LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The race for Hollywood film honors picked up pace on Tuesday when a key independent movie group unveiled Spirit Award nominees, giving dramas "Precious" and "The Last Station" five nods each, including best movie.
Joining them among best film nominees for the awards that often spotlight indie movies competing for Oscars were romantic comedy "(500) Days of Summer" and immigration dramas "Amreeka," and "Sin Nombre."
Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, who plays an abused young woman in "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire," and Helen Mirren in "Last Station," about the last year in the life of Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, were given nods for best actress.
Joining them were Gwyneth Paltrow in drama "Two Lovers" Maria Bello in the dark tale "Downloading Nancy" and Nisreen Faour in "Amreeka," about a Palestinian mother and son who move to Illinois to start a new life.
The race for lead actor pits Joseph Gordon-Levitt in art house hit "(500) Days of Summer," against veteran Jeff Bridges in "Crazy Heart" and Colin Firth in critical hit "A Single Man." They are joined by Adam Scott in "The Vicious Kind," and Souleymane Sy Savane in "Goodbye Solo."
"Last Station," which debuts in some U.S. cities on Friday, earned nods for Michael Hoffman as best director and best screenplay, as well as veteran Christopher Plummer for supporting actor.
"Precious," a movie that has wowed fans and raked in $32 million at box offices since its debut in November, brought nominations for its director Lee Daniels, actress Mo'Nique in a supporting role, and screenwriting for Geoffrey Fletcher.
"I am blown away, as is the entire cast and crew of 'Precious,' that the film is being embraced by so many," director Lee Daniels said in a statement.
"Crazy Heart," the tale of an outlaw country singer named Bad Blake (Bridges)," was among several films that earned three nominations apiece, and it earned debut filmmaker Scott Cooper nods for best first feature and best first screenplay.
He said Bridges took fans to "another world, an alternate universe" with the way he talked, walked, strummed the guitar, smoked cigarettes and even put his foot up on a chair.
"I'm on cloud nine," Cooper told Reuters. "The Spirit Awards are some of the riskiest, boldest and best movies, without question.
Indie movies are made mostly outside Hollywood's major studios by filmmakers who favor the art of cinema over the commerce, and they play mainly at art houses and festivals.
In recent years, the indie arena has become the home of serious-minded dramas like those that often compete for the world's top movie honors, the Academy Awards, or Oscars. Major studios, by contrast, favor big-budget action, broad comedy and movies based on comics and books like "Harry Potter."
As a result, the Spirit Awards -- given out by Los Angeles non-profit group Film Independent -- have been widely watched for top indie movies, which in recent years included Sundance festival and audience hits "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Juno."
Spirit Award organizers give honors for supporting roles, directing, cinematography, documentary and foreign film, among others. A full list is at www.spiritawards.com. The awards will be shown live on U.S. cable TV channel IFC, March 5, 2010.
Editing by Eric Walsh