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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Border smuggling crime movie "Frozen River" won best picture and breakthrough acting awards at the Gotham Independent Film ceremony on Tuesday, as well as sharing top billing in nominations for the Spirit Awards for independent filmmakers.
Melissa Leo, 48, was named by IFP, organizer of the Gotham awards, as breakthrough actor of the year for her role in "Frozen River." She portrays a desperate single mother who is drawn into the world of immigrant smuggling near a Mohawk reservation between New York state and Quebec
Leo's performance has riveted movie critics, and the Gotham award and Spirit nomination put her in line for wider recognition as Hollywood's three-month movie awards season kicks into gear.
Earlier on Tuesday, "Frozen River" received six Spirit Award independent movie nominations along with family drama "Rachel Getting Married" starring Anne Hathaway, and small-town drama "Ballast."
The Spirit Awards, one of the best-known honors for independent movies, are handed out on February 21 on the eve of the annual Oscar ceremony.
Spirit Award organizers on Tuesday announced that this year's prestigious Robert Altman Award, given to the best director, casting director and ensemble cast, was won by "Synecdoche, New York."
The movie also shared the best ensemble award from Gotham along with Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." The Gotham Awards were handed out in New York on Tuesday.
"Synecdoche, New York," a quirky tale of a despairing theater director played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, was written and directed by Charlie Kaufman and picked up another three Spirit nominations, including best screenplay, in the main categories.
Other leading contenders for the Spirit Awards included the San Francisco-set biopic "Milk," starring Sean Penn as gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk, with four nominations. "The Wrestler," starring Mickey Rourke, and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" each had three nominations.
"This is truly the year of original voices, among both veteran and new filmmakers," said Dawn Hudson, executive director of Film Independent, which hands out the Spirit Awards.
The Hollywood award season moves into full gear later this month with nominations for the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild awards, which are handed out in January ahead of the movie industry's top honors, the Oscars, on February 22.
Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Mary Milliken and Cynthia Osterman