Tiger Takes 3 Spirit Awards

"I'm surprised we didn't get into the foreign film category," Ang Lee joked after winning both Best Feature and Best Director at Saturday's Independent Spirit Awards. The somewhat dazed Taiwanese director of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon says he's stopped counting how many awards he's racked up for his crossover Chinese epic

At Saturday's beachside ceremony in Santa Monica, Calif., many of the winners, including Lee and actors Javier Bardem, Ellen Burstyn, and Willem Dafoe, were also some of those in contention for Oscars the next day, and each was asked to ponder how a win at the Spirit Awards translates to the Oscars — if at all.

Tiger's co-screenwriter and co-executive producer James Schamus could only answer, "We get sucked into this whole high school thing with [these awards] and the Oscars. [I told Ang], 'We don't know you won and we don't you lost, which is tough even for us adults [to bear]."

Lee, who stands to win Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Foreign Language Film Oscars, says he's been asked whether he describes himself as a Chinese, Hollywood, or independent filmmaker — to which he usually answers, "I"m a New York filmmaker, I think that covers it all." After pointing out that a foreign film at the Spirit Awards does have a precedent (his own Wedding Banquet received six nominations in 1993), he added that he will "always" continue to make film in China — although he plans to "rest" by making an American film next.

Bardem, Burstyn Take Top Acting Awards Last year the Spirit Awards and the Academy Awards concurred on Best Actress (Boys Don't Cry's Hilary Swank), and, however unlikely, could synch up again this year in three key categories: female lead, male lead, and supporting male actor.

Javier Bardem picked up a Best Male Lead Spirit Award for playing persecuted Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas in the impressionistic biopic Before Night Falls, and Ellen Burstyn won the Female Lead category as a drug-addicted senior citizen in the visual but grim tour de force Requiem for a Dream. "What does it mean?" Bardem asked about his Spirit win? "This means happiness and a big party!" said the exuberant Spanish actor. As for a prediction for the Oscars, he philosophically answered, "Tomorrow I am not going to win, but I have this [Spirit Award]."

An emotional Burstyn admitted, "I can't tell you how much I wanted to win this," but demurred to talk about her Oscar chances against frontrunner Julia Roberts, whose mother she once played in 1991's Dying Young.

In the Supporting Male category, Willem Dafoe as a "real-life" bloodsucker in the silent film homage Shadow of the Vampire, beat out such rivals as Gary Oldman in The Contender and Giovanni Ribisi in The Gift. Dafoe is also nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

Tiger's Flying Star Wins Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi helped boost the awards total for Crouching Tiger by being named Best Supporting Female for her role as a misguided martial-arts whiz. The "Hidden Dragon" of the film brought a translator to speak for her, since she speaks little English. She's currently filming Rush Hour 2, for which she had to learn "a little" English, she said, appropriately enough, in English. First-time director Kenneth Lonergan, who's in the running for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar, picked up Best First Feature and Best Screenplay Spirit Awards for the brother-sister indie You Can Count On Me. His two Spirit-nominated leads, Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo, lost out to Burstyn and Bardem.

"Spirit"-ed Moments While the Oscars may have assumed an "independent spirit" this year, here's a few moments you won't see at the Shrine on Sunday:

Last year's Best Female Lead Hilary Swank and husband Chad Lowe arriving on mountain bikes A gift-bag-laden Jennifer Tilly telling her male companion "We have too many! We have to make a pile!" Requiem for a Dream star Jared Leto with his hair in cornrows. (It's for his role in David Fincher's Panic Room) A shag-haired Paul Reubens (Pee-wee Herman) as a presenter Director Jim Jarmusch trying to skip the red carpet by using the press entrance

Additional Independent Spirit Awards Best Debut Performance: Michelle Rodriguez, (Girlfight) Best Feature Under $500,000: Chuck & Buck Best First Screenplay: Gina Prince-Bythewood, (Love and Basketball) Best Documentary: Dark Days Best Foreign Film: Dancer in the Dark Movado Someone to Watch Award, Marc Forster, (Everything Put Together) Motorola Producers Award: Paul Mezey, (Ballad of Rambling Jack, Spring Forward) Best Cinematography: Matthew Libatique, (Requiem for a Dream)