SANTA MONICA, Calif. The quirky coming-of-age comedy "Juno" cleaned up Saturday at the Film Independent Spirit Awards as it continues its Cinderella season going into tonight's Academy Awards.
"Juno" won for best feature film, best actress honors for Ellen Page and best first screenplay for Diablo Cody at the awards show held Saturday afternoon in a tent alongside the sand in Santa Monica. Page and Cody are also nominated for Oscars along with director Jason Reitman.
The film about a pregnant teen has been this awards season's critical darling and standout as it also competes tonight in the best picture category against darker fare such as "No Country for Old Men," "There Will Be Blood," "Michael Clayton" and "Atonement." (The Oscar show begins at 6:30 p.m. on Ch. 4)
"This is so, so special," Page said in accepting her award Saturday. "This is pretty much Diablo Cody's fault," she joked.
Made on a shoe-string budget, "Juno" is the only best picture nominee to surpass the $100 million box office mark, which has buoyed supporters of independent film. That giddiness was in full swing Saturday it was the Independent Spirit Awards, after all but levity gave way to several somber moments to remember Heath Ledger, who died in January of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs. One of his last films, "I'm Not There," won two honors.
Director Todd Haynes, accepting the Robert Altman Award for the film, in which a Bob Dylan-esque character is played by several performers, said the recognition was particularly bittersweet in the wake of Ledger's death.
"We all love him so dearly," Haynes said. "I treasure the time we spent together on this."
Earlier, actress Cate Blanchett dedicated her best supporting actress award to Ledger. The pregnant Blanchett, who won for playing a man in the film, said in accepting the award that Ledger "was probably one of the most beautiful independent spirits of all."
Other awards: best cinematography went to Janusz Kaminski for "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"; best director went to Julian Schnabel, also for "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"; best documentary went to filmmaker Dan Klores' "Crazy Love"; the Truer than Fiction award went to filmmaker Laurel Dunn for "The Unforeseen"; and the producers award went to Neil Kopp, for "Paranoid Park" and "Old Joy."
Philip Seymour Hoffman won best male lead for playing a son dealing with an aging father in "The Savages." He was expressing surprise at his victory when he was interrupted by a fan in the crowd who shouted, "I love you!" He thanked the fan and then went on to call the film's screenplay by Tamara Jenkins "one of the best I've ever read."
Minutes later, Jenkins won for best screenplay.
The Someone to Watch Award went to filmmaker Ramin Bahrani for "Chop Shop." Best foreign film went to the Irish romance-with-music charmer, "Once."
Chiwetel Ejiofor won for best supporting male for "Talk to Me," and "The Lookout" won for best first feature film. The John Cassavetes Award honoring filmmaking on a meager budget went to "August Evening."
Over the last two decades, the Spirit Awards has become one of Hollywood's hippest, hottest events. The town's biggest stars leave their tuxes, designer gowns and diamond jewelry at home and opt instead to wear jeans, leather jackets and off-the-hanger dresses to the uber-casual event.
As their name suggests, the Independent Spirit Awards celebrate independent and low-budget filmmaking. Eligible films must be at least 70 minutes in length; cost of the completed film, including post-production, has to be less than $20 million.
Judging by the laughter and applause, Rainn Wilson of "The Office" proved to be a popular choice to host the ceremony, which was telecast live and uncut on the Independent Film Channel.