‘Precious,’ ‘Last Station’ Lead Spirit Award Noms

The urban drama “Precious” and the Leo Tolstoy period piece “The Last Station” each earned a leading five nominations Tuesday for the Spirit Awards honoring independent film.

The two acclaimed movies will compete for best feature film with the romance “500 Days of Summer” and the immigrant dramas “Amreeka” and “Sin Nombre.”

“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” also earned a best-actress nomination for newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, who plays an illiterate Harlem teen rising above a life of incest and abuse, and a supporting-actress slot for Mo’Nique, who plays her mother. The movie also grabbed honors for director Lee Daniels and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher.

Helen Mirren had a best-actress nominationfor her role as Tolstoy’s wife in “The Last Station,” while Christopher Plummer earned a supporting-actor honor as the aging Russian author in the drama centered on a struggle over his estate. Filmmaker Michael Hoffman received directing and screenplay nominations for “Last Station.”

The Spirit Awards will be presented March 5, two days before the Academy Awards, in a ceremony airing on the Independent Film Channel.

Though many low-budget films competing for Spirit Awards never gain traction for the Oscars, notable contenders often go on to earn nominations for Hollywood’s top honors. Last year’s acting contenders for the Spirit Awards included eventual best-actor Oscar winner Sean Penn for “Milk,” along with Oscar nominees Mickey Rourke for “The Wrestler,” Anne Hathaway for “Rachel Getting Married” and Melissa Leo for “Frozen River.”

Absent from this year’s Spirit Awards nominations is the acclaimed Iraq War drama “The Hurt Locker,” which was eligible for those prizes last year. Because it was released theatrically this year, it is eligible for the 2009 Oscars, whose nominations come out Feb. 2.

For best actress, Mirren and Sidibe are up against Nisreen Faour for “Amreeka,” Maria Bello for the romantic thriller “Downloading Nancy,” and Gwyneth Paltrow for the dark romance “Two Lovers.”

Nominated for best actor were Jeff Bridges in the country-music tale “Crazy Heart,” Colin Firth in the 1960s gay drama “A Single Man,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt in “500 Days of Summer,” Souleymane Sy Savane for the buddy drama “Goodbye Solo,” and Adam Scott for the sibling story “The Vicious Kind.”

The war-on-terror drama “The Messenger” ran second with four nominations, including best feature from a first-time director and supporting-acting slots for Samantha Morton and Woody Harrelson. “The Messenger” star Ben Foster was overlooked for a nomination for his acclaimed performance as an Iraq War hero assigned to notify next-of-kin about soldiers’ deaths.

Also nominated for best first feature is the horror sensation “Paranormal Activity,” which was shot for just $15,000 and has taken in more than $100 million at the box office.

Joel and Ethan Coen’s “A Serious Man,” about a Midwest Jewish academic in the 1960s who is beset with career and family troubles, was chosen to receive the Robert Altman Award honoring a film’s director, casting director and ensemble of actors.

The Coens also earned a directing nomination for “A Serious Man.”

Presented by the cinema group Film Independent, the Spirit Awards honor movies that cost less than $20 million to make, with a significant part of their budget originating from outside the Hollywood studio system. Other criteria for nominations include films’ originality and provocative subject matter.

Complete List of Nominees:

BEST FEATURE (award given to the producer)
(500) Days of Summer — Producers: Mason Novick, Jessica Tuchinsky, Mark Waters, Steven J. Wolfe
Amreeka — Producers: Paul Barkin, Christina Piovesan
Precious — Producers: Lee Daniels, Gary Magness, Sarah Siegel-Magness
Sin Nombre — Producer: Amy Kaufman
The Last Station — Producers: Bonnie Arnold, Chris Curling, Jens Meuer

Ethan Coen, Joel Coen — A Serious Man
Lee Daniels — Precious
Cary Joji Fukunaga — Sin Nombre
James Gray — Two Lovers
Michael Hoffman — The Last Station

Alessandro Camon, Oren Moverman — The Messenger
Michael Hoffman — The Last Station
Lee Toland Krieger — The Vicious Kind
Greg Mottola — Adventureland
Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber — (500) Days Of Summer

BEST FIRST FEATURE (award given to the director and producer)
A Single Man — Director: Tom Ford, Producers: Tom Ford, Andrew Miano, Robert Salerno, Chris Weitz
Crazy Heart — Director: Scott Cooper, Producers: T Bone Burnett, Judy Cairo, Rob Carliner, Scott Cooper, Robert Duvall
Easier With Practice — Director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez, Producer: Cookie Carosella
Paranormal Activity — Director: Oren Peli, Producer: Jason Blum, Oren Peli
The Messenger — Director: Oren Moverman, Producers: Mark Gordon, Lawrence Inglee, Zach Miller

Sophie Barthes — Cold Souls
Scott Cooper — Crazy Heart
Cherien Dabis — Amreeka
Geoffrey Fletcher — Precious
Tom Ford, David Scearce — A Single Man

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD (given to the best feature made for under $500,000; award given to the writer, director, and producer)
Big Fan — Writer/Director: Robert Siegel Producers: Elan Bogarin, Jean Kouremetis
Humpday — Writer/Director/Producer: Lynn Shelton
The New Year Parade — Writer/Director: Tom Quinn Producers: Steve Beal, Tom Quinn
Treeless Mountain — Writer/Director: So Yong Kim Producers: Bradley Rust Gray, Ben Howe, So Yong Kim, Lars Knudsen, Jay Van Hoy
Zero Bridge — Writer/Director: Tariq Tapa Producers: Josee Lajoie, Hilal Ahmed Langoo, Tariq Tapa

Maria Bello — Downloading Nancy
Nisreen Faour — Amreeka
Helen Mirren — The Last Station
Gwyneth Paltrow — Two Lovers
Gabourey Sidibe — Precious

Jeff Bridges — Crazy Heart
Colin Firth — A Single Man
Joseph Gordon-Levitt — (500) Days Of Summer
Souleymane Sy Savane — Goodbye Solo
Adam Scott — The Vicious Kind

Dina Korzun — Cold Souls
Mo’Nique — Precious
Samantha Morton — The Messenger
Natalie Press — Fifty Dead Men Walking
Mia Wasikowska — That Evening Sun

Jemaine Clement — Gentlemen Broncos
Woody Harrelson — The Messenger
Christian McKay — Me and Orson Welles
Raymond McKinnon — That Evening Sun
Christopher Plummer — The Last Station

Roger Deakins — A Serious Man
Adriano Goldman — Sin Nombre
Anne Misawa — Treeless Mountain
Andrij Parekh — Cold Souls
Peter Zeitlinger — Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

BEST DOCUMENTARY (award given to the director)
Anvil! The Story of Anvil — Director: Sacha Gervasi
Food, Inc. — Director: Robert Kenner
More Than a Game — Director: Kristopher Belman
October Country — Directors: Donal Mosher, Michael Palmieri
Which Way Home — Director: Rebecca Cammisa

BEST FOREIGN FILM (award given to the director)
A Prophet (France) — Director: Jacques Audiard
An Education (U.K./France) — Director: Lone Scherfig
Everlasting Moments (Sweden) — Director: Jan Troell
Mother (South Korea) — Director: Bong Joon-Ho
The Maid (Chile) — Director: Sebastian Silva

ACURA SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARD (The 16th annual Acura Someone to Watch Award recognizes a talented filmmaker of singular vision who has not yet received appropriate recognition. The award includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant funded by Acura.)
Kyle Patrick Alvarez — Easier With Practice
Asiel Norton — Redland
Tariq Tapa — Zero Bridge

TRUER THAN FICTION AWARD (The 15th annual Truer Than Fiction Award is presented to an emerging director of nonfiction features who has not yet received significant recognition. The award includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant.)
Natalia Almada — El General
Jessica Oreck — Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo
Bill Ross, Turner Ross — 45365

PIAGET PRODUCERS AWARD (The 13th annual Piaget Producers Award honors emerging producers who, despite highly limited resources, demonstrate the creativity, tenacity and vision required to produce quality, independent films. The award includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant funded by Piaget.)
Karin Chien — The Exploding Girl, Santa Mesa
Larry Fessenden — I Sell the Dead, The House of the Devil
Dia Sokol — Beeswax, Nights & Weekends

ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD (given to one film’s director, casting director and ensemble cast)
A Serious Man
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Casting Directors: Ellen Chenoweth, Rachel Tenner
Ensemble Cast: Richard Kind, Sari Lennick, Jessica McManus, Fred Melamed, Michael Stuhlbarg, Aaron Wolff

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