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Posted at 10:45 PM ET, 02/26/2011

The Spirit Awards: 'Black Swan' takes best picture as the worlds of Oscar and indie film collide

By Jen Chaney
"Black Swan" a big winner at the Independent Spirits.
(Fox Searchlight)

"Black Swan" rose above "The Kids Are All Right" and "Winter's Bone" to take the best picture prize at this year's Independent Spirit Awards, held Saturday afternoon on a particularly gusty day on the beach in Santa Monica, Calif.

Darren Aronofsky's portrait of ballet-commitment-turned-madness earned three additional awards: one for Aronofsky's direction, for cinematographer Matthew Libatique and, predictably, for Natalie Portman's lead performance, which is widely expected to be honored during Sunday's Oscars as well.

During her acceptance speech, Portman made a point of emphasizing the fact that "Black Swan," which was financed independently before Fox Searchlight signed on to distribute it, qualifies as an indie effort.

"My ballet teachers every day were like, when do we get paid?" she said of the drama's modest budget.

The Independent Spirit Awards may be thought of as the more laid-back, un-Hollywood cousin of the Academy Awards. But the truth is there has long been some overlap between the two, and that crossover factor was certainly on display during this year's ceremony.

In addition to the multiple accolades for multiple Oscar nominee "Black Swan," Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg, Oscar nominees for their screenplay for "The Kids Are All Right," took home the Spirit in that category.

Supporting actor John Hawkes won the Spirit Award for "Winter's Bone," the same bleak, meth-in-the-Ozarks tale that earned him his first Academy Award nomination in the same category. James Franco, who is not only an Oscar nominee for his role in "127 Hours" but also co-host of the show, won the Spirit Award for best actor. Thankfully for Franco, there was no Colin Firth to contend with at the Spirits, as the Oscar front-runner was not nominated for his portrayal of the stammering King George VI. But even Firth's "The King's Speech" managed to walk away from the Spirits with something: a trophy for best foreign language film.

Of the more high-profile categories, only one winner -- supporting actress victor Dale Dickey, who plays a sinister mountain woman in "Winter's Bone" -- possessed a name that won't be uttered during the Oscars, even if the film in which she appeared is a contender in several races.

"We're influencing the Academy so much that they like independent movies just as much," said John Waters, Baltimore's native son and the independent film movement's cheeky, pencil-mustachioed godfather, during an interview prior to the ceremony.

When asked if the crossover is becoming too duplicative, Waters said no.

"I think it's appropriate because these days it's hard to get a movie made no matter if you make Hollywood movies, independent movies -- everybody's had to reinvent themselves," he said.

One thing that may have been too much for at least some celebrities: the weather, which, thanks to the proximity to the Pacific, was brisk and blustery to a degree that most Los Angelenos could not tolerate. Many of the higher-profile celebrities and nominees -- Portman, Franco, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L. Jackson, Jon Hamm -- either skipped the red (well, technically greenish-blue) carpet or raced down it while their publicists insisted they simply had to get inside.

Under the massive white tent where the ceremony was held, there was tons of hubbub and hob-knobbing throughout the roughly two-hour ceremony, even while awards were doled out and honorees accepted them. Everyone clearly wanted to exercise their independent spirits, by refusing to stay seated and keep their traps shut. (That's one way the Spirits and the Oscars are not alike -- all that jibber-jabber would not fly during the live telecast from the Kodak.)

Host Joel McHale did his part to maintain the less-than-serious vibe, noting that he prepared for the gig by studying independent cinema through "a grueling, 10-minute Google search."

"Keep the speeches short," the star of "Community" and E!'s "The Soup" warned, "unless you want to be mocked by next year's host, Daniel Tosh."

Other Spirit winners included "Get Low" (best first feature), Lena Dunham's "Tiny Furniture" (best first screenplay), "Daddy Longlegs" (the John Cassavetes Awards for best film made for under $500,000) and "Please Give," which received the Robert Altman Award, an honor bestowed upon a film's director, casting director and ensemble cast.

In the best documentary category, "Exit Through the Gift Shop" -- yes, an Oscar nominee as well -- was the winner. Thierry Guetta, the subject of the film and a Frenchman with an undeniably, um, independent spirit, accepted the award, completely ignoring McHale's request to keep remarks brief.

"From where I come from and where I am now," he said during a coherent if not cohesive speech, "even a plane cannot there."

Banksy, the elusive British graffiti artist credited with directing the film, did not appear to be in attendance, perhaps a sign that he'll be skipping the Oscars as well. Or perhaps not.

After all, despite the overlap, the Spirit Awards and the Academy Awards still sometimes travel two roads that diverge.

By Jen Chaney  | February 26, 2011; 10:45 PM ET
Categories:  Awards Season, Movies, Oscars  
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Next: Spirit Awards 2011: John Waters, Eva Mendes and more from the scene

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