Writer/directors Wes Anderson ("Moonrise") and David O. Russell ("Playbook") contend in both those races. The Best Director field also includes Julia Loktev ("The Loneliest Planet"), Ira Sachs ("Lights") and Benh Zeitlin ("Beasts"), who won Breakthrough Director at the Gothams.
The Best Actor race includes two strong Oscar contenders --Bradley Cooper("Playbook") and John Hawkes ("The Sessions") -- as well as Jack Black ("Bernie"), Thure Lindhardt ("Lights"), Matthew McConaughey ("Killer Joe") and Wendell Pierce ("Four"). McConaughey also picked up a Best Supporting Actor bid for "Magic Mike."
Fox Searchlight reaped a leading nine nominations with four of its films -- "Beasts," "Ruby Sparks," "The Sound of My Voice" and "The Sessions" -- represented while Music Box Films earned seven; Focus Features, IFC and Sony Classics took six apiece; and the Weinstein Company had five bids.
American feature film nominees, culled from entries with budgets of under $20 million, were determined by a committee while winners will be chosen by members of Film Independent. The prizes will be handed out on Feb. 23, one day before the Oscars during an afternoon ceremony on Santa Monica. A 2 p.m. start means that only a taped version of the show will air on IFC.
Last year, "The Artist" won four of its five bids -- Best Picture, Director, Actor and Cinematography. It went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars, becoming the first Spirit champ to do so since "Platoon."
The only Oscar nominee among the Best Actress slate won. Michelle Williams ("My Week with Marilyn") prevailed over Lauren Ambrose ("Think of Me"), Rachael Harris ("Natural Selection"), Adepero Oduye ("Pariah") and Elizabeth Olsen ("Martha Marcy May Marlene"). Oscar contender Glenn Close was passed over for her passion project "Albert Nobbs."
Shailene Woodley, who was snubbed by the Oscars, won the Supporting Actress race for her performance in "The Descendants," She defeated Oscar nominee Janet McTeer ("Albert Nobbs") as well as New York Film Critics Circle winner Jessica Chastain ("Take Shelter"), Anjelica Huston ("50/50") and Harmony Santana ("Gun Hill Road").
Another Oscar frontrunner, Christopher Plummer ("Beginners") won Supporting Actor over four fellows who were left off the academy roster: Albert Brooks ("Drive), John Hawkes ("Martha Marcy May Marlene"), John C. Reilly ("Cedar Rapids") and Corey Stoll ("Midnight in Paris").
Michel Hazanavicius ("The Artist") won Best Director over Mike Mills ("Beginners"), Jeff Nichols ("Take Shelter"), Oscar nominee Alexander Payne ("The Descendants") and Nicolas Winding Refn ("Drive").
With only one Screenplay category, the Oscar-nominated adaptation of "The Descendants" by Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash) prevailed over Hazanavicius' original Oscar-contending script for "The Artist" as well as those by Joseph Cedar ("Footnote"), Mills ("Beginners") and Tom McCarthy ("Win Win").
Two years ago, "Black Swan" won all four of its bids including Best Picture while rival nominee "Winter's Bone" took two of its seven races. They -- along with "127 Hours" and "The Kids Are All Right" -- contended in the top race at the Oscars. However, the eventual Oscar champ "The King's Speech" was eligible only in the category of Best Foreign Film which it won.
Natalie Portman edged out her four Oscar rivals to win for "Black Swan." James Franco ("127 Hours"), the lone Oscar candidate among the Best Actor nominees, prevailed. "Winter's Bone" supporting players John Hawkes and Dale Dickey won those awards. Hawke was in the running at the Oscars as was fellow Spirits nominee Mark Ruffalo ("The Kids Are All Right") but both lost to Christian Bale ("The Fighter").
Darren Aronofsky, the only Oscar nominee in this race, won Best Director for "Black Swan." The Screenplay award went to "Kids Are All Right" director Lisa Choldenko and her co-writer Stuart Blumberg. The pair vied at the Oscars in the Original Screenplay race while fellow Spirit nominees Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini ("Winter's Bone") were up for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Other winners at the free-wheeling ceremony included "Exit Through the Gift Shop" which was named Best Documentary over, among others, fellow Oscar nominee "Restrepo." And Oscar nominee Matthew Libatique won here for lensing "Black Swan."