Director Debra Granik's acclaimed new movie stars Jennifer Lawrence as an impoverished teen who goes in search of her drug dealer father after learning he's put the family home up as a bail bond.
The chilling tale proved to be a hit with judges at the Gotham event, which is considered by many to open the awards season, taking home the best picture award ahead of Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan and Annette Bening and Julianne Moore's family drama The Kids Are All Right. Blue Valentine and Let Me In were also nominated in the category.
Winter's Tale went on to claim the Best Ensemble Performance for its cast, which also includes John Hawkes, Dale Dickey and Lauren Sweetser, although Lawrence lost out on the Breakthrough Actor title to Daddy Longlegs star Ronald Bronstein.
Speaking about her film's win, Granik tells the Hollywood Reporter, "The year started with getting recognition at Sundance, so that was a very intense night. It doesn't get any easier, though, to win awards."
Kevin Asch was named Breakthrough Director for Holy Rollers, a drama about an Orthodox Jew who embarks on a career as a drug pusher, while Laura Poitras' study on the war on terrorism in The Oath was hailed as Best Documentary.
Education system documentary Waiting For Superman earned the Festival Genius Audience Award, which was determined by online voting, and Mike Ott's Littlerock scored the prize for Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You.
In addition to the competitive awards, Hilary Swank, Robert Duvall, Aronofsky and movie mogul James Schamus were each presented with a career tribute.
Honouring his Get Low co-star Duvall, Bill Murray told the crowd, "He is better than all of you... He is better than me, too."
Black Swan star Natalie Portman, Anne Hathaway, Leighton Meester and Anthony Mackie were also among the guests at the 20th Annual Gotham Independent Film Awards, hosted by Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci and held at Manhattan's Cipriani Wall Street restaurant.
Last year's (09) Best Feature winner, The Hurt Locker, went on to win the Oscar's Best Picture prize.