'Spotlight' tops Gotham Independent Film Awards

NEW YORK (AP) — The investigative journalism procedural "Spotlight" won best feature at the 25th annual Gotham Independent Film Awards, landing the first of what could be a string of awards for Tom McCarthy's acclaimed newsroom drama.

The film, about the Boston Globe's Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting on sex abuse by Catholic priests, also was honored for its screenplay by McCarthy and Josh Singer, and it was given a special award for its ensemble cast that includes Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams. The Globe reporters who inspired the film were in attendance, too, Monday night at the dinner held at Cipriani's Wall Street in lower Manhattan.

The Gothams aren't a regular predictor of Oscar winners, though its top film last year — Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)" — went on to win best picture at the Academy Awards. (Its 2013 pick, the Coen brothers' "Inside Llewyn Davis" wasn't nominated.)

But in the early going, this year's Oscar race is seen as wide open, with contenders including Ridley Scott's space adventure hit "The Martian," Inarritu's upcoming frontier epic "The Revenant" and Todd Haynes' 1950s drama "Carol." The strong support from the Gothams, which are presented by the Independent Filmmaker Project, is an early validation of the front-runner status of "Spotlight."

Awards were otherwise spread among a wide group of unconventional independent films.

Sean Baker's "Tangerine" emerged as one of the night's biggest winners, taking the audience award for best film and winning breakthrough actor for Maya Taylor. The film, shot in Los Angeles on iPhones, is about a pair of Los Angeles transgender prostitutes played by Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, who are themselves transgender actors.

"They have proven that trans talent is out there," said Baker, accepting the award for Taylor, whom he said missed her flight. "It's just up to us to look, to cast."

Best actor went to Paul Dano for his performance as the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson in "Love & Mercy." The 23-year-old British actress Bel Powley took best actress for the '70s San Francisco coming-of-age drama "The Diary of a Teenage Girl."

Powley, who won over both Cate Blanchett ("Carol") and Brie Larson ("Room"), credited director Marielle Heller for her breakthrough role: "She's taught me you don't need to settle to be someone's girlfriend in a movie."

The program included tributes to Haynes, Robert Redford, Helen Mirren and veteran producer Steve Golin, whose most recent works are "The Revenant" and "Spotlight."

Mirren, who co-stars in "Trumbo," the tale of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, regaled the crowd with a story about whether the sight of her in costume as Queen Elizabeth II had diminished the amorousness of her husband, Taylor Hackford. (It hadn't.) When the laughter subsided, Mirren paused: "This isn't on television, is it?" (It wasn't but it was streamed online.)

Mirren struck a more somber tone in calling for release of poet Ashraf Fayadh, who was recently sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia for blasphemy.

Redford, who was introduced by Dan Rather, whom he plays in the CBS News drama "Truth," said Rather's compliments and the Gotham honor "kind of makes me shy, believe it or not. But I'll take it."

Reflecting on his career, Redford said he was always motivated by "the work."

"I wasn't really prepared for success when success came. It felt good, obviously," said Redford. "I realized that when you have success, you want to be a little careful because success has two sides to it. For me, success wasn't something to embrace but to shadow box with."

Joshua Oppenheimer's "The Look of Silence," a companion piece to his award-winning "The Act of Killing," won best documentary.

This year's Gotham Awards added categories for television and digital content. Winning best long-form series was the USA series "Mr. Robot."


Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP