Whatever Little Miss Sunshine lacked in kiddie pageant glory, it more than made up for with good old fashioned Hollywood pageantry.
The little indie that could got a head start on its Oscar run Saturday, dominating at Film Independent's Spirit Awards ceremony, scoring trophies in all four categories in which it was nominated, including the top prize for Best Feature.
Nominated for a leading five awards at the so-called indie Oscars, Little Miss Sunshine snagged Best Director hardware for co-helmers Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, First Screenplay for Michael Arndt and Supporting Male for Alan Arkin, who was up against costar Paul Dano in the category.
"I'm humbled, I'm honored, I feel very small," the 72-year-old actor said upon receiving his prize.
Though he was likely not, at least if he was anything like host Sarah Silverman—or most of the crowd, surprised.
"What a shocker," the emcee said. "Alan Arkin won. Well played."
Silverman, who hosted the ceremony last year as well, kicked off the show by praising the group of independent auteurs gathered for the evening and noted the only downside of such a congratulatory to-do: "If a bomb went off, there'd be no one left to make a documentary about it."
The laid-back awards, doled out in a tent on the Santa Monica beach, traditionally reward films produced outside of the studio system and draw a much more fun-loving, formality-weary crowd—and host—than the Academy version.
Not that the ceremony hasn't become increasingly interlinked with the more staid ceremony. This year, nearly every one of the Spirit Awards' 12 major categories contained nominees who are also up for statuettes Sunday night.
Little Miss Sunshine, the clear Spirit Award favorite, snagged a surprise Best Picture nomination for the Oscars and, some critics say, could be gearing up for a Crash-like upset in the category.
Though not every win at the Spirit Awards is necessarily a harbinger of things to come—at least not according to the winners themselves.
While Little Miss Sunshine took the most awards of the night, Half Nelson also had a strong showing, snatching up the ceremony's major acting prizes, with Ryan Gosling winning Best Male Lead and newcomer, and pending high school graduate Shareeka Epps winning Best Female Lead.
Both beat out major contenders, particularly Gosling, who bested Thank You for Smoking's Aaron Eckhart, The Painted Veil's Edward Norton and Forest Whitaker, who was nominated not for The Last King of Scotland, but for American Gun.
Topping the competition was, per Gosling himself, likely a onetime ordeal.
"Forest called me last night and asked if I could win for him tonight," he said of Whitaker, who was not present at the show. "It's exhausting winning...He said that. I wouldn't know.
"He better win tomorrow night. I've got a lot of money on him winning."
After snagging his award, Gosling touched on his reputation as an independent leading man, saying the association wasn't wholly deserved.
"I've been trying to sell out for years, no one wants me," he said. "Maybe this will help."
As for Epps, who nabbed her part in the drama about a crack-addicted high school teacher when producers showed up at her school several years ago, she beat out Catherine O'Hara, Michelle Williams and Robin Wright Penn.
In accepting her award, she acknowledged the fact that she was probably unknown to about 99 percent of the room.
"I can breathe now," she said. "My name's Shareeka, by the way."
Frances McDormand rounded out the thespian winners with a Best Supporting Female award for her role in Friends With Money. She, however, was not present to collect her award, nor was indie king David Lynch, who with frequent muse Laura Dern took home a Special Distinction trophy honoring the duo's collaborations over the years.
Dern was present to accept the award, handed out by Dennis Hopper. Hopper explained Lynch's absence by saying the filmmaker was off "doing something surreal in Paris."
As for the Sunshine team, while they may be up for awards tomorrow night as well, it's the Spirit Award which they say they will hold dearest to their heart, regardless of the Oscar outcome, because it was the independent film world that embraced their movie.
"We were dead in the studio system," Faris said upon collecting his nod as Best Director. "They'd given up on this...The indie world stuck with us."
Arndt, the movie's screenwriter, echoed the sentiments, saying, after he collected his award, that he was initially fired from the film when a studio wanted to rework the script to focus more on Greg Kinnear's character. He said that he, Faris and Dayton worked hard to protect it, and thanked the independent film world for allowing them to keep it as they saw fit.
But it wasn't all serious shop talk when it came to Arndt.
In introducing the Best First Screenplay category, presenters Josh Hartnett and Lucy Liu alluded to Arndt's previous job as Matthew Broderick's assistant and said that the award was not so much handed out to honor first-time screenwriters, but "to encourage Matthew Broderick's current assistant to step up his game."
Late director Robert Altman was also feted during the ceremony, and Film Independent announced plans to introduce the Robert Altman Award, which will honor the best collaboration between actors and their director.
The awards aired live on IFC and will repeat in an edited down version on AMC tonight at 10.
Here's the complete list of winners for Film Independent's 2007 Spirit Awards:
- Feature: Little Miss Sunshine
- Male Lead: Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
- Female Lead: Shareeka Epps, Half Nelson
- Supporting Male: Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine
- Supporting Female: Frances McDormand, Friends with Money
- Director: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris, Little Miss Sunshine
- Screenplay: Jason Reitman, Thank You for Smoking
- First Screenplay: Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine
- Cinematography: Pan's Labyrinth, Guillermo Navarro
- Documentary: The Road to Guantanamo
- Foreign Film: The Lives of Others (Germany)
- First Feature: Sweet Land
- John Cassavetes Award: Quinceañera
- Special Distinction: David Lynch & Laura Dern