until 11 p.m. ET) and shift to a parking lot rooftop in the heart of the city left many guests grumbling.

But the Spirit Awards maintained the tradition of honoring some of those unlikely to get a trophy at the Oscars.

Woody Harrelson, nominated at both events for his supporting actor turn in The Messenger as a man who notifies the family’s of Army casualties, has publicly said he expects to lose the Oscar. But he was the winner at the Spirits.

“I think you’re all better,” he told his fellow nominees. “I don’t know how you distinguish one performance from the another. It never felt right to me to declare a winner.” Smiling, he joked: “Of course, now it feels a little more right.”

The anti-romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer won best screenplay, and the British drama An Education was given best foreign film.

Joel and Ethan Coen‘s A Serious Man won the Robert Altman Award for casting, and best cinematography for Roger Deakins, while Humpday, about two straight guys considering making a gay porn just for the money, received the John Cassavetes Award.

Bill and Turner Ross claimed the Chaz and Roger Ebert Truer Than Fiction award for 45365, a documentary about small town America. Anvil! The Story of Anvil, a comical chronical of a middle-aged heavy metal group still trying to make it despite decades of no success, claimed the documentary prize.

The band also blasted the eardrums of the Spirit Award guests with their song Metal on Metal. A more mellow tone was struck by Jeff Bridges, T Bone Burnett, and Ryan Bingham, playing the song Fallin’ & Flyin’ from Crazy Heart.

Crazy Heart was the other big Spirit Award winner. Director Scott Cooper won best first feature, and best actor for Bridges, who many consider a sure-thing on Oscar night.

Raising his trophy in the air, a jubilant Bridges invoked a line from his cult-phenomenon film The Big Lebowski: “This is really going to tie the room together, baby!”

On the blue carpet, Cooper said no one else could have played the title character Bad Blake. “I wrote the role for Jeff,” he said. “I wasn’t sure I should make the film if I didn’t get him.” But, he says, “it was very difficult. You have to grab (Bridges), kicking and screaming to any role, especially the ones he loves, ironically.”

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