‘Artist,’ ‘Interrupters’ tops at Spirit Awards

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SANTA MONICA, CA - FEBRUARY 25: Director Steve James (L) and Producer Alex Kotlowitz accept the Best Documentary award for “The Interrupters” onstage at the 2012 Film Independent Spirit Awards held at the Santa Monica Pier on February 25, 2012 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

SANTA MONICA, Ca. – “The Artist,” a nearly silent film, made most of the noise here Saturday at the Independent Spirit Awards, winning for best picture, best actor, best director and its cinematography. It was the latest in a series of good omens for the surprise hit, which seems headed for victory at the Academy Awards on Sunday night.

A no less significant award, for best documentary, was won by “The Interrupters,” made by Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz for Chicago’s Kartemquin Films. The doc, about former gang members trying to keep the peace among street gangs, inspired an uproar when it failed to win an Oscar nomination. Many remember similar incredulity when James’ “Hoop Dreams,” widely considered the best documentary of recent decades, was snubbed by the Oscars in 1994.

Michel Hazanavicius, the French director of “The Artist,” arrived breathless on stage after racing from LAX with a police escort. He had flown in from Paris after his film won the Cesar Award, the “French Oscar,” on Friday. He was named best director by both groups. His star, Jean Dujardin, won the Spirit Award for best actor, but not the Cesar. Cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman, whose distinctive black-and-white photography helped capture the spirit of a circa-1930 silent film, also won a spirit.

“The Artist” steamroller has been so dramatic that it was necessary to take a breath and look around the Indie Spirits venue, a big tent on the beach, and reflect that this group, founded to support a new wave of American cinema, had joined in the applause for a throwback that was (almost) entirely silent, and (almost) entirely black and white.

“We created the Best Foreign Film award to stop this s— from happening,” joked Seth Rogen, emcee of the high-spirited ceremony. “Did we learn nothing from Roberto Begnini?”

The Spirit Award for best actress was won by Michelle Williams, who played Marilyn Monroe in “My Weekend with Marilyn.” She recalled that at her first Indie Spirits she wore her own clothes and did her own hair, and they weren’t so great. “Today,” she smiled, “the only thing I’m wearing that I own is my dignity.” She wore a tailored blue blazer with shirt and tie – conservative, except that her matching shorts were cut as high as a pair of daisy dukes.

The most popular winner was British veteran Christopher Plummer, who won for best supporting actor by playing an old man, long and happily married, who after his wife died revealed to his son that he was gay in “Beginners.”

The best supporting actress was Shailene Woodley, who played George Clooney’s troubled daughter in “The Descendants.”

“The Descendants” also won for best screenplay, by Alexander Payne, Nate Faxon and Jim Rash. “Margin Call,” an HBO production about unethical trading practices during the Wall Street meltdown, won as best first feature for writer-director J.C. Chandor.

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