Sofia Coppola's eccentrically low-key film "Lost in Translation" swept the Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday, winning best feature, screenplay and director, and Bill Murray was named best actor for his role in the film as a sleepless, past-his-prime action star who crosses paths with a younger but similarly alienated American in Tokyo.
Coppola, who sat next to her famous father, director Francis Ford Coppola, during the afternoon ceremony, is a contender in tonight's Academy Awards for best director, original screenplay and picture, as is Murray for best actor.
The best first feature award went to director Patty Jenkins' "Monster," for which Charlize Theron was voted best actress in her performance as serial killer Aileen Wuornos. She is also up for an Oscar.
The annual event, which was held under a vast tent on the beach in Santa Monica, attracted an unusual mix of newcomers and mainstream Hollywood types as well as hard-core independent filmmakers from New York.
Demonstrating just how mainstream the Independent Spirit Awards have become over the years, one of Hollywood's most bankable commercial actors, Tom Cruise, served as honorary chairman.
Even Jack Valenti, president and chief executive of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, made a cameo appearance, putting on a good face to show there were no hard feelings over a lawsuit filed against his trade organization last year by the very filmmakers who sponsor and were honored at the Spirit Awards.
Last fall, independent producers and the Independent Feature Project/Los Angeles sued the Motion Picture Assn. of America and won, overturning the organization's edict that prohibited studios and their art house/specialized divisions from sending screener copies to awards season voters and opinion-makers.
When Dawn Hudson, head of the Independent Feature Project/Los Angeles, gave her welcome speech, she was greeted with cheers on one side and silence on the other as she spoke about the lawsuit.
"Fighting the studios is dangerous business for anyone who values their career in Hollywood," Hudson said. Filing suit "took a lot of guts." The action was especially difficult because most specialized film distributors are now owned by major studios.
Hudson offered special thanks to Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein, the only studio executive to give a deposition on behalf of the independent filmmakers.
Other winners included Djimon Hounsou for best supporting male actor in "In America" and Shohreh Aghdashloo for best supporting female in "House of Sand and Fog," both of whom are nominated for Oscars in the same categories.
Thomas McCarthy won the award for best first screenplay for "The Station Agent," and Nikki Reed took the honor for best debut performance in "Thirteen," which she co-wrote with director Catherine Hardwicke.
The award for best cinematography went to Declan Quinn for "In America." Errol Morris' "Fog of War" was voted best documentary, and New Zealand's "Whale Rider" was chosen best foreign film.
In addition, Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's gritty, complex drama "21 Grams" was recognized with a special distinction award for "uniqueness of vision, bold conception and direction ... and achievement at every level of filmmaking."
The somewhat subdued ceremony was devoid of the characteristically outrageous skits by John Waters, who announced that this would be his last year as host.