Inside the Palm Springs Film Festival Awards With Jennifer Lopez, Renée Zellweger and Quentin Tarantino

3:01 AM 1/3/2020

by Chris Gardner

Jennifer Lopez - Getty - H 2020
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

Everything about the Palm Springs International Film Festival's Film Awards Gala is supersized. The venue is massive, hosting approximately 2,500 guests. The honorees list is huge, with a dozen award winners taking the stage in the same night. (By comparison, Sunday's Golden Globes will dole out 14 awards on the film side.) 

Twelve honorees. Twelve acceptance speeches. Thirteen presenters. Nearly $2.5 million raised for the fest's educational programming. It all made for a jam-packed and starry night inside the Palm Springs Convention Center where Mary Hart handled hosting duties and American Express, AT&T and Entertainment Tonight handled sponsorship.

On the lineup were Cynthia Erivo, Joaquin Phoenix, Antonio Banderas, Laura Dern, Zack Gottsagen, Quentin Tarantino, Jennifer Lopez, Jamie Foxx, Charlize Theron, Adam Driver, Renée Zellweger and Martin Scorsese. Below — in order of presentation — is a rundown of the night's major moments on stage.

  • Cynthia Erivo: "There's No One Like Harriet Tubman"

    “We did it. We made it out."

    So said Lena Waithe in kicking off the night's awards by presenting the first honor of the evening — the Breakthrough Performance Award to her friend, Harriet star Cynthia Erivo. While Waithe was likely talking about making it out to the desert on day two of the new year, she could've been talking about making it out of the last decade, into a new one and straight into the thick of awards season. 

    Waithe said she met Erivo at the Met Gala and since then, she has admired the way the multihyphenate has “waded through the turbulent waters that comes with being a celebrity,” and how she’s been unafraid to ask for what she’s worth. She also noted that, at 32 years old, Erivo is just one Oscar away from EGOT status. 

    In accepting, Erivo said it was a dream come true to be “honored in this way.” Also a dream come true: playing a woman who is everything that strength and honor could be. Erivo was honored for her turn as Harriet Tubman in the Kasi Lemmons-directed, Focus Features film,  which tracks  Tubman's journey from escaping slavery to becoming an American hero, helping free hundreds from bondage and working to create equality in the U.S.

    “There’s no one like Harriet Tubman,” she said in closing, thanking Lemmons and producer Debra Martin Chase for giving her the opportunity, the first Tubman portrayal on film, though she hopes "there are many more stories told." 

  • Joaquin Phoenix Contemplates Awards Season: "Part of Me Thinks This Is Absurd"

    Joker star Joaquin Phoenix can't figure out just how he feels about this whole awards season situation. 

    He explained the conflicts he has with the process of awarding statues for art and how he tries to counter those emotions while picking up one for himself in front of 2,500 people in the desert. Phoenix received the Chairman's Award during the Film Awards gala, an honor bestowed to him following amusing remarks from his friend, collaborator and Joker director Todd Phillips. 

    Phillips announced that his intro would be quick “because Joaquin gets anxious,” and if one is lucky enough to know the actor, then they know that “you’re not allowed to say good things,” both not to him and certainly not in public. So to honor that, Phillips had a plan. 

    “I will mention bad things about him and I’ll do it quickly,” he said. On that list: “He smokes a lot and his car is basically an ashtray that drives. He has zero ability to self-edit. He also has an incredibly small bladder and has to pee four times over [the] course of a one-hour meeting.”

    After getting that out of the way, Phillips saved some nice words for Phoenix. “He’s the ultimate collaborator and he’s the ultimate dream to work with.… Joaquin is the tunnel at the end of the light.”

    Joker was the light at the end of the tunnel for Warner Bros. in 2019 as it finished the year with $1.06 billion, securing a place in history as the highest-grossing R-rated film ever. It stars Phoenix as the title character, aka Arthur Fleck, an aspiring comedian who loses his grip with sanity as he embarks on a downward spiral of revenge and crime.

    About midway through Phillips' remarks, Phoenix had already walked to the podium from the side of the stage, stepping into the spotlight ahead of his clips reel. “Hi. How is everyone doing?” Phoenix asked when the lights came up after the reel ended. He admitted that he had time to prepare a speech but chose to wing it instead.

    “I was getting ready in my room…with my glam squad,” Phoenix said. “I told my mom that I didn't know what to say and she said, ‘Be your authentic self.’” But at that moment, Phoenix recalled, he was getting makeup applied and slipping into “something like a girdle,” so “how authentic can I be?”

    He gave it a go by then delivering an authentic take on awards season.

    “I’m of two minds about these things — these shenanigans we do,” said Phoenix, who doesn't play the press game like other actors. He regularly skips red carpets interviews and doesn't often sit for extended profiles. “Part of me thinks this is absurd and ridiculous and embarrassing. Another part of me realizes the power of the creative spirit of art and what we do at our best. I try to focus on that part of it as much as I can.”

    He continued: “Half of me is like running out of this building. I try to hold onto the other half of it, that it has potential to be really powerful and change lives and talk about things that truly matter to us. I hope we can use our voices to do that as much as possible.” 

  • Antonio Banderas Says He Cares About Awards and Anyone Who Says They Don't Is Lying

    Antonio Banderas was tired. Like grab a pillow, fall asleep at the dinner table kind of exhausted. 

    That's what he said from the stage while receiving the International Star Award, Actor, for his work in Pedro Almodóvar's Pain and Glory. As he explained, the 59-year-old finished performing onstage at a theater he owns, the Teatro del Soho Caixabank, in his home city of Málaga, Spain, just last night. He then hopped on a plane for the 17-hour trek to Palm Springs for the event. 

    "I am so spaced out," said Banderas. "You have no idea." 

    He pulled it together and delivered a touching speech on the influence of art, music and literature on the world. Banderas did so following a presentation from his longtime friend and collaborator Salma Hayek with whom he has starred in such films as Frida, Desperado, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Four Rooms, Puss in Boots and the upcoming The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard.

    Hayek called Banderas a "global phenomenon" and someone who helped make it "sexy to be Latino," by paving the way for other performers to make their mark in the United States entertainment sphere. "Thanks to him, things have changed," she said, referencing how, before Banderas, roles for Latinos were specifically service staff, drug dealers and even prostitutes. "There's a lot more opportunities."

    Speaking of, the Palm Springs International Film Festival took the opportunity to honor Banderas for his work in the Sony Pictures Classics release, which marked the eighth time Banderas has collaborated with Almodóvar. This one, however, is the most personal as it was inspired by the director's own story. Pain and Glory centers on a series of re-encounters experienced by a film director named Salvador Mallo as he suffers physical decline, reconnects with an actor years after a falling out, has a chance encounter with a former flame and recalls his childhood and early artistic inspirations.

    "Art serves many different purposes," Banderas said in accepting the award. "We can entertain and explore the complexities of the human being and the depths of what we are.... I wouldn't be who I am if I didn't see the movies I saw or the music I heard."

    Then Banderas seemed to offer a counterpoint to Phoenix's contemplation on the validity of awards season. Anyone who seems to be a little bit aloof, like they "don't care about awards," Banderas said simply, "it's a lie." 

    "I do care about awards," he continued. "I have been a nominee for many years and I've never gotten here. I sat down at those tables and heard the names of other people. You want to go up there. I am very thankful that you put me up here just to pick up this piece, this symbol, this icon that is going to [remind] me that I did a movie with my friend Pedro Almodóvar. We did eight movies; we touched the lives of people around the world. It's an honor and a privilege to me." 

    Just then, he closed his speech by saying that he was going to go back to his table, eat something and then go to sleep, maybe wake up tomorrow thinking tonight "was a dream and never happened." That's how tired he was.


  • Laura Dern Gets Teary Seeing Divorced Parents Diane Ladd, Bruce Dern Reunite for Her Career Achievement Tribute

    Laura Dern had planned to start her speech by thanking the Palm Springs International Film Festival for honoring her with a career achievement award, but that plan got sidetracked due to some tears.

    The actress admitted that she was a bit teary making her way to the podium following a clip reel that featured her parents — actors Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd — sitting side by side, expressing their love and admiration for their award-winning daughter. Given that they divorced in 1969, it's a rare sight to see the two Hollywood veterans in the same room.

    "I just saw my two divorced parents high-fiving and it was really moving for me," said Dern. "They are my muses and my great inspirations of my life. Every kid kinda wants to see their parents together. That was mind-blowing!"

    She said she was also fairly overwhelmed listening to words written and delivered by Noah Baumbach, her director in Netflix's breakup drama Marriage Story, in which she stars as a divorce attorney opposite Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. Baumbach said that while they are the same age — he is 50 years old, she is 52 — he grew up with her though she didn't grow up with him. That's because he was inspired by her many performances in films like Blue Velvet, Smooth Talk, Rambling Rose, Mask and Wild at Heart.

    "My mental images of her performances are like the way I remember dreams and songs — like music and light beamed out of her body," praised Baumbach, who added that he was inspired to write a monologue for her character and when he presented her with the speech that included a line about God being an absent father when Mary had Jesus, it was Dern who "very respectfully asked" if he might include the line, "He didn't even do the fucking."

    "Laura is a true artist and she supports the artists around her in performance and between takes," he said. "Everyone is better when they’re acting with Laura Dern. Everyone is better when they know Laura Dern. Laura is the person you want her to of our great actresses but also one of our great people."

    The career achievement award is the latest in a series of honors for the veteran star who has nearly 100 credits on her résumé dating back to uncredited roles in the early 1970s. Her first major credit came in 1980 in Adrian Lyne's Foxes starring Jodie Foster and, since then, she has worked consistently and regularly with multiple projects every year. The trophy comes at a time when she has two films in awards contention — Baumbach's Marriage Story and Greta Gerwig's Little Women.

    Dern thanked both casts in accepting her award. "I’ve been so lucky to work with so many amazing people this year," she said, before adding a bit of an "overshare," by revealing that she was conceived during filming of a biker film shot nearby in Idyllwild and later, spent much of her youth in Palm Springs. (Her parents starred in the 1970 biker movie The Rebel Rousers.)

    "We had a home at the Racquet Club and...we would come here on weekends and talk about art and politics and life. It was an amazing home," she continued, adding that some of those artists included her godmother Shelley Winters and friends like Sidney Poitier. "Rooms filled with people like all of you who inspired me every day to be a part of telling stories."

  • Zack Gottsagen Thanks Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson: "My Heart Is for Them"

    Zack Gottsagen received the first standing ovation of the night when he made his way to the stage to accept the Rising Star Award for his work in The Peanut Butter Falcon. But that wasn't the moment that brought the film's co-writers and directors to tears.

    In presenting Gottsagen with the honor, Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz said just the experience of seeing Gottsagen on the ground at the Palm Springs Convention Center interacting with press and being greeted by fans who asked for photos made them realize that a dream had fully been realized. Gottsagen, an actor with Down Syndrome, followed in the footsteps of Dakota Fanning, Gal Gadot, Anna Kendrick, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Lawrence and Alicia Vikander by taking home the award. 

    Nilson and Schwartz wrote the feel-good buddy pic specifically for Gottsagen, whom they met at a camp in Venice for people with and without disabilities. Gottsagen planted the idea with the two that they should collaborate on a film project together and so Nilson and Schwartz — who had previously directed only short films — came up with one. 

    "We wanted to create a world that Zack could be in and it was a year process — a year of writing and three years of getting people to read it," said Nilson. They got it made, cast Gottsagen opposite Shia LaBeouf and Dakota Johnson and the result have delivered one of 2019's indie hits for distributor Roadside Attractions. (Nilson also joked that they tried to get their script read by many industry insiders including Jamie Foxx, who was in the room, by sliding in his DMs but he never replied.) "He gave the performance life and breath." 

    In accepting, Gottsagen thanked his mother, friends Nilson and Schwartz and his co-stars. 

    "I’m thankful for Shia LaBeouf," he said. "He has been there for my struggles, bad times and...we still get along. We know we could make it but we did it together. I just want to thank Dakota Johnson for always being by my side. I still love her so much. Those two are not here right now but my heart is for them." 

  • Greta Gerwig Delivers Enthusiastic Praise for Quentin Tarantino: "He's Actually Become Cinema"

    Quentin Tarantino said he's been fielding a certain query as he's been making the rounds for his latest film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. It's a question he admits he'd never heard before and it's not one that greats like Martin Scorsese probably got back when he did 1977's New York, New York

    Still, he's been getting it a lot and he doesn't really know how to answer it. 

    "What are movies going to be like going forward — five years from now?" said Tarantino, relaying the question before switching it up a bit. "I can honestly say, forget five years from now. Let’s get more realistic: seven years from now. Seven years from now, are we going to watch movies the way we watch them now, today? Is this going to change? Is it going to be different? Is it good, bad or this: Will it be the same way? I don't know. I don't know. But what I do know is that [Sony chief] Tom Rothman committed to make Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and when he made it, he said, 'This isn't about it being on Blu-ray or playing later on cable. This is about asses in seats. This is about people getting together and going to a movie theater and watching a film.... So, I don't know what's going to happen seven years from now but I know it's happening right now, this year." 

    This year, as way earlier today, Tarantino arrived in Palm Springs on a flight from San Francisco, allowing him to spend "the entire day" downtown where he had three world-famous Wild Coyote Margaritas at the Blue Coyote Grill where "I literally wrote the next thing I'm going to do. I sat at a table until I got tired of writing and then I read the paperback I was reading." 

    He told the story at the top of his speech right after the night's most enthusiastic intro courtesy of Little Women helmer Greta Gerwig, who turned up to honor Tarantino. She announced straight away that it was going to be something special.

    "I'm about to talk about Quentin Tarantino so it's going to take a minute and I have to take off my shoes because this is exciting and terrifying and I need to be on solid ground," said Gerwig, who made her film for Sony, home to Tarantino's latest. "How do I begin to honor Quentin Tarantino? I've never not known who Quentin Tarantino is. My parents used to jokingly call each other Honey Bunny.... If I began to list his accolades, it would take all night and it would not really articulate why his movies are nouns, as in when people say in hushed tones, 'It's the new Tarantino.' Just his name is synonymous with great American cinema."

    Gerwig added that Tarantino is the reason she's not sad that she missed the 1970s. "Quentin Tarantino makes movies as if movies could save the world. Movies can kill Hitler, free slaves and give Sharon Tate one more summer. But even more than the plots of his films, he makes movies like movies themselves matter. Like, they are both high art, which they are, and that they are populist art, which they are. They are speaking the most profound truths to the biggest crowds with the bravado that comes with the confidence that collectively everyone will be changed for the better by the experience. His movies are for everyone. The best, biggest, brightest, deepest part of everyone. Tarantino movies have their own rhythm and their own music. He's like a playwright or a poet, that is how much he cares about words. And yet — and yet — it is not at odds with his virtuosic visuals. He is one of the ones we all measure ourselves against because he uses every part of the medium like the master he is. The images. The actors. The words. The costumes. The movement. The quiet. The din. The stillness. The music. All of it. All of it. Like, he's actually become cinema and he's in love with it, which I think he is." 

    Gerwig said the first time she met Tarantino, she was totally starstruck but what he did is something she suspected he did all the time — he talked shop. Specifically, he talked to her about her performance in her now-partner Noah Baumbach's Greenberg. "He explained why he loved a specific shot from memory," she said of the 2010 film, likening Tarantino's memory to that of famous chess player Bobby Fischer. "He described it as if he'd made it himself. He loves movies so much he takes them in as if he'd created them."

    As a creator, Gerwig said she chose to shoot her latest film, Little Women, on film because that's Tarantino's preferred method. She also said she "felt a little better, braver and bolder" knowing that the studio executives at Sony (home to both filmmakers right now with their current films) like Tom Rothman and Tony Vinciquerra "were shuffling back from my movie to his movie." "In this era of everyone speaking all the time, he’s a true artist and true auteur," Gerwig added. 

    Needless to say, Tarantino was moved by Gerwig's thoughtful and enthusiastic praise. "She literally talked about me the way I could only imagine somebody could ever talk about me in my wildest self-possessed dream. Thank you. I mean, my God, thank you so much. My joke that I say when people are going to talk about me is I say, 'Speak about me as if I were dead.' And they never do and you did."

  • Jennifer Lopez Moved to Tears During Speech: "Remember No Is Not an Answer, It's an Opportunity"

    Jennifer Lopez has conquered many stages in her career, and she's about to be featured on the biggest one in the world in a month when she performs during the Super Bowl LIV halftime show in Miami. So it was perhaps a bit of a surprise when she made her way to the podium inside the Palm Springs Convention Center admitting she was nervous while wiping tears from her eyes. 

    "I feel a little bit like Joaquin. I'm so glad to be here but I want to run out the door I'm so nervous," said Lopez, honored with the Spotlight Award, Actress, for her work in STX's Hustlers, directed by Lorene Scafaria. "Thank you Lorene for that. That was so sweet. I'm not used to all that praise."  

    The praise included adjectives like tough, cool, smart, warm, charming, challenging, maternal, relatable and singular, and sentences like these: "She changed the face of movie stardom. It's easy to take Jennifer Lopez for granted maybe because she makes hard work look easy."

    Scafaria said Lopez changed her life by transforming into the character of Ramona opposite actresses like Constance Wu, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Cardi B and Julia Stiles in the story that was inspired by real-life strippers who scammed a series of men. Their story was documented by journalist Jessica Pressler in a New York article before Scafaria adapted it for the big screen.

    "It's no secret Hustlers was a tough sell and a tough shoot. It had difficult journey to the box office and awards season," Scafaria continued. "I was in Jennifer's trailer and I had tears in my eyes. She changed my life...for her singular performance, for her spectacular talent."

    In accepting, Lopez recounted a bit of that challenging path but said there was something about Ramona that made her never give up. "You know I’ve been in this business for a while — maybe longer than I'd like to admit. I’ve had the great privilege of working with great directors. There was something that spoke to me about this role."

    She said Ramona is a complex character, someone who is both mentor and manipulator, a mother, fighter, entrepreneur and, yes, a hustler. "It's a female character with a type of depth usually reserved for men in Hollywood." 

    "This was a film written, directed, produced, edited, set designed by women, about women, starring women," continued Lopez, who attended the event with fiance Alex Rodriguez, longtime manager Benny Medina and producing partner Elaine Goldsmith Thomas. "So, to all the talented women out there — support one another. Remember no is not an answer. It's an opportunity."

  • Jamie Foxx Praised as "One of Most Talented People in This Industry"

    Jamie Foxx has made many movies in his nearly 30-year career, but he claims Just Mercy is one of the most important he's ever been a part of. 

    The Destin Daniel Cretton-directed film is based on the memoir by Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer, professor, social justice activist and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, who documented his work in helping overturn convictions of the wrongly imprisoned. Foxx plays small-town entrepreneur Walter McMillian, who is accused and sentenced to death in the long-unsolved murder of a local white girl. The movie follows his case as he works with Stevenson, played in the film by Michael B. Jordan, to get the conviction overturned, and it's a story that hit very close to home for Foxx.

    "My father, years ago, was put in jail for $25 for an illegal substance," recalled Foxx in accepting the night's Spotlight Award, Actor for his work in the Warner Bros. film. "They put him in jail for seven years." 

    Foxx continued that his father, a school teacher, used to have a judge come and speak to his students only to later face that same judge in his own case. "I didn't visit my father but I wrote him one letter that said, 'I'll make good.'" He came through on that promise and when his father got out of jail, Foxx said he took him to New York to watch Venus Williams play in the U.S. Open with "tears rolling down our cheeks." 

    His father had always encouraged him to play tennis and take swimming lessons so as to not limit himself in what he could do. "Because of him teaching me not to have limits is how I'm here in this room with all of you.... Thank you for this wonderful award. I’m gonna post it on my Instagram and let everybody know this movie is making some noise, some good noise."

    The movie expands nationwide Jan. 10 following a limited release, and the inspiration for the film, Stevenson, was on hand to present Foxx with his honor. He called him "one of the most talented people in this industry."

    "I have to tell you that when I saw the film, I was completely unprepared for his performance," said Stevenson. "Not only does he bear an uncanny resemblance, but he inhabited this man’s struggle in ways that I could not forget. I see my client, Walter, but I see the thousands of people who have been pushed to this side. I see the presumption of guilt that gets assigned to so many people of color."

  • Jay Roach Pays Tribute to Charlize Theron: "Her Face Isn't Even the Most Interesting Part of Her"

    The award Charlize Theron received Thursday night was called this: International Star Award, Actress. Call it a coincidence, but those who have recently met Theron might think it sounds pretty familiar. 

    "Weirdly, that is how I introduce myself to strangers so I'm glad someone is finally giving me the validation," said the Oscar-winning actress in accepting the prize. But seriously: "I'm so humbled and grateful for this acknowledgement." 

    Theron, honored for her work starring in and producing Bombshell, seemed grateful for the words her director Jay Roach said about her as he delivered the night's most memorable intro, which began with him admitting he was high on Sudafed. 

    "Charlize famously has trouble with compliments," said Roach, who partnered with Theron on bringing the story to life, one that centers on the real-life drama inside Fox News as multiple women including Megyn Kelly (Theron) and Gretchen Carlson (played by Nicole Kidman) brought sexual misconduct charges against their boss Roger Ailes (John Lithgow). "Personally, I think it's because of her face.... Her face isn’t even the most interesting part of her or the most beautiful. That would be her heart and her soul." 

    He made mention of her talent, though, saying how she made the well-reported transformation into Kelly work because she delivered on the rest of it — through the voice, movements, vulnerability and even the guilt. "Charlize wanted desperately to get it right." 

    Roach admitted that he was lobbing a ton of compliments at someone who doesn't like them, so he tried (and failed) by ending his speech with this: "Charlize, sorry. You nothing."

    When she made her way to the podium to accept, Theron thanked Roach "for being such an asshole." It was one of many bad words she used to pepper her speech, which journeyed from humor and heart to humility and humanity. To Roach, she added: "I love you so much. You are in my top five most amazing people I've ever met in my entire life and I've met Nelson Mandela. You're good for the heart. You're good for the soul." 

    She opened up on the "insane ride" of getting Bombshell made as it lost financing before shooting. "This story is a personal one for me and I know it's personal for a lot of women," Theron said, adding that what drew her in initially were complex, complicated characters and what kept her going were themes of crisis, injustice, power and how humans react to systems that are broken and how to fix them. 

    "The events in this movie played about before #MeToo and Time's Up and we have come a long way since then, but damn, we still have so far to go," she said in closing. "So, I hope when people see our film it riles them up in the best way to make sure these systems of abuse no longer thrive. I could go on about this film all day long. I’m going to shut up because its Jan. 2 and I know you’re all dealing with a hangover still."

  • Adam Driver on Working With 'Marriage Story' Director Noah Baumbach: "There Was Meaning in Every Detail"

    Laura Dern had a big night already after accepting a Career Achievement Award honor, but she packed in one more spin in the spotlight, coming back to the podium to fulfill what she called a "luxurious and privileged opportunity." That would be presenting her Marriage Story co-star Adam Driver with his award — Desert Palm Achievement Award, Actor.

    "Having been raised by actors who you saw tonight," she said, referencing the taped speech delivered by her divorced parents Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern. "It's beyond exciting to have your breath taken away when you get to know an actor's work and feel truly in awe of them. Such happens when one is watching and working with the amazing Adam Driver."

    Dern said that she first encountered Drive when they made a Star Wars film together (2017's Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi) before sharing the screen once again in Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story. "Adam is a seeming dichotomy in that opposites are always present in his characters and humanity. He blurs the lines so seamlessly that new emotions are defined and he gives us space to truly feel all," Dern said, before adding that one of his best character assets is that "unfortunately," Driver is an amazing listener. "I have told him most of my secrets and most of everything about my personal life. Damn! Working with him is staggeringly delicious in every way."

    In accepting, Driver called the experience of Marriage Story — his fourth collaboration with Baumbach — a very rare one. "The stakes in this movie, in every scene, [were] so incredibly high and very demanding and sometimes difficult," he explained of the film, which traces the uncoupling of his character from his wife, played by Scarlett Johansson. "Noah created a world that was so specific and clear with such attention to detail you didn’t have to retreat within yourself to find answers. You had to look out. There was meaning in every detail."

  • Renée Zellweger Channels Judy Garland in Moving Acceptance Speech Using Famous New Year's Quote

    Picture it: Palm Springs. Dec. 6, 1993, 9:45 p.m. 

    "I gassed up on the side of the Highway up there for that last stretch of 1-10 from Austin, Texas, to Los Angeles," said Renée Zellweger, recalling her big move from home to California to chase her dreams. "Standing there in the chilly air, the desert breeze — next to that stuffed Honda with the CB radio in it because my dad insisted on it — imagining what adventure might be waiting up the road. I could never have imagined that I would be invited back here under such special circumstances. So, this town has always held a place in my heart as a very important marker in the life journey."

    It's a journey, thanks to her performance as Judy Garland in the drama Judy from Roadside Attractions and LD Entertainment, that wound back this way so the Oscar winning actress could accept the Desert Palm Achievement Award, Actress for her work in the Rupert Goold-directed film. 

    He was on hand to present the prize to his star, who has earned rave reviews for her performance as the late icon. The film follows Judy Garland as she attempts (and often fails) to wow London audiences during a limited residency at Talk of the Town nightclub just prior to her death in 1969. Goold even joked that Garland was a bit of a diva during those days and Zellweger could've acted up a bit as a way of channeling her but Zellweger did the opposite. 

    "So professional and punctual," Goold explained, before praising the lesser discussed part of her personality — her bravery. It's what she leaned on, he said, to play Bridget Jones, to sing and dance in Chicago, to play a "bat-shit crazy, all-out performance" in Cold Mountain and it's what brought them together for Judy, for which she had to sing again and do it in front of hundreds of people in the manner of a legend. "She made everyone feel like we were on partnership with her. This is the courage that separates the truly great from the merely good."

    She honored those partners by name-checking many of her Judy collaborators in the hair and makeup crew, the costumes, the producers, the respective teams at Roadside Attractions and LD Entertainment, her team at CAA (Bryan Lourd, Kevin Huvane), and Imprint PR (Nicole Perna, Dominique Appel). She referred to the whole Judy ride as "a spoiled rotten experience," one that has led her to sharing conversations celebrating Garland and her legacy, something she called "one of my great life blessings." 

    "During this time when so much is so divisive, it seems that affection for Judy and her legacy connects us," said Zellweger, before recalling the iconic quote which she delivered in a way that recalled her critically adored performance. "Well, we have a whole new year ahead of us. And wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all be a little more gentle with each other, a little more loving, and have a little more empathy, and maybe, next year at this time we'd like each other a little more."

  • Martin Scorsese Takes Aim at Streaming Culture: "I'm Concerned About Pictures Being Suggested by Algorithms"

    Robert De Niro doesn't make a ton of appearances to walk red carpets or hand out awards. Yet he made an exception Thursday night to honor friend and longtime collaborator Martin Scorsese with the Sonny Bono Visionary Award for his work on their Netflix film The Irishman

    "Marty is not an anarchist," said De Niro. "He doesn't acknowledge creative limits when it comes to storytelling. Marty starts all of his pictures with a strong vision."

    In accepting, Scorsese came with a pretty clear idea of what he wanted to say and he did not acknowledge the awkwardness of criticizing algorithms and streaming despite the fact his movie was only made thanks to Netflix. But that's not how he started his speech.

    "You know its been 37 years since I’ve been in Palm Springs," said the 77-year-old in kicking off his remarks. "I must say it's changed. It's wonderful to be here at the festival that’s held in a place that's so much a part of show business history and home to great filmmakers."

    He then said he's dedicated to preserving the art of film because "we can't have a future of our art form without knowing its past." It's why he created The Film Foundation and has supported similar efforts over the years. Scorsese then pivoted to expressing his gratitude to Netflix honchos Ted Sarandos and Scott Stuber, saying they are "setting a great example" in the industry and for an experiment with a film made for theater viewing and streaming at the same time. 

    It might've been a surprising segue but then Scorsese opened up about how he's "very concerned" with the way people are seeing movies and how movies are treated as consumer experiences "slotted" into specific categories before being "given a chance to breathe." 

    "I’m concerned about pictures being suggested by algorithms. If you like that you might enjoy this," explained the filmmaker, adding that the end result of that is binge-watching. In some instances, binge-watching is not bad but it does take away from what he called "creative viewing." 

    “There’s this paranoia which kind of sets in when it comes to algorithms. Once I punch up Netflix, or something, and I see, ‘Because you watched a Zombie Slumber Massacre,' and I said, ‘I didn’t watch it, it was a mistake. It really was.’ I know the business has changed and everything changes all the time...that’s what it’s about. It’s wide open though now. You can watch everything anytime anywhere, and that puts a burden on you — the viewer. Not all changes are all for the good and I just feel that we might be tilting if we’re not careful. We might be tilting the scales away from that creative viewing experience and away from movies as an art form. We can’t lose sight that it is an art form, albeit composed of many different variables within that.”

    That said, Scorsese praised the streaming services for making films and content so accessible. "For me, ultimately, it's remarkable that so many movies are being made today. It's a dream that you can see them almost immediately accessible. In the old days, you’d have to go from theater to theater; I’m short and people in front of me were tall and I couldn't see." 

    The latter part generated some laughs from the audience but he got serious once more as he closed out his speech and, as the final honoree of the gala, the entire evening. 

    "All I can say is while the art can't survive without the business, in the end, the business won't survive without the art which is made by somebody with something to say. Every individual filmmaker amounts to more than the number of awards they won and the amount of money they make...and the viewer amounts to more than data."