LOS ANGELES Oscar favorites Jeff Bridges and Mo'Nique will likely add trophies to their collections at the Spirit Awards on Friday, their final dress rehearsal before the Academy Awards two days later.
The 25th annual Spirit Awards, the independent film world's version of the Oscars, kick off at 8 p.m. PST (2300 EST) in a downtown Los Angeles theater, ditching the traditional location under a beachfront marquee.
Some observers have worried the famously relaxed and boozy ceremony may lose some of its edge in its new setting but organizers have been at pains to say the cocktails will flow and speeches remain unrestricted.
British comedian Eddie Izzard will host the awards, televised live and uncensored on cable channel IFC.
The harrowing drama "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire," in which Mo'Nique plays an abusive mother, picked up five Spirit Award nominations, tying at the front of the pack with "The Last Station."
They will compete for best picture with "(500) Days of Summer," "Amreeka" and "Sin Nombre."
Bridges was nominated for his role as a drunkard country singer in "Crazy Heart," which picked up nods in two other categories.
Both Mo'Nique and Bridges have dominated awards season in their respective categories, already winning prizes at the Golden Globes, Critics Choice and Screen Actors Guild awards.
Each year, a handful of Spirit winners usually go on to earn Oscars thanks in part to the success of low-budget films.
But this year's top Oscar race appears to be a showdown between the mega-budget "Avatar" and the indie war drama "The Hurt Locker," which was not eligible for the Spirits this year because it was nominated last year.
That leaves "Precious," which got six Oscar nominations, as the film likely to take the spotlight at the Spirits. It also will compete for best director (Lee Daniels), first screenplay (Geoffrey Fletcher) and female lead (Gabourey Sidibe).
"The Last Station," which revolves around the domestic drama besetting dying Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, also got Spirit nominations for best director (Michael Hoffman), screenplay (Hoffman), female lead (Helen Mirren) and supporting male (Christopher Plummer). Mirren and Plummer also earned Oscar nods for their turns as the battling Tolstoys.
Along with the nomination for Bridges, "Crazy Heart" will compete for first feature and first screenplay, categories that do not have Oscar equivalents.
The Spirit Awards honor low-budget American films based on such criteria as original, provocative subject matter and the degree of independent financing. The event is organized by Film Independent, a nonprofit group that champions arthouse movies.
Late last week, Izzard told Reuters that as a rule he did not enjoy hosting award ceremonies but was doing the Spirits because they seemed suited to his own tastes.
"I do like independence and do like doing things my own way," he said. "I'm doing this for them because I like the spirit of it."
(Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and John O'Callaghan)