“The Wrestler” put the Ram-Jam on the competition, taking top honors at Saturday’s Film Independent Spirit Awards with three gongs.
The drama about Randy “the Ram” Robinson, a washed-up professional grappler, also saw Mickey Rourke pin his rivals in the lead male category and Maryse Alberti take the prize for cinematography.
The Spirits, held annually in a tented venue on the beach in Santa Monica, was created as the alternative to the high-glamour Oscars. But this year’s show, hosted by Brit comedian Steve Coogan, sometimes had an Academy Awards-esque vibe to it, with many of the trophies going to Oscar frontrunners or the most recognizable names and projects, including a no-show Woody Allen (screenplay for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”), Charlie Kaufman (first feature for “Synecdoche, New York”), Dustin Lance Black (first screenplay for “Milk”), James Marsh’s “Man on Wire” (documentary) and Laurent Cantet’s “The Class” (foreign film).
A phalanx of top stars watched as Penelope Cruz received the supporting actress nod for her turn in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and James Franco took supporting actor for his role as Harvey Milk’s longtime love in “Milk.”
Small-budget fest darling “Frozen River,” considered a project best representing the Spirits’ original maverick intent, earned kudos in two key categories, including Melissa Leo, who bested Summer Bishil, Anne Hathaway, Tarra Riggs and Michelle Williams in the lead actress competish.
Still, the ceremony belonged to Rourke, who drew the afternoon’s only standing ovation as well as most of the laughs. Thesp, who is enjoying a career revival, came through with yet another refreshingly entertaining but at times disjointed and self-deprecating acceptance speech, butchering a number of names, including that of Fox Filmed Entertainment topper Jim Gianopulos, and dedicating the award to his dog Loki, who passed away last week.
“Eric Roberts, whatever he did 15 years ago, should be forgiven. He deserves a second chance,” said Rourke of his onetime “Pope of Greenwich Village” co-star, who was on hand in the audience.
As for working with “Wrestler” helmer Darren Aronofsky, Rourke warned other actors: “You better be in shape because he’ll break you down.”
When “The Visitor” helmer Tom McCarthy was named best director following Rourke’s speech, McCarthy joked, “I think they should have stopped the show after Mickey; who can follow that?”
Alex Holdridge nabbed the John Cassavetes Award, given to the top feature made for less than $500,000, for his pic “In Search of a Midnight Kiss.” Lynn Shelton took home the Someone to Watch Award for her “My Effortless Brilliance,” and Heather Rae drew the Producers Award for “Frozen River.” Margaret Brown received the Truer Than Fiction Award for “The Order of Myths.” And “Synecdoche, New York” was given the Robert Altman Award, which brought helmer Kaufman, casting director Jeanne McCarthy and the film’s ensemble cast to the stage.
The complete list of winners:
“The Wrestler,” producers Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin
Tom McCarthy, “The Visitor”
Woody Allen, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”
Maryse Alberti, “The Wrestler”
Mickey Rourke, “The Wrestler”
Melissa Leo, “Frozen River”
Penelope Cruz, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”
James Franco, “Milk”
Laurent Cantet’s “The Class”
James Marsh’s “Man on Wire”
Charlie Kaufman’s “Synecdoche, New York”
Dustin Lance Black, “Milk”
John Cassavetes Award (given to the best feature made for less than $500,000)
Alex Holdridge’s “In Search of a Midnight Kiss”
Acura Someone to Watch Award
Lynn Shelton, “My Effortless Brilliance”
Piaget Producers Award
Heather Rae, “Frozen River”
Lacoste Truer Than Fiction Award
Margaret Brown, “The Order of Myths”
Robert Altman Award (given to film’s director, casting director and its ensemble cast)
“Synecdoche, New York”