The hit road comedy "Little Miss Sunshine" and the acclaimed drugs drama "Half Nelson" led the list of contenders Tuesday for the Independent Spirit Awards, the American art-house world's version of the Oscars.
Each film scored five nominations, including best feature and best director. Another contender in the latter category was Robert Altman, who died last week. He was cited for his work on "A Prairie Home Companion."
Four films, none of them with much widespread name recognition, landed three nominations each: "American Gun," "The Dead Girl," "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" and "Man Push Cart."
The Spirit Awards, in their 22nd year, honor low-budget films based on such criteria as original, provocative subject matter and degree of independent financing. Winners will be unveiled Feb. 24, the day before the Academy Awards.
There is usually some crossover among nominees for the two awards, but little common ground among the winners. Last year was an exception because Oscar voters recognized a slew of low-budget films, such as "Crash," "Brokeback Mountain" and "Capote," which also were honored at the Spirit Awards.
"Little Miss Sunshine," a box office smash starring Steve Carell and Greg Kinnear, revolves around a family's cross-country trip to attend a girls' beauty pageant. It marked the feature directing debut of music video veterans Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.
Two of its stars, Alan Arkin and Paul Dano, will compete against each other for supporting male. Additionally, rookie screenwriter Michael Arndt was nominated for best first screenplay.
The searing drama "Half Nelson" stars Ryan Gosling as a drug-addicted teacher who forms a special bond with one of his high school students. Ryan Fleck was nominated for best director and first screenplay (along with co-writer Anna Boden). Gosling and Shareeka Epps were nominated for male and female lead, respectively.
Other best feature nominees were "American Gun," "The Dead Girl" and "Pan's Labyrinth." The other nominated directors were Karen Moncrieff for "The Dead Girl" and Steven Soderbergh for "Bubble."
Besides Gosling, the male lead contenders are Aaron Eckhart ("Thank You For Smoking"), Edward Norton ("The Painted Veil"), Ahmad Razvi ("Man Push Cart"), and Forest Whitaker ("American Gun").
In the female lead category, Epps will vie for honors with Catherine O'Hara ("For Your Consideration"), Elizabeth Reaser ("Sweet Land"), Michelle Williams ("Land of Plenty"), and Robin Wright Penn ("Sorry, Haters").
The event is organized by Film Independent, a Los Angeles-based group that fosters indie movies.