By Jeff Labrecque
December 02, 2014 at 02:13 PM EST
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

In an early showdown between two Oscar frontrunners, the Gotham Independent Film Awards honored the movie with stronger New York credentials. Birdman, Alejandro Iñárritu’s surreal story of a washed-up Hollywood superhero actor grasping for meaning and relevancy by mounting a Broadway play, topped Richard Linklater’s Boyhood for Best Feature.

Michael Keaton, who—in a very meta piece of casting—played the sinking actor haunted by his costumed alter-ego, took home the prize for Best Actor.  “I’d like to thank the folks of Gotham,” Keaton joked. “It feels awfully good to be back home. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but when’s the last time you saw the Joker or the Penguin causing any problems?”

Iñárritu lauded Keaton as “the most talented actor that I have ever worked with” when he accepted the prize for Best Feature and went on to joke, “I guess that this award will just help move forward the conversations that Michael Keaton and I are having with Marvel Studios to make Birdman 4.”

Boyhood, which started its day by winning three major prizes from the New York Film Critics Circle, including the top honor for Best Picture, didn’t go home empty-handed, winning the Gotham Audience Award. Linklater explained that he pitched his 12-years-in the-making project to IFC by saying, “I figured most movies lose money, right, so this is a way [IFC] could lose money very slowly and not notice.”

Foxcatcher, which did not officially qualify for any of the Gotham Independent categories, was nevertheless one of the night’s big winners, with director Bennett Miller receiving a special career tribute and the triumvirate of Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo winning a special jury prize. Meryl Streep presented the award to Carell, her Hope Springs co-star, and she once again proved to be a most generous and eloquent off-the-cuff raconteur—who can simultaneously slice you with a razor-sharp barb. (She referred to Tatum, or his Foxcatcher character, Mark Schultz, as a “monosyllabic mountain of grace” in between warmer descriptions of Carell and Ruffalo’s performances.)

Catherine Keener feted her Capote director with a loving if rambling introduction full of personal information, including the detail that Miller lived with her and her family for two years. “Living with Bennett meant meeting in the kitchen at 6 a.m. eating turkey, bacon, and Cheez-Its, and after some disappointing news that other people would be sent into a funk about, we would just party,” she said. “We survived a lot together—devastation and really inappropriate laughter that only close friends can understand and not be embarrassed about the next day.”

Amy Schumer toasted career tribute Tilda Swinton, who stars as her powerful boss in the upcoming Judd Apatow film, Trainwreck. The comedian explained how she modeled the character on Swinton after seeing her stand vigilantly at the baggage carousel at JFK airport, and was delighted when the Oscar-winner signed on. “Just watching her makes you feel stronger: She can scare the shit out of you, break your heart, and give you a boner all at the same time,” she said. “That someone can be that present and selfless and still be someone that you want to drink Scotch with until you black out—that is a real lady!”

Swinton thanked the New York independent film community, and recognized the many people in the room who found a place for her after her long collaboration with director Derek Jarman ended with his death in 1994. “I was an alien from a place called Scotland,” she said. “This feels, to an alien, like home. You’re all a bunch of freaks and I’m a freak too, so we all do things in good company.”

Julianne Moore won Best Actress for Still Alice, and the Edward Snowden documentary, CITIZENFOUR, also won. Though both of those films are solid favorites to contend for Oscars, the Gothams, which are chosen by a very small handful of voters, aren’t typically a reliable indicator of the Academy’s sensibilities. Last year, Inside Llewyn Davis won the top prize and Brie Larson won Best Actress for Short Term 12.

The 24th Annual Gotham Independent Film Award recipients are:

Best Feature: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Best Documentary: CITIZENFOUR

Gotham Independent Film Audience Award: Boyhood

Best Actor: Michael Keaton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Best Actress: Julianne Moore in Still Alice

Breakthrough Actor: Tessa Thompson in Dear White People

Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director: Ana Lily Amirpour for A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Special Jury Award: Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, and Channing Tatum—for their ensemble work in Foxcatcher

euphoria Calvin Klein Spotlight on Women Filmmakers ‘Live the Dream’ Grant: Chloé Zhao, director, Songs My Brothers Taught Me