The Gotham Awards Honor Natalie Portman and Stanley Tucci

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Last night’s Gotham Independent Film Awards saluted the best in American independent cinema, with top honors going to Kathryn Bigelow’s gritty war drama The Hurt Locker. Presented by the Independent Feature Project, the often boozy ceremony heralds the start of the film awards season, and in past years has proven a good indicator of which indies will receive Oscar nods.

The crowd at Cipriani Wall Street — which included Willem Dafoe, Meryl Streep, and Alec Baldwin — was eager to express their support for independent filmmaking. Said presenter Ellen Burstyn, “I love independent film because I think that’s where all the people stories are now. The big studio films have gotten to be so much about explosions and special effects.” Richard Kind, a character actor currently in A Serious Man and previously in every movie, sitcom, and animated film ever, added, “The Coen brothers said that when they got a really big budget it wasn’t as much fun as keeping it small, and I think they’re right. I think you’re more focused.”

In addition to The Hurt Locker, which won prizes for Best Feature and Best Ensemble Performance, awards went to Food, Inc. for Best Documentary, Robert Siegel for Breakthrough Director (Big Fan), and Catalina Saavedra for Breakthrough Actor (The Maid). Before Saavedra’s win, Flavorpill asked her whom she was most looking forward to meeting at the Gotham Awards. Her director and translator for the evening, Sebastian Silva, took it upon himself to answer on her behalf: “A husband.” He received a playful cuff for his troubles.

Also a winner last night was Ry Russo-Young’s You Won’t Miss Me, starring Julian Schnabel’s daughter Stella, which won in the Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You category. (Read our interview with the filmmaker here.) Perhaps not surprisingly, the directors nominated in this category were less inclined than their better-known peers to wax poetic about the joys of working with micro-budgets. When asked whether he hoped to stick to indies or move on to big-budget blockbusters, Damien Chazelle, nominated for Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, responded, “I’d like to ideally try all kinds…” Tariq Tapa, director of Zero Bridge, added, “Every project is different. I have other projects that would gear more towards something bigger, absolutely.”

Several of the nominees were hopeful that the Gotham Awards would breathe new life into films that never quite found an audience. Actor Michael Gaston, nominated as part of the ensemble of Sugar, explained, “We came out on DVD in September so a lot of people are just kind of finding the movie right now. Whatever happens here tonight, I really think that people should see the movie.” Patton Oswalt, nominated in the Breakthrough Actor category despite his star turn several years ago as the voice of Ratatouille, made the case for his film: “Here’s why you should go see Big Fan. Hey, have you not been bummed out in a while by watching a pudgy loser living with his parents get beaten into a coma? Well good news, Big Fan is still in theaters.”

Natalie Portman, tastefully sequined in Proenza Schouler, and Stanley Tucci, equally tasteful but less sparkly, were the recipients of arguably premature career tribute awards. We asked a smattering of attendees which of the two they’d rather host at their holiday table, and the results were conclusive… Check out the video to see who won our informal poll.