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Spirit Awards: 'Artist,' Michel Hazanavicius, Michelle Williams win

February 25, 2012 |  3:44 pm

Michel Hazanavicius

The seemingly unstoppable French film "The Artist," produced by Thomas Langmann, won best feature at the Film Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday. The black-and-white homage to silent cinema, which is also nominated for 10 Oscars, is considered a best picture front-runner heading into Sunday night’s 84th Academy Awards ceremony.

"The Artist's" Michel Hazanavicius was honored as best director, star Jean Dujardin won for best male lead for his turn as a dashing movie idol whose fame is on the wane and Guillaume Schiffman won the cinematography award for the film. Only Hazanavicius was on hand to claim his statuette, however, as the other two men had not yet arrived from France, where "The Artist" picked up even more accolades this weekend at the Cesar Awards.

Other big winners included Michelle Williams, who was named best actress for her role in the biopic "My Week With Marilyn," in which she portrays the iconic star Marilyn Monroe. Williams also won a Golden Globe for her performance and is nominated for an Academy Award.

PHOTOS: Spirit Awards red carpet

Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, writers of "The Descendants," took home best screenplay honors for their film, which Payne also directed and which is adapted from the novel of the same name by Kaui Hart Hemmings. The film tells of an indifferent father forced to reexamine his life and family after an accident puts his wife in a coma. Shailene Woodley captured the supporting female Spirit Award for her work in the drama.

 Iran's "A Separation," directed by Asghar Farhadi, was honored as best international film. Farhadi's film dramatizes the far-reaching consequences of a married Iranian couple's separation and is nominated for three Oscars.

The award for best documentary was presented to "The Interrupters' " director-producer Steve James and producer Alex Kotlowitz. The film follows three people who work as "violence interrupters" to intervene in conflicts in their Chicago communities before they get out of hand.

Director J.C. Chandor's "Margin Call" won the award for best first feature and also took home the Robert Altman Award, which recognizes one film's director, casting director and ensemble cast. The latter prize for the film, which chronicles the beginning of the 2008 economic crisis, was presented to Chandor, casting directors Tiffany Little Canfield and Bernard Telsey and the ensemble comprising Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Mary McDonnell, Demi Moore, Zachary Quinto, Kevin Spacey and Stanley Tucci.

The Truer Than Fiction Award, which is presented to an emerging director of nonfiction features who has not yet received significant recognition and includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant, was presented to Heather Courtney, director of "Where Soldiers Come From."

 The Piaget Producers Award, which honors emerging producers who have made the most of "highly limited resources" and demonstrated "creativity, tenacity and vision," recognized Sophia Lin, producer of "Take Shelter." The film, about a working-class father and husband troubled by visions of an apocalyptic storm, was also nominated for best actor, supporting actress, director and feature.

 The Someone to Watch Award, which "recognizes a talented filmmaker of singular vision who has not yet received appropriate recognition," went to Mark Jackson, director of "Without," a film about a young woman who becomes caretaker to an elderly man in a vegetative state on a remote wooded island.

The Jameson FIND Your Audience Award, which helps one low-budget independent film reach a broader audience, was awarded to filmmakers Benjamin Murray and Alysa Nahmias for "Unfinished Spaces." The documentary tells the story of three architects invited back to Cuba after four decades in exile to finish construction of the National Art Schools. The award includes a $40,000 grant for marketing and distribution.


Photos: Red carpet

Winners & Nominees

Spirit Awards: Christopher Plummer, Jean Dujardin among early acting winners

-- Oliver Gettell

Photo: Director Michel Hazanavicius in the audience at the 2012 Film Independent Spirit Awards. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images