“The Wrestler” Pins Competition at Spirit Awards

Wins best picture and comeback star Mickey Rourke snags best actor honors

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SANTA MONICA, Calif.  -- The sports comeback tale "The Wrestler" was picked as best picture Saturday at the Spirit Awards honoring independent film and won two other prizes, including best actor for Mickey Rourke.

A tuneup for the Academy Awards on Sunday, the Spirit Awards featured several winners also up for Oscars, including three of the four acting choices — Rourke, best-actress recipient Melissa Leo for "Frozen River" and supporting-actress pick Penelope Cruz for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."

Rourke gave a prolonged, hilarious, expletive-laden acceptance speech, dedicating the award to Loki, his beloved Chihuahua that died six days earlier, and thanking everyone from his director, Darren Aronofsky, to the wrestling community. He mentioned that he had just talked with the Santa Monica police department, which "gave me a bed to sleep in 10 years ago," when Rourke was in the midst of the bad-boy behavior that made him a Hollywood has-been until his comeback in recent years with films such as "Sin City" and "The Wrestler."

Momentarily forgetting co-star Marisa Tomei's name, Rourke later complimented her for her role as a stripper in "The Wrestler," which earned her a supporting-actress Oscar nomination.

"Not many girls can climb the pole," Rourke said. "She climbed the pole, and she did it well."

The supporting actor honors went to Cruz as a combustible artist in a three-way relationship with her ex-husband and an American woman in Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and James Franco as a lover of slain gay-rights pioneer Harvey Milk in Gus Van Sant's "Milk."

Allen won the screenplay honor for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," his romance that follows the affairs of two American women in Spain.

"Milk" also received the award for best first screenplay for Dustin Lance Black. The best first feature prize went to "Synecdoche, New York," the directing debut of Charlie Kaufman, who won a screenwriting Oscar for "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."

"Synecdoche," a sprawling story of a theater director's attempt to re-create New York City on massive stages, also received the Robert Altman Award, given to a film's director, casting director and ensemble cast for following in the spirit of the late maverick filmmaker.

The documentary winner was James Marsh's "Man on Wire," about tightrope walker Philippe Petit and his 1974 mission to walk a rope between the World Trade Center towers. "Man on Wire" is favored to win the documentary Oscar, as well.

Another Oscar contender, the French school drama "The Class," took the foreign film honor.

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.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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