Movie Stars Rain Down on Palm Springs

There was a little chill in the air but the skies were clear as Hollywood movie stars rained down onto the plush red carpet at the 27th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival’s Awards Gala on Saturday, January 2.

The ever-effervescent Mary Hart served as emcee for the evening, which saw more than 2000 people sit down for a glamorous black tie dinner at the Palm Springs Convention Center. The event netted an impressive profit of 2.4 million to benefit the cultural and educational programs of the Palm Springs International Film Society.

It all started off with actress (and Mrs. Johnny Depp) Amber Heard giving the Rising Star Award to her The Danish Girl co-star Alicia Vikander, and Batman/Birdman Michael Keaton bestowing the Sonny Bono Visionary Award on his Spotlight director Tom McCarthy. After a heartfelt tribute reel by Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh honoring late producer (and desert resident) Jerry Weintraub (Nashville, Diner, and Beyond the Candelabra not to mention Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen), the awards resumed with actress Brie Larson picking up the Breakthrough Performance Award from her Room director Lenny Abrahamson and nine-year-old co-star Jacob Tremblay. The Spotlight Award/Actress was bestowed upon Carol’s Rooney Mara by Ben Mendelsohn, Kate Winslet rewarded Steve Jobs’ Michael Fassbender with the International Star Award/Actor, Paul Dano gave Brooklyn’s Saoirse Ronan the International Star Award/Actress, and Dame Helen Mirren (always a vision) handed the Spotlight Award/Actor to Trumbo’s Bryan Cranston.

Once the audience had a moment to catch its breath, Black Mass director Scott Cooper was on hand to honor Johnny Depp with the Desert Palm Achievement Award/Actor while Saoirse Ronan returned onstage to pay tribute to her idol (and Hanna co-star) Cate Blanchett with the Desert Palm Achievement Award/Actress for Carol. The Big Short director Adam McKay came to give his cast (including Christian Bale and Steve Carell) the Ensemble Performance Award, and legendary director Ridley Scott (Alien, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Blade Runner, The Martian, and so much more) granted the final prize of the evening—the Chairman’s Award—to his Martian, Matt Damon.

A fortunate few—yes, yours truly included—segued to the Parker Palm Springs for the after-party, where everyone was discussing Palm Springs International Film Society chairman Harold Matzner’s comment that 28 of the awards gala’s last 31 honorees received Academy Awards in the year they were honored here. Will history repeat itself? Most probably! But we’ll all have to wait and tune in to the Oscars on February 28 to know for sure. At that point, the official awards season will have come to a close. But everyone will always remember that it all started in our beloved desert. Happy cinema!