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"The Wrestler" wins big at Spirit Awards

 Actor Mickey Rourke arrives at the 24th annual Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, California February 21, 2009. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson - Reuters
Actor Mickey Rourke arrives at the 24th annual Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, California February 21, 2009. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
— image credit: Reuters

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "The Wrestler" pummeled its opponents at the Spirit Awards on Saturday, winning three awards, including best feature at the independent film world's equivalent of the Oscars.

The film's star, Mickey Rourke, won the male lead race for his comeback title role as a washed-up fighter. French camerawoman Maryse Alberti won the cinematography prize for her work on the film.

Rourke, a Hollywood bad-boy whose career flat-lined years ago before his resurrection in "The Wrestler," basked in the limelight as he received his award to a partial standing ovation underneath a marquee on Santa Monica beach.

After kissing the film's director, Darren Aronofsky, on the lips, the 56-year-old actor launched into a meandering speech in which he recalled being arrested by the local police a decade ago, urged Hollywood to give his friend Eric Roberts another shot, and fought back tears as he paid tribute to his recently deceased Chihuahua dog Loki.

For his part, Aronofsky told reporters backstage that he hoped to work with Rourke again.

"I've been joking with him I'm going to wait five years 'til he screws it up again, and then come back and reinvent him," Aronofsky said.

Rourke and "Milk" star Sean Penn, an absentee Spirit nominee, are the front-runners to win the Academy Award on Sunday. Each year, a handful of Spirit winners usually go on to take home an Oscar, and Aronofsky diplomatically suggested the ideal solution would be a rare tie.

But "Frozen River" star Melissa Leo, who won the female lead Spirit over fellow Oscar nominee Anne Hathaway ("Rachel Getting Married"), was in no doubt about her prospects.

"I have no chance," Leo said, when asked about her Oscar prospects. "Don't put your money on me."

She suggested it would be a race between Meryl Streep for "Doubt" and Kate Winslet for "The Reader."

Other multiple Spirit winners included "Milk," for James Franco's supporting turn as a gay lover of Penn's character and for rookie scribe Dustin Lance Black's first screenplay.

Black told reporters that gay and lesbian people needed to reintroduce themselves to their communities to prevent electoral setbacks such as the recent California vote that blocked gay marriage.

"I do believe that America loves gay and lesbian people. They just might not have met us yet," Black said.

Black will also compete for an Oscar on Sunday, one of eight awards for which the film is in contention.

"I'm a dreamer so I think we're gonna do well," Black said.

"Vicky Cristina Barcelona" also won a pair of prizes, for director Woody Allen's screenplay and for Spanish actress Penelope Cruz's supporting role in the continental love-triangle romance.

The ceremony's host, British comedian Steve Coogan, joked that a new category would be created in Allen's honor -- "best girl-on-girl action described as art."

In other categories, the best director prize went to Tom McCarthy for the illegal-immigrant saga "The Visitor."

The documentary award went to "Man on Wire," which recounts Frenchman Philippe Petit's tight-rope trek between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York.

"You know what would have made that film a little better for me," Coogan said to Petit. "If you'd fallen."

The Spirit Awards, now in their 24th year, honor low-budget American films based on such criteria as original, provocative subject matter and the degree of independent financing.

(Editing by Philip Barbara)

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