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Palm Springs Film Festival Awards Gala: Stars Shed Tears and Laughter

The 23rd annual film fest event honored Brad Pitt, Melissa McCarthy, Michelle Williams and Jessica Chastain, among others.

The star-studded 23rd Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala at the Palm Springs Convention Center on Saturday got a little -- how shall we put this -- colorful as the night wore on.

Mary Hart was the emcee – as usual – and acclaimed British thespians Kenneth Branaugh and Gary Oldham brought a touch of class to the event -- sponsored for the 5th year by Cartier --  that honored The Help newcomers Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer, as well as A-listers George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks, Michelle Williams and Glenn Close

PHOTOS: 2011 Palm Springs Film Festival Gala

Ironically, Melissa McCarthy, the star of the gross-out box office hit comedy Bridesmaids, played it straight when she kicked off the night and gave her pal Spencer the Breakthrough of the Year Award. But when Spencer took the award from Melissa, she muttered to the audience, “I would kill to have her figure,” before tearing up, hoping she was wearing waterproof mascara and alerting Clooney and Pitt that she was single and available.

After thanking the audience for his Desert Palm Achievement Award, Pitt wisecracked, “Like so many of you, I have not seen Tree of Life yet, but I hear we are really good.” Then he got to thanking people he worked with: “Amy Pascal, Sean Penn, Seymour Hoffman and my lover Jonah Hill, and Jessica Chastain, whom you have honored here tonight. Seven films this year and five next year. Usually an actress has to work in the porn industry to have that kind of success. It’s impressive.”

STORY: Brad Pitt Reveals Why He Walked With a Cane at Palm Springs Film Festival

Michelle Williams wore an adorable Prada frock to receive her Desert Palm Achievement Award for her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe film My Week With Marilyn, which was presented by her co-star Branagh.

She thanked Branaugh for giving her the best advice of her acting career when he advised her – at the time wearing a skin-tight Monroe dress and high heels -- "Why stand when you can sit and why sit when you can lay down?” She also recalled that she was early on advised to change her name to Michelle Montana or -- for an international flair -- Michelle Montanya. "I came this close to a career as a porn star," she said.

Williams got teary talking about her longtime publicist Mara Buxbaum, who has been at her side since the actress was 18 years old. "She championed me when I needed it the most and protected me when I needed it the most. She even encouraged me to wear black converse hightops to my first premiere. She always encouraged me to be myself and my only wish is that Marilyn could have experienced in her lifetime what I have experienced tonight."

The Artist writer/director Michel Hazanavicius accepted his Sonny Bono Visionary award from Bono's wife, Mary Bono, his own wife and leading lady Berenice Bejo, and and her non-speaking costar Jean Dujardi, who did speak a few works in English to the crowd.  

STORY: Palm Springs Festival Attendee Rushed to Hospital

Tom Hanks and his young costar Thomas Horn presented the Director of the Year Award to Stephen Daldry, director of their new film, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Oldman got the International Star Award and Olivia Wilde presented the Ensemble Award to Young Adult stars Charlize Theron -- wearing a Lanvin black gown and Cartier jewelry --  Patton Oswalt, director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody. Wilde admonished the audience: "The film is brave, brilliant, wildly original and deeply honest, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you’re an asshole. Get yourself to the theatre." Oswalt told the audience that he was elected to speak on behalf of he cast "because the vanguard winners are the drunkest of all tonight." He also vehemently denied that Theron had hit him over the head with a rolled up Rolling Stone magazine after he mentioned Aeon Flux. "That did not happen. She’s a nice person."

 

Glenn Close gave a heartfelt speech after she was given her Career Achievement Award, and Jessica Chastain gave a sincere thanks for her Spotlight Award, presented by Al Pacino who called her an "acting prodigy." Chastain looked sophisticated in a green and black Prabal Gurang cocktail dress with a tight waist and full skirt, accessorized with Cartier jewelry and Jimmy Choo heels, all coordinated by her stylist Elizabeth Stewart.

At the end of the evening, Clooney accepted the Chairman's Award for his roles in The Descendants and The Ides of March, telling the audience that the irony of all this is that he would gladly work for free.

Studios, are you listening? Bargain on Clooney, aisle three! 

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