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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Winter's Bone," the grim saga of a 17-year-old girl searching for her father in drug-ravaged middle America, could find plenty of acclaim on Saturday at the art-house world's version of the Oscars.
The drama goes into the 26th annual Spirit Awards with seven nominations, leading a field that includes several films with which it will compete at the Academy Awards on Sunday.
The lesbian family comedy "The Kids Are All Right," the ballerina melodrama "Black Swan," and the mountain misadventure "127 Hours" also have multiple bids at both events.
Each year, a handful of Spirit winners usually goes on to earn Oscars thanks in part to the success of low-budget films in the mainstream arena. But the awards ceremonies otherwise could not be more different.
The Oscars take place at a theater in a Hollywood shopping mall. Black tie is obligatory, and everyone is supposed to be on best behavior at an event oozing with seriousness.
The Spirits, famed for their relaxed and boozy atmosphere, are returning to their traditional locale on Santa Monica Beach after an ill-fated switch to a downtown Los Angeles parking building last year.
The stars dress casually, and deliver alcohol-fueled acceptance speeches inside a big marquee. But a cold snap could dampen spirits a little. The two-hour event begins at 2 p.m. PST.
The Spirit Awards honor low-budget American films based on such criteria as original, provocative subject matter and the degree of independent financing.
"Winter's Bone" will go head-to-head for best feature and director against "The Kids Are All Right" (five nominations), "Black Swan" (four) and "127 Hours" (three).
Critics raved about director/co-writer Debra Granik's depiction of a rural mountain community dotted with methamphetamine labs, and it also picked up four Oscar nominations.
In a career-making role, 20-year-old actress Jennifer Lawrence plays a woman who struggles to care for her disabled mother and two younger siblings. When they face eviction after her father fails to make a court appearance, she must confront her violent neighbors to find out what happened to him.
Lawrence will compete for female lead prize at the Spirits and the best actress race at the Oscars. Indeed, all four of her Oscar rivals received Spirit nominations. "Black Swan" star Natalie Portman is the Oscar favorite.
Among the male headliners, only "127 Hours" star James Franco will compete at both events for his role as a trapped hiker forced to amputate his own arm. He will also co-host the Oscars with Anne Hathaway.
The Spirit Awards make a point of honoring up-and-coming filmmakers with categories for best first feature and first screenplay. This year, Lena Dunham is competing in both races with "Tiny Furniture," a black comedy that grossed a grand total of about $400,000 at the box office.
But her portrayal of a freshly minted college graduate entering adulthood armed only with a useless degree and self-esteem issues caught Hollywood's attention. She is now developing a series at cable channel HBO.
Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Vicki Allen