The Palm Springs International Film Festival presented the 30th annual Film Awards Gala in the desert Thursday night, kicking off the start of a new year and the final stretch of Hollywood’s awards season, which will run through the Academy Awards on Feb. 24.
In all, there were 11 awards handed out inside the Palm Springs Convention Center, and Jim Carrey had the honor of presenting the second to last trophy to Peter Farrelly and the cast of Green Book, and he didn’t want to go any further into 2019 without first taking a peek in the rearview.
“I’d like to take a moment before we begin to close our eyes and meditate on the year that just passed,” Carrey said, closing his eyes and commanding the attention of the 2000+ attendees. Just as the room got quiet, the comedy superstar then started screaming into the microphone over and over. The bit proved to be one of the most hilarious moments in a lively and seamless show which always draws an A-list crowd to Palm Springs to kick off the film festival festivities.
Carrey made the trip to deliver the Vanguard Award to Farrelly and crew, nothing that he worked with the director 25 years ago on Dumb and Dumber. “A movie about two guys who, when put in a modern context, really don’t seem all that dumb,” said the actor, an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump. “Yeah, things are different.” Times are different, and Farrelly has a new film of his own with Green Book, which Carrey praised as “like water in the desert to me, like sustenance in the moral and ethical dust bowl of 2018.” Hence the screams.
Farrelly didn’t get any screams but he did get applause for his acceptance speech, during which he thanked his cast and audiences for seeing the film. “This movie gives hope. We’re in a bad time. The country is screwed up. People are on opposite ends of the spectrum. As far away as we may get, all that matters is that we talk to each other,” he said. “I want people to see it because I think it’s a uniter. I’ve never had a movie that was a uniter.”
There was plenty of unity on stage during the nearly three-hour event — hosted for a 16th straight year by Mary Hart — which serves as the organization’s biggest fundraiser. Money collected from the always sold-out show typically raises more than $1 million for the Palm Springs International Film Society. It’s also become a must-stop on Hollywood’s awards season calendar, thanks to the desert zip code. Palm Springs is home to many voters in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and other voting groups.
California native Laura Dern (“I grew up coming here,” she said about Palm Springs) kicked off the show, presenting the night’s first award, the Spotlight Award, to Chalamet with whom she just worked on Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. She brought big jokes, calling Chalamet a “remarkable young man I’ve come to know both on and off screen. Shit! What’s his name?”
Just kidding. “This is a human being who is so unforgettable,” she said about Chalamet, making his second straight appearance at the gala after being honored here last year for his work opposite Armie Hammer in Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name. Though he was being honored Thursday night for his work playing real-life drug addict Nic Sheff in Felix von Groeningen’s Beautiful Boy, Dern did talk briefly about watching him work on the set of Little Women. “This young man has the ability to utterly disappear into his roles and bring to the depths a purity and truth beyond compare,” she said. “He would honestly take my breath away. He would show up and take after take would be more exciting than Christmas morning. … It was mind-blowing, I never stopped laughing even when I wasn’t supposed to be.
Chalamet, who accepted his award and a surprise Kind protein bar from Dern, said he has been inspired in his life by some of those who were present in the room, people like Dern, Regina King, Gary Oldman, Barry Jenkins and Spike Lee. He even told a brief story about returning film equipment to Lee’s production company offices because he went to school with Lee’s daughter. “I took pictures of literally everything on the wall and I still have those pictures on my iCloud,” Chalamet said. About his movie, he continued: “I’m grateful to Nic Sheff for letting me take on his journey … the loving and caring family member he is but also the very real messy human who fell and relapsed 13 times over 7 years before finally being sober now for 8 years. Real humans, real stories and a dedicated focus on bringing light to humanity authentically is fucking inspiring.”
Up next was Christian Slater to present the Breakthrough Performance Award to his Mr. Robot costar Rami Malek, who has been earning raves for stepping into the shoes, slipping into the tight pants and donning a set of fake teeth to portray Queen legend Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. Malek returned Slater’s favor by calling his friend “a national treasure and I treasure him” before giving a speech that paid respects to his many collaborators on the film, including producers like Graham King and Denis O’Sullivan, movement and dance teacher Polly Bennett, hair and makeup guru Jan Sewell, the ensemble of actors “who lifted me up during the most tumultuous of times, to the real-life Queen members, his mother and even his costar Lucy Boynton whom he called “my love.” He saved his final words for Mercury.
“I’m here because there is an immigrant man who took it upon himself to push himself in the most extraordinary way,” Malek said. “He stepped on stage and told everyone they could be who they wanted to be. … He’s allowed me to feel that way. This is because of and for Freddie Mercury.”
Then came a brief appearance from chairman of the board Harold Matzner, who delivered thanks to the many board members, organizers and sponsors who help put the gala and festival together. He also noted that of the gala’s 64 honorees over the years, 57 of them had gone on to be nominated for Academy Awards. “I ensure this year’s honorees will enjoy similar success.”
Regina King is one of those honorees who has been forecast to secure an Oscar nomination for her work in Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk. She made the trek to the desert to pick up the Chairman’s Award for her work in the adaptation of the James Baldwin novel. Jenkins said that when he first met King over Skype — she was on the beach in Mexico, he was in Montreal — her warmth and generous spirit were instantly impressive. When they got to work, he found he “was working with an actor not for or against me, but with me.” King, “an empath,” doesn’t play characters and then discard them when the work is done, she carries them with her for all of her performances.
In accepting, King, another L.A. native who said that the first vacation she ever took came at 9 years old to Palm Springs’ Oasis Resort where her mother had a timeshare, said she was “a little emotional.”
“I stand here as an example of what support and love look like. When you are filled with that, the sky is the limit,” she said, adding that she wanted to be an actor because she wanted to do everything, from be a doctor or a nurse to a dentist or a flight attendant. “The only way I could do that was to be an actor. Here I am. … I love being an actor and I love receiving love from all of you when you receive our art. … It feels good being Regina King.”
It also must feel pretty good to be Rob Marshall. The Mary Poppins Returns director received a lot of love from his actors, even though he was there to present the Ensemble Performance Award to them. In doing so, he revealed that “every single person in it was my first choice and that’s so rare.” He also noted that the age range of the cast is from age 8 to Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury, who are both 93 years old.
His leading lady, Emily Blunt, walked out on stage hand in hand with her costars Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh and Joel Dawson to accept the trophy and deliver “an embarrassing reciprocal love fest.”
“Rob, we all experienced not only your masterful filmmaking but you have such extraordinary depth of heart,” she said. “You saw the value in giving us a 9-week rehearsal period. … We became this company and this ensemble the freedom you gave us to travel to other worlds, one even as daunting as Mary Poppins. … If what Mary Poppins does is come in and infuse a sense of wonder and hope and joy, then you must be Mary Poppins. You are our Manny Poppins.”
Gary Oldman then presented the Sonny Bono Visionary Award to Roma filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron, with whom he worked on 2004’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In accepting, Cuaron thanked his cast, Netflix executives like Scott Stuber and “especially the journalists who have championed” the black-and-white film.
There were no shades of grey in Richard E. Grant’s tribute to his Can You Ever Forgive Me? costar Melissa McCarthy, in the desert, to pick up the Spotlight Award. He praised McCarthy, who plays celebrity biographer turned plagiarist Lee Israel, as someone who is totally emotional present, someone who abandoned vanity at the door and someone who served as the heart and emotional scepter of “this extraordinary true story.”
This is a true story: McCarthy joked that the only spotlight she thought she’d find in her career would be a prison break gone wrong, or something. “This is really such a lovely and much appreciated turn of events and my parents are super shocked that I’m out and free tonight.” She got serious, thanking director Marielle Heller who displayed “such lovely confidence without ever needing to show that she’s right,” as well as her husband and two daughters, who show that there is true goodness and wonder in the world “and you don’t have to be perfect to be a part of it.”
Sam Elliott then came next in the program, on hand to present the Director of the Year trophy to Bradley Cooper for his work on A Star is Born. Elliott praised Cooper’s multi-faceted talents that are on display in the film: he acts, sings, plays guitar and piano in addition to producing, co-writing the screenplay and some of the soundtrack. “He also gets the girl — Lady Gaga,” Elliott said. “And if that’s not enough, he has to be the fucking director.”
Cooper admitted that he was nervous to come to the gala because he wanted to authentically communicate his words and the trajectory of his career after having come to the gala six years ago to present a director prize to David O. Russell. “I’m like a kid, I can’t believe I’m in this room,” said Cooper, who added that scenes from A Star is Born were filmed in the Palm Springs Convention Center. He thanked his cast and crew who put “blind trust” in him to make his dream of a directorial debut come true. “Thank you for acknowledging that dream and that pursuit. Thank you very much.”
Next up: The Desert Palm Achievement Award to actress and star of The Favourite, Olivia Colman. Emma Stone presented the trophy, saying that her friend doesn’t act, she is. “She’s not method. She doesn’t really do that much research. What she does is something that can’t be learned or taught. Instead, it just inspires awe. She’s a singular talent and one hell of a human being.”
Colman scored quite a few laughs in accepting the honor, saying that as someone who grew up Norfolk, England, she always thought of Palm Springs as a place like Narnia. “Amazing shopping and the mid-century thing, I have to come back. It’s really cool,” she quipped. She then promoted the power of movies, saying that stories can show that “we all love and hate and grieve and sometimes all you can do is stuff your face with cake until you’re sick.” She added: “It’s also been great to be a part of something that suggests women are not so different from normal people.”
Adam Driver and John David Washington then took to the stage to honor their BlacKkKlansman director Spike Lee with the Career Achievement Award.
Lee, in his fourth decade as a filmmaker, said when he was growing up he used to practice his autograph in grade school but he never knew why. “I didn’t choose film, film chose me,” said Lee, who mentioned that one of his favorite films from his career was the documentary 4 Little Girls which helped bring justice to the murder of four black girls who died in a bombing in Birmingham in 1963. “I got another 20 years ahead of me.”
Speaking of time, Michael Keaton and Glenn Close closed the show with the former praising Icon Award winner for acing every role she’s done in more than four decades. “Me, personally, I just love when people get their due,” he said. “Man, I love it. I love to see it.” Keaton said he got a front row seat watching Close work when they filmed The Paper, one of his favorite projects and one of his favorite costars ever.
“You are basically rewarding me for the choices I’ve made in this terrifyingly delicious profession,” she said. “For 45 years, I’ve had thrill of calling myself an actor. I know, it’s supposed to be gender equal and called an actor. I like calling myself an actress, because I don’t want it to be less than.”
From her first film, The World According to Garp to her last, The Wife, Close closed by saying that she’s had the most amazing collaborators and been blessed “beyond my wildest dreams.”
“It makes me feel like I’m 71 going on 18, or to be more realistic, 35.”