A pair of Sundance favorites, Lance Hammer's Ballast and Courtney Hunt's Frozen River, join Jonathan Demme's vibrant family melodrama Rachel Getting Married atop this year's Spirit Award nominees, as announced this morning by Jason Bateman and Sandra Oh. The three films have each collected six nominations apiece, including Best Feature and Best Director, and they're competing for the top prize with Kelly Reichardt's moving girl-and-her-dog story Wendy And Lucy and Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, which also won a nomination for Mickey Rourke's widely heralded comeback performance. Following its annual tradition, the Spirit Awards ceremony is set to take place on the afternoon before the Oscars, February 21st, under a giant tent on Santa Monica beach.

In a notable break from years past, when such modestly budgeted studio independents as Juno and Brokeback Mountain blurred the line between indie and Oscar mainstream, this year's five nominees are all well under the $20 million budget requirement for qualification. (At a lean $7 million, The Wrestler is by far the most expensive of the five.) Perhaps that explains why Gus Van Sant's comparatively lavish biopic Milk, conspicuously absent in the Feature category, only scored nominations for acting and cinematography. Or perhaps the selection committee simply liked the five other films more, and the plethora of frugality at the top is mere coincidence. Whatever the case, it should make the final result more suspenseful than usual, as the general Film Independent membership casts its ballots.

A full list of nominees can be found here. (Be sure to check out the stacked Best Foreign Film category: Not a loser in the bunch, though the absence of A Christmas Tale is a minor snub.)

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