The road comedy Little Miss Sunshine won best picture and three other prizes for independent films at the Spirit Awards on Saturday, one day before competing for Hollywood’s top honours at the Academy Awards.


The tale of a deeply dysfunctional family also won the supporting-actor award for Alan Arkin; best director for the husband-and-wife team Jon­athan Dayton and Valerie Faris and best first screenplay for Michael Arndt.


Arkin won for his role as an obscenity-spewing, heroin-snorting?grandfather training his granddaughter (Abigail Breslin) for a saucy dance performance at a children’s beauty pageant.

“If my mother was here today, if she was alive, she would think: ‘Is he going to find something to fall back on, like a teacher’s licence?’” Arkin joked. He thanked his co-stars, calling them “the most cohesive, loving” group of actors he had worked with.

Arndt thanked organizers for having a category for first-time writers. “Anybody who sits down to write a screenplay without any prior credits, I think it’s an act of insanity,” Arndt said.

The awards honouring the best in independent film were the latest in a string of honours for Little Miss Sunshine since its premiere at last year’s Sundance Film Festival.

The lead-acting Spirit Awards went to the stars of another Oscar contender, the classroom drama Half Nelson. Ryan Gosling played an inspiring teacher battling a severe drug habit and Shareeka Epps won for her role as a bright student who becomes both his protege and counsellor.