The Artist on Saturday (Feb 25) cleared the final hurdle separating it from the Academy Awards finishing line, taking four major prizes at the 2012 Film Independent Spirit Awards including best picture after Friday night’s six-strong Cesars haul.

The homage to a bygone Hollywood era earned best director for Michel Hazanavicius, who merited a police escort straight to the tent on Santa Monica Beach after jetting in from France. Guillaume Schiffman was named best cinematographer and the best lead actor award went to Jean Dujardin.

The actor and joint Oscar favourite will have been delighted to get back on track after losing out to Omar Sy of Untouchable in Paris.

Michelle Williams swept the lead actress award for My Week With Marilyn, while supporting honours went to Christopher Plummer for Beginners and Shailene Woodley from The Descendants, which also earned the screenplay prize for Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.

Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation was named best international film and Steve James’ The Interrupters took the documentary prize.

Margin Call earned best first feature for writer-director J C Chandor and producers Rob Barnum, Michael Benaroya, Neal Dodson, Joe Jenckes, Corey Moosa and Zachary Quinto. The film also earned the Robert Altman Award for director, casting director and ensemble cast.

Will Reiser took best screenplay for 50/50 while the John Cassavetes Award for best feature under $500,000 went to director Dee Rees and producer Nekisa Cooper for Pariah.