By BY DAVID GERMAIN, Associated Press
SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) — "The Artist" won best picture and three other prizes Saturday at the Spirit Awards honoring independent film, a possible prelude to a big night at the Academy Awards for the black-and-white silent movie.
The film also won for best director for Michel Hazanavicius and lead actor for Jean Dujardin as a silent-era star whose career crumbles as talking pictures take over in the 1920s. It earned the cinematography prize for Guillaume Schiffman, too.
"The Artist" is the best-picture favorite at Sunday's Oscars.
Michelle Williams won best actress as Marilyn Monroe in the filmmaking tale "My Week with Marilyn."
Supporting-acting honors went to Christopher Plummer as an elderly widower who comes out as gay in "Beginners" and Shailene Woodley as a troublesome Hawaiian teenager in "The Descendants."
"The Artist" producer Thomas Langmann said the awards attention for the film was especially gratifying given how difficult it was to line up financing for a silent film, a form that went out of vogue more than 80 years ago.
"Everybody told us this is so much against conventional wisdom," Langmann said.
At Sunday's Oscars, Dujardin is in a two-man race for best actor against "The Descendants" star George Clooney. Williams is nominated for best actress at the Oscars, though Viola Davis of "The Help" and Meryl Streep of "The Iron Lady" are considered the favorites.
Williams gave the best performance among the Spirit Awards winners with a touching acceptance speech acknowledging her kinship with low-budget independent filmmakers and recalling her first time at the ceremony a decade ago.
"I wore my own clothes back then, which were not very good, and I cut my own hair, which also was not very good," Williams said. "I still remember the feeling that in this room, unlike others, that that was OK. Possibly even preferred. And what I thought then and I still feel now is that it's because this room was a room full of misfits, outcasts, loners, dreamers, mumblers, delinquents, dropouts. Just like me."
Plummer is the supporting-actor favorite at the Oscars, at 82 potentially becoming the oldest actor ever.
"It's taken me the longest time to realize the Spirit Awards have nothing to do with booze," Plummer joked, going on to thank all the spirits that have come his way in his career, "good and evil."
Woodley was not nominated for an Oscar but won out over a lineup that included Academy Award nominee Janet McTeer of the Irish drama "Albert Nobbs."
"The Descendants" also won the screenplay award for director Alexander Payne and his co-writers, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.
Dujardin was unable to attend the Spirit Awards. He was traveling back to Los Angeles for Sunday's Oscars after the Cesar awards in France on Friday, where "The Artist" won six prizes, including best picture and director for Hazanavicius.
Writer-director Hazanavicius made a rushed trip from France to Los Angeles for the Spirit Awards, joking backstage that the "police escort to come from the airport, that was great."
— First feature: "Margin Call," directed by J.C. Chandor.
— International film, "A Separation," directed by Asghar Farhadi.
— Documentary: "The Interrupters."
— First screenplay: Will Reiser, "50/50."
— John Cassavetes Award for feature film made for less than $500,000: "Pariah."
An informal celebration compared to Hollywood's many black-tie honors, the Spirit Awards were presented in their usual venue in a tent along the beach in Santa Monica, just west of Los Angeles.
Hosted by Seth Rogen, the ceremony was taped to air later Saturday on IFC.
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