New YORK — Award season kicked off with a tie for Best Feature at the annual Gotham Independent Film Awards as Terrence Malick's highly imaginative "The Tree of Life" shared the night's high honor with Mike Mills's flashback comedy, "Beginners."
Presenter Tilda Swinton introduced the nominees, but before opening the envelope, deferred to a prerecorded message on the venue's large video screens. The unprecedented ruling was then announced by jury member Natalie Portman who explained her peers were faced with the extraordinary dilemma of being "stuck" when it came to selecting a winner, so they "made a bold and independent decision" and "chose to honor both."
Swinton then read off the winner's names live, and presented the award.
"The Tree of Life" starred Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, and also won the Palm d'Or at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. "Beginners" was released last year and stars Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer.
Some of the evening's other winners included Felicity Jones for Breakthrough Actor in "Like Crazy"; the cast of "Beginners" for Ensemble Cast; and "Scenes of a Crime" for Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You. The Audience Award went to "Girlfriend," a film about a young man with Down syndrome who has a crush on a troubled single mother.
Hosted by Edie Falco and Oliver Platt, the presenters were mostly darlings of the independent film world like Stanley Tucci, Melissa Leo, and actress, directorial nominee Vera Farmiga, and Swinton.
"Independent film is my amniotic fluid. It's like the sea I swim in," Swinton said when she arrived.
This year's Gotham Tributes went to director David Cronenberg; film executive Tom Rothman, actor Gary Oldman, and actress Charlize Theron.
Actor-comedian Patton Oswalt introduced Theron, and then made self-deprecating jokes while standing next to her at the podium.
"I'm only here because I'm armpit height," the much shorter Oswalt said. Later he said: "I feel like you're accepting me for the award."
"The irony is that you are the award," Theron joked.
The pair star in the upcoming dark comedy "Young Adult," written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman.
Theron called Reitman "one the best directors" she ever worked with, and her mother, who was sitting next to him, "for giving me the character and the strength to be who I am."
Before the ceremony, Theron said the best award she ever got was that she "never had to get a second job to pay the bills."
The Gotham Independent Film Awards are presented by the Independent Feature Project, the largest organization in the United States committed to independent film.
Since its inception in 1991, Gotham Independent Film Awards has honored many Oscar-nominated films, including the 2008 winner for best Picture, "The Hurt Locker."
Next week, nominees for the Film Independent Spirit Awards will be announced in Los Angeles.
Associated Press writer Nicole Evatt contributed to this report.
John Carucci covers entertainment for The Associated Press. Follow him at http://www.twitter.com/jcarucci_apPHOTOS (all via Getty):