Sony Pictures Classics' (SPC) Frozen River and Rachel Getting Married and Alluvial Film Company's Ballast lead the way in the Film Independent Spirit Awards race with six nominations apiece, followed by Focus Features' Milk on four.

Today's nominations ceremony in Los Angeles [December 2] rewarded many of the season's smaller films while notably omitting Milk from the best feature race. SPC was the most prolific distributor on show with a total of 18 nominations, followed by IFC on 11, Ballast's Alluvial Film Company on six and Focus Features on four.

Frozen River, Rachel Getting Married and Ballast are nominated for best feature alongside Oscilloscope's Wendy And Lucy and Fox Searchlight's The Wrestler. The three most nominated features also scored director nods for Courtney Hunt,Jonathan Demme and Lance Hammer respectively, while the two remaining director nominations went to Tom McCarthy for Overture Films' The Visitor and Ramin Bahrani for Koch Lorber Films' Chop Shop. Darren Aronofsky did not make the cut for The Wrestler nor Gus Van Sant for Milk.

IFC's Italian gangster saga Gomorrah, French drama Secret Of The Grain and UK-Ireland political drama Hunger will vie for the foreign language prize with SPC's French high school drama The Class and Palisades Pictures' Mexico-France-Netherlands-Germany co-production Silent Light.

In the acting stakes, a strong male field pits potential Oscar nominees Mickey Rourke from Fox Searchlight's The Wrestler, Sean Penn from Focus Features' Milk and Richard Jenkins from Overture's The Visitor against Javier Bardem from The Weinstein Company's Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Jeremy Renner from Summit Entertainment's The Hurt Locker.

The female lead nominees are Melissa Leo from SPC's Frozen River, Anne Hathaway from SPC's Rachel Getting Married, Tarra Riggs from Strand's Ballast, Michelle Williams from Oscilloscope's Wendy And Lucy and Summer Bishil from Warner Bros' Towelhead.

The Robert Altman Award given to one film's director, casting director and ensemble cast will be presented at Film Independent's Spirit Awards ceremony on February 21 to Charlie Kaufmans' Synecdoche, New York. Jeanne McCarthy is the casting director and the ensemble cast members are Hope Davis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Tom Noonan, Emily Watson, Dianne Wiest, and Michelle Williams.

'We're proud once again to spotlight so many outstanding films from such a diverse group of film-makers,' Film Independent executive director Dawn Hudson said. 'This is truly the year of original voices, among both veteran and new film-makers.'

The Spirit Awards nominating committee was guided by the following principles: uniqueness of vision; original, provocative subject matter; economy of means; and percentage of financing from independent sources.

Eligible films must be at least 70 minutes long and the cost of the completed film, including post-production, must be under $20m. Contenders must have been shown in a commercial theatre for at least one week between January 1 and December 31 2008 or screened at Film Independent's Los Angeles Film Festival, New Directors/New Films, New York, Sundance, Telluride, or Toronto.

Finalists for the 15th annual Acura Someone To Watch Award, which recognises 'a talented film-maker of singular vision who has not yet received appropriate recognition' and includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant, are: Medicine For Melancholy director Barry Jenkins, Sita Sings The Blues director Nina Paley and My Effortless Brilliance director Lynn Shelton.

The 14th annual Lacoste Truer Than Fiction Award presented to an emerging director of non-fiction features who has not yet received significant attention includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant and the finalists are: Margaret Brown, director of The Order Of Myths, Sacha Gervasi, director of Anvil! The Story Of Anvil, and Loot director Darius Marder.

The 12th annual Producers Award includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant and the finalists are: Lars Knudsen and Jay Van Hoy for Treeless Mountain and I'll Come Running, Jason Orans for Goodbye Solo and Year Of The Fish and Heather Rae for Frozen River and Ibid.

BEST FEATURE (award given to the producer)
Ballast (Lance Hammer, Nina Parikh)
Frozen River (Chip Hourihan, Heather Rae)
Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme, Neda Armin, Marc Platt)
Wendy And Lucy (Larry Fessenden, Neil Kopp, Anish Savjani)
The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin)

Ramin Bahrani - Chop Shop
Jonathan Demme - Rachel Getting Married
Lance Hammer - Ballast
Courtney Hunt - Frozen River
Tom McCarthy - The Visitor

BEST FIRST FEATURE (award given to the director and producer)
Afterschool (director Antonio Campos; producers Sean Durkin, Josh Mond)
Medicine For Melancholy (director Barry Jenkins; producer Justin Barber)
Sangre De Mi Sangre (director Christopher Zalla; producers Per Melita,
Benjamin Odell)
Sleep Dealer (director Alex Rivera; producer Anthony Bregman)
Synecdoche, New York (director Charlie Kaufman; producers Anthony
Bregman, Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, Sidney Kimmel)

Woody Allen - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck - Sugar
Charlie Kaufman - Synecdoche, New York
Howard A Rodman - Savage Grace
Christopher Zalla - Sangre De Mi Sangre

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD (presented to the best feature made for under
$500,000; award given to the writer, director, and producer)

In Search Of A Midnight Kiss - writer-director Alex Holdridge;
producers Seth Caplan, Scoot McNairy
Prince Of Broadway - director Sean Baker; writers Sean Baker, Darren
Dean; producer Darren Dean
The Signal - writer-directors David Bruckner, Dan Bush, Jacob Gentry;
producers Jacob Gentry, Alexander Motlagh
Take Out - writer-director-producers Sean Baker, Shih-Ching Tsou
Turn The River - writer-director Chris Eigeman; producer Ami Armstrong

Dustin Lance Black - Milk
Lance Hammer - Ballast
Courtney Hunt - Frozen River
Jonathan Levine - The Wackness
Jenny Lumet - Rachel Getting Married

Summer Bishil - Towelhead
Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
Melissa Leo - Frozen River
Tarra Riggs - Ballast
Michelle Williams - Wendy And Lucy

Javier Bardem - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Richard Jenkins - The Visitor
Sean Penn - Milk
Jeremy Renner - The Hurt Locker
Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler

Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Rosemarie DeWitt - Rachel Getting Married
Rosie Perez - The Take
Misty Upham - Frozen River
Debra Winger - Rachel Getting Married

James Franco - Milk
Anthony Mackie - The Hurt Locker
Charlie McDermott - Frozen River
JimMyron Ross - Ballast
Haaz Sleiman - The Visitor

Maryse Alberti - The Wrestler
Lol Crawley - Ballast
James Laxton - Medicine For Melancholy
Harris Savides - Milk
Michael Simmonds - Chop Shop

BEST DOCUMENTARY (award given to the director)
The Betrayal -Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath
Encounters At The End Of The World - Werner Herzog
Man On Wire - James Marsh
The Order Of Myths - Margaret Brown
Up The Yangtze - Yung Chang

BEST FOREIGN FILM (award given to the director)
The Class (France) - Laurent Cantet
Gomorra (Italy) - Matteo Garrone
Hunger (UK/Ireland) - Steve McQueen
Secret Of The Grain (France) - Abdellatif Kechiche
Silent Light (Mexico/France/Netherlands/Germany) - Carlos Reygadas

ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD (given to one film's director, casting director
and its ensemble cast)
Synecdoche, New York
Director - Charlie Kaufman
Casting Director - Jeanne McCarthy
Ensemble Cast: Hope Davis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jennifer Jason
Leigh, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Tom Noonan, Emily Watson,
Dianne Wiest, Michelle Williams