By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood February 21, 2009 at 6:44AM
The Indie Spirits award show on the Santa Monica beach, the day before the Big Show, is my favorite awards event. It's relaxed, convivial. Everyone hangs out outside for an hour or so before the lunchtime ceremony gets under way.
Slumdog Millionaire wasn't up for any awards (eligible for foreign, it wasn't nominated), so it was possible for The Wrestler to walk away with top honors for best film, best cinematography (Maryse Albert) and best male lead Mickey Rourke. Darren Aronofsky thanked his actors, including Rourke, who when accepting his prize took the opportunity to exhort the audience to give Eric Roberts, "The best actor I ever worked with," a second chance. Roberts looked stunned in the crowd. Rourke cried over his dog Loki who died six days ago, saying, "This is for you baby." The crowd under the white tent gave Rourke a rousing standing ovation.
As expected, Milk star James Franco won best supporting male, while Milk scribe Dustin Lance Black won best first screenplay. Charlie Kaufman had to suffer various presenters, from Aaron Eckhart to Cameron Diaz, mauling the pronunciation of Synecdoche, New York. "I guess it really is a bad title," he quipped as he accepted the first of two awards for the night, for best first feature and the Robert Altman award for best ensemble acting. Accepting the supporting actress award, Oscar nominee Penelope Cruz said, "Woody Allen is the symbol of independence in our industry. He does whatever he wants." Allen won best screenplay for Vicky Cristina Barcelona, but did not attend the event.
Sony Pictures Classics enjoyed wins for best actress, foreign film and two for Kaufman. Accepting his award for best foreign film The Class, Laurent Cantet thanked his producers for giving him "the freedom to make films the way I want to make them."
My favorite Indie Spirits host will forever be John Waters, who presented the best director award Saturday afternoon with Zooey Deschanel to The Visitor's Tom McCarthy. Host Steve Coogan did OK--introduced at the show's start via clip by Tropic Thunder co-star Ben Stiller. Indie films are "all about shared experience," Coogan said. "We have all shared the experience of not having seen most of the films." He told Man on Wire star Philippe Petit that "it would have made the film a little better for me if you'd fallen." Man on Wire eventually picked up the win for best documentary.
Coogan's best schtick was showing up onstage as Christian Bale as a foul-mouthed Batman berating an actor dressed up as Joaquin Phoenix in fake wig, beard and shades who whined, "I'm giving up acting." "You've given up shaving," Batman replied, "There's a difference." Last year's host, Rainn Wilson, impersonated Mickey Rourke as The Wrestler, which prompted Rourke as he accepted his award say: "That little blonde dude that did that thing, I'm going to beat your ass."
Of the song homages, Teri Hatcher's renditon of "Bitch is Gone" clearly did not go over with the folks at the Wendy and Lucy table, including a perplexed Michelle Williams.
Best female lead Melissa Leo thanked a theater in Albany, New York for holding Frozen River for "eight fucking weeks." Alec Baldwin, presenting best feature, said, "I want to get back into the movie business so bad. I got to get a dog, get in shape and drop F- bombs on live TV."
After the ceremony, the Indie Spirits gang repaired to Shutters down the beach for a very loud party hosted by IFC, which aired the awards show.
[Originally appeared on Variety.com]