Inside the Palm Springs Gala: Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts Charm Crowd of Thousands

11:03 PM PST 01/04/2014 by Rebecca Ford
Meryl Streep

The film festival event honored a slew of Hollywood stars including Sandra Bullock, Matthew McConaughey, Bruce Dern and U2 on Saturday.

Hollywood invaded sunny Palm Springs on Saturday for the 25th annual Palm Springs International Film Festival's star-studded awards gala.

Considered a major stop on the awards circuit, the festival honored a slew of contenders including Thomas Newman, Lupita Nyong’o, Sandra Bullock, Bruce Dern, Tom Hanks, Matthew McConaughey, Steve McQueen, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep and the cast of American Hustle. For the first time, a musical act -- U2 -- was also honored with the Sonny Bono Visionary Award.

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More than 2,100 attendees packed the Palm Springs Convention Center for the event, which featured plenty of standing ovations as the A-list stars were honored, often introduced by a co-star or close actor friend.

Streep received the Icon Award, which had only been given out one other time -- to Michael Douglas in 2011.

"I feel like I'm an example now in my dotage that you can't put those old gals out to pasture -- we've got a lot to say," the August: Osage County actress said, getting a hearty laugh from the crowd.

Roberts, Streep's co-star from August: Osage County, also was honored earlier in the night, receiving the Spotlight Award. She credited her cast and crew for her success over the years and in her latest film: "I learned in high school ... It is a scientific fact that all birds fly finer and faster in formation than any bird that flies alone."

Roberts did double-duty by also presenting an award to Hanks, who was honored with the Chairman's Award.

The actor, who stars in both Disney's Saving Mr. Banks and Sony's Captain Phillips, charmed the room with stories of working on both of the contender films, as different as they are. "I think it's fascinating that so many of the films you've chosen to honor are based on a true story," he told the crowd, naming his own films, 12 Years a Slave and Dallas Buyers Club as examples.

"And if you ever start to doubt the power of what you do here," he told the crowd, "just know that tonight at table 607, the executives of the Walt Disney Company and Sony have gotten along just fine."

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Also getting hearty laughs from the crowd was Bullock, who was honored for her work in Gravity. She told the crowd that she had gone on the internet and Googled herself while preparing her speech for this awards event. "Sidenote: No human being should ever read the comments section or Google oneself at any time," she joked.

Among the many comments she read were plenty about her age, and several about a supposed feud between herself and Roberts over George Clooney. "We talked about this, right? It's shared custody and we're fine with it," she said.

In the spacious convention hall -- which was adorned with red tablecloths and 18,500 roses and featured a live orchestra -- Roberts ended her acceptance speech by getting serious about the collection of strong films that debuted in 2013. "I was watching heartbreaking stories about our past that made me so proud to be in this business," she said, getting slightly emotional.

Also showing strong emotion during her acceptance speech was 12 Years a Slave star Nyong'o who told the crowd, "I'm a bit lost for words. I think I need tear duct surgery to stop crying so much." She added that the event was especially meaningful because her younger brother was in the audience.

12 Years a Slave director McQueen was also honored with the director of the year award, introduced by his star Chiwetel Ejiofor. "What's been most important about the cast and crew is that we made this film out of love," McQueen said.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom stars Idris Elba and Naomie Harris were both on hand to introduce U2, who received the award that had previously only been given to directors. The band's song -- "Ordinary Love" -- is dedicated to the late Nelson Mandela and featured on the film's soundtrack.

U2's Bono gave an impassioned speech about the work that is being done as part of the campaign against AIDS in Africa, calling Mandela a leader in that movement.

"Our one simple belief is that where you live should not decide whether you live," he said, adding: "We are within reach of declaring the first AIDS-free generation."

The Palm Springs International Film Festival runs Jan. 3-13 in Palm Springs, Calif.

E-mail: Rebecca.Ford@THR.com
Twitter: @Beccamford

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