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Sundance Awards: Surrogate, Beasts Win Big

Helen Hunt and John Hawkes in 'The Surrogate.'

Last night, the Sundance Film Festival handed out its 2012 awards in the usual fashion: at a quick and rather boring awards ceremony, followed by a huge dance party in a 5,000-person venue. The awards announcements were supposed to be made by host Parker Posey, but she fell ill and had to pull out, depriving the audience of a chance to see a bit in which she got crowned as the Indie Queen, a label Time gave her in 1996 when she had three movies at Sundance (The House of Yes, Clockwatchers, and Suburbia) that she since hasn't been able to shake, much to her very vocal chagrin. Instead, Sundance programming director John Cooper and actress-director Katie Aselton (from The League, and the thriller Black Rock, which showed in the Midnight section) stepped up as hosts. They should have asked Mike Birbiglia, whose Sleepwalk With Me won the Best of NEXT award, and who killed it when announcing the U.S. Audience awards presented by Acura. "Because," said Birbiglia, "we all know that the first thing you do when making an independent movie is choose your luxury sedan."

The night's biggest winner was clearly Beasts of The Southern Wild, the most beloved movie of the festival. The defiantly lyrical look at a community on the Louisiana bayou who stays behind after a Katrina-like flood, starring 6-year-old newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis, won both the U.S. Dramatic Cinematography Award and the Grand Jury Prize for the U.S. Dramatic Competition. (Wallis, who's been cutting a charming swath across Park City all week, refused to give a speech. As she told director Benh Zeitlin: "I ain't got nothin' to say. That's why I told you to take the mike!") The film had been such an overwhelming favorite that it was a shock when Zeitlin lost the directing prize to Ava DuVernay of Middle of Nowhere, a prison movie that had gotten almost no attention but was acquired by Participant Media on Friday. Other big winners, as anticipated, were The Surrogate, starring John Hawkes as a severely disabled polio victim who hires a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) to take his virginity, which won the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award and a prize for ensemble acting; also Searching for Sugar Man, a documentary about the search for a forgotten '70s rock star, which won a special jury prize and the audience award in World Cinema Documentary.

As announcements were made, winners and losers then hit the bar; word spread quickly about one wonderfully corrupt bartender who was giving two drinks for a single drink ticket, and not taking drink tickets at all in exchange for $5. Some filmmakers confronted jury members about what had gone wrong, while actors and volunteers seemed like they were taking the advice of one of the Young and Wild screenwriters: "I don't speak English very well, so I'll just say thank you, and have lots of sex."

The full list of winners is below:

U.S. Dramatic Competition:

The Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic: Beasts of the Southern Wild, directed by Benh Zeitlin, about a little girl named Hushpuppy living with her daddy in the Bayou, who has to learn to be tough when the floods come.

The Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic: The Surrogate, directed and written by Ben Lewin. Starring John Hawkes as Mark O'Brien, the real-life polio victim who hired a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) to take his virginity.

The U.S. Directing Award: Dramatic: Middle of Nowhere, directed and written by Ava DuVernay. An African-American woman (Emayatzy Corinealdi) struggles to maintain her marriage and identity when her husband is incarcerated. 

The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: Safety Not Guaranteed, written by Derek Connolly. A trio of magazine employees (including Aubrey Plaza and Jake Johnson) investigate a classified ad seeking a partner for time travel.

The Excellence in Cinematography Award: U.S. Dramatic: Beasts of the Southern Wild. Cinematographer: Ben Richardson.

A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Excellence in Independent Film Producing: Andrea Sperling and Jonathan Schwartz for Smashed and Nobody Walks

A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Ensemble Acting: The Surrogate, starring John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, and William H. Macy.

U.S. Documentary Competition:

The Grand Jury Prize: Documentary: The House I Live In, directed by Eugene Jarecki, about the war on drugs' effect on poor communities and African-American families

The Audience Award: U.S. Documentary: The Invisible War, directed by Kirby Dick, about the epidemic of rape in the U.S. military.

The U.S. Directing Award: Documentary: The Queen of Versailles, directed by Lauren Greenfield, following billionaires Jackie and David Siegel from the height of their wealth -- when they try to build a 90,000 square-foot single-family home modeled after Versailles -- through hard times for their timeshare empire after the economic collapse.

The U.S. Documentary Editing Award: DETROPIA, directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. The story of the collapsing city of Detroit and the people who refuse to leave it.

The Excellence in Cinematography Award: U.S. Documentary: Chasing Ice, directed by Jeff Orlowski. Follows National Geographic photographer James Balog as he attempts to capture the melting of the glaciers with time-lapse photography. 

A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Prize for an Agent of Change: Love Free or Die, directed by Macky Alston. About openly gay bishop Gene Robinson who refuses to leave the church or the man he loves.

A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Prize for Spirit of Defiance: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, directed by Alison Klayman. About the renowned Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei.

World Cinema Documentary Competition:

The World Cinema Jury Prize: Documentary: The Law in These Parts, from Israel, directed by Ra'anan Alexandrowicz, about the effect of Israeli military law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The World Cinema Audience Award: Documentary: Searching for Sugar Man, from Sweden and the United Kingdom, directed by Malik Bendjelloul. About the search for Rodriguez, a '70s rock icon who never broke big in the U.S., but somehow was as big as The Beatles in South Africa.

The World Cinema Directing Award: Documentary: 5 Broken Cameras, from Palestine, Israel, and France. A Palestinian journalist chronicles his village's resistance to a separation barrier being erected on their land and, in the process, captures his young son's lens on the world.

The World Cinema Documentary Editing Award: Indie Game: The Movie, from Canada, directed by Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky. Follows indie game developers as they release their works onto the world.

The World Cinema Cinematography Award: Documentary: Putin's Kiss, from Denmark, directed by Lise Birk Pedersen. About 19 year-old Marsha, a model spokesperson in a strongly nationalistic Russian youth movement that aims to protect the country from its enemies.

A World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Prize for its Celebration of the Artistic Spirit: Searching for Sugar Man.

World Cinema Dramatic Competition:

The World Cinema Jury Prize: Dramatic: Violeta Went to Heaven (Violeta se Fue a Los Cielos), from Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Spain, and directed by Andrés Wood. A portrait of famed Chilean singer and folklorist Violeta Parra.

The World Cinema Audience Award: Dramatic: Valley of Saints, from India, directed and written by Musa Syeed. A lyrical film about a young boatman who plans to flee Kashmir for a better life, but meets a pretty scientist at Kashmir's Dal Lake, who makes him rethink this path.

The World Cinema Directing Award: Dramatic: Teddy Bear, from Denmark, directed by Mads Matthiesen. About a 38-year-old, painfully shy bodybuilder who sets off to Thailand to find love.

The World Cinema Screenwriting Award: Young and Wild, from Chile. Screenwriters: Marialy Rivas, Camila Gutiérrez, Pedro Peirano, and Sebastián Sepúlveda. About a girl whose strict Evangelical family find out she likes sex. A lot.

The World Cinema Cinematography Award: Dramatic: My Brother the Devil, from the United Kingdom, written and directed by Sally El Hosaini. About a pair of British Arab brothers trying to get by in gangland London.

A World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Artistic Vision: Can, from Turkey, directed and written by Rasit Celikezer. A young married couple in Istanbul decides to illegally procure a child.

NEXT Competition:

The Best of NEXT Audience Award: Sleepwalk With Me, directed by Mike Birbiglia, based on the play about Birbiglia's intense struggle with sleepwalking.