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Spirit Awards add drama to Oscar ceremonies

Scenes from 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Scenes from 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"  

SANTA MONICA, California (CNN) -- "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" took top honors Saturday at the 16th annual Independent Spirit Awards held on the beach in Santa Monica.

Ang Lee's martial-arts spectacular won best picture, best director and best supporting actress for Zhang Ziyi.

If Oscar night is Hollywood's version of the senior prom, then the Independent Spirit Awards (which traditionally take place the day before) can be considered the junior picnic.

John Waters, an independent film pioneer and master of ceremonies for the Saturday event, set the tone for the ceremony.

"The Golden Globes serve liquor," he quipped, "we should pass out bongs." He also had advice for the winners: "The next day, release a statement to the press with your opinions on who came in second, third and fourth. Make special fun of who came in fifth."

Definitely not the Academy Awards. But there was an undercurrent of tension in the air. Of the 16 films nominated in the top categories for Oscars, seven of them were also in the running for an Indie Spirit Award.

So what is becoming clearer every year is that many of the best and brightest in the independent film industry end up on Oscar's list at the end of the year. The big studios churn out sequel after sequel and recycle old TV shows with zeal, but many filmmakers point out that when it comes time to pass out awards, the studios are turning increasingly to the independents, which offer more originality.

A case in point may be "Requiem for a Dream," for which Hollywood veteran Ellen Burstyn nabbed best actress honors. She's in the same Academy category as Julia Roberts, who is widely believed to have a lock on the Oscar for her work in "Erin Brockovich." But Burstyn -- who won in 1974 for "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" -- refuses to throw in the towel. "As they say," she remarked after her win for her role as a woman addicted to amphetamines, "It's not over till the fat lady sings, or takes pills."

Spanish actor Javier Bardem has caused a sensation with his stunning performance in "Before Night Falls." His Indie Spirit win for best actor was not a surprise. However, he's in the same acting category for the Oscar and his competition there is stiff.

CNN's Lauren Hunter reviews the night's awards

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When asked who would win the Golden Boy, the handsome Spaniard was charming and diplomatic. "I think Geoffrey Rush, Ed Harris, maybe Tom Hanks, or even Russell Crowe," was his answer.

Two other Spirit winners are also still hoping for a date with Oscar. Willem Dafoe took best supporting actor honors for "The Shadow of the Vampire," and he's on the Academy ballot for the same role. This is the first award he's ever won in the United States, although his work has been honored in Europe.

"I'm not so familiar with that 'calling-out-my-name' thing," he smiled.

The only other Indie winner who still has his fingers crossed for the Academy outcome is Kenneth Lonergan, who won best screenplay for "You Can Count On Me." Most insiders say Lonergan could also win Hollywood's top prize.

"You Can Count On Me" also won for best first feature, and "Requiem for a Dream" won a second prize for best cinematography.

However, all eyes will be on Ang Lee at the Oscars. He's won best director from the Director's Guild of America, and now, the Spirit Award for directing and best picture. If his streak continues, he could put a big dent in "Gladiator's" armor.

The Independent Spirit Awards were created to recognize exceptional efforts and to reward visionary filmmaking.

'Crouching Tiger' nabs top indie film prizes
March 24, 2001
'Crouching Tiger' snares two Globes
January 22, 2001
Juliette Binoche faces acclaim
January 9, 2001
The 10 best -- and 10 worst -- movies of the year
December 29, 2000
Steven Soderbergh is busy, happy, planning next film
December 26, 2000

Independent Spirit Awards 2001
The 73rd Annual Academy Awards

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