NEW YORK -- The Gotham Awards handed their best feature award to a surprise contender Monday: the Coen brothers' folk-music tale "Inside Llewyn Davis."
"Fruitvale Station," the movie about an unarmed young man who was fatally shot at an Oakland train station in 2009, was also a big winner at the annual New York independent-film confab, with the film's Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan winning breakthrough director and breakthrough actor, respectively.
Matthew McConaughey won the ceremony's first-ever best actor prize for his role as unlikely AIDS crusader Ron Woodroof in "The Dallas Buyers Club."
Brie Larson took best actress honors for her role as a troubled foster-care worker in the indie breakout "Short Term 12." The actress acknowledged an awards speech was a rarity for her and said she would take full advantage with a comprehensive list of thank-yous (which she proceeded to do).
Audience Award honors went to "Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings," Tadashi Nakamura's music-themed documentary, while the best doc prize was taken by Joshua Oppenheimer's "The Act of Killing," about an elderly band of former death squad leaders in Indonesia.
Though the Gothams, a counterpoint of sorts to Los Angeles' Independent Spirit Awards, aren't considered a major precursor of Oscar attention, wins here can help put a film on the awards map, particularly for longer shots such as "Llewyn Davis." The film's star, Oscar Isaac, accepted the prize on behalf of the Coens.
Also at the ceremony, Forest Whitaker was given a lifetime achievement award for his work as an actor; he received a standing ovation for the honor. In introducing him, his director in "Lee Daniels' The Butler" saluted Whitaker as "one of the rare African Americans who continues to get work when a lot of us can't get work."
And in the most touching moment of the night, James Gandolfini was given a posthumous lifetime achievement award. In presenting the award to Gandolfini's family, frequent "Sopranos" collaborator Steve Buscemi, who directed and starred in episodes of the HBO series, said, "To be accepted by Jimmy as a director was the best feeling in the world."
He added, "I can't imagine any actor out there who could make us care about someone who inflicted so much pain on everyone around him."
The Gotham Awards are sponsored by the Independent Filmmaker Project.