Christopher Plummer picked up the first statuette at the Film Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday, winning the award for best supporting actor for his role in "Beginners," in which he plays a father and widower who reveals he's gay, surprising his adult son.
The venerable actor, who is considered a front-runner to win in the same category at Sunday's 84th Academy Awards, took the stage with a quip in keeping with the irreverent nature of the beachside Santa Monica ceremony hosted this year by Seth Rogen.
"It's taken me the longest time to realize that the Spirit Awards have nothing to do with booze!" said Plummer, who previously has won Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA awards for the role in writer-director Mike Mills' film.
The top prize for the independent film community, the Spirit Awards hand out trophies in 14 competitive categories. The afternoon affair is designed to be a more casual answer to the motion picture academy's lavish Oscar gala.
Rogen opened the show with a series of jokes targeting Hollywood personalities. In discussing why awards season is necessary, he said, "Without awards season we wouldn't know what a bigot Brett Ratner was," referring to the anti-gay slur the filmmaker made last year at a point when we was set to produce the Academy Awards telecast.
The two-hour ceremony moved along at a quick clip, with a number of prizes handed out in the first hour or so. Will Reiser won for best first screenplay for "50/50," a cancer-themed comedy inspired by his personal experiences battling the disease as a young man. Reiser was diagnosed while working on "Da Ali G Show" alongside Rogen, who also stars in and produced "50/50."
Guillaume Schiffman won the best cinematography award for his work on the awards-season juggernaut "The Artist," the black-and-white homage to the silent era that is up for best feature at the Spirit Awards and is expected by many to win the best picture Oscar at the Academy Awards, where Schiffman is also nominated for his cinematography.
Shailene Woodley won the best supporting actress prize for her performance opposite George Clooney in the family drama "The Descendants." In the film, the actress plays a moody teenager who begins reconciling with her distant father when her mother falls into a coma.
The John Cassavetes Award, which honors the best feature made for less than $500,000, was presented to "Pariah" writer-director Dee Rees and producer Nekisa Cooper. The film tells the story of a black teenager embracing her identity as a lesbian while dealing with tension at home and other trials of adolescence. The film's star, Adepero Oduye, was nominated for best female lead for her performance.
And making it two for "The Artist," the film's star, French actor Jean Dujardin, received the award for best male lead. Dujardin's turn as silent-cinema star George Valentin has won him acting honors at the Golden Globes, the SAG Awards and the BAFTAs; he is also nominated for an Oscar.
-- Oliver Gettell and Amy Kaufman
Photo: Christopher Plummer accepts his Spirit Award for "Beginners." Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images