Palm Springs Film Fest honors Oscar frontrunners
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. ó Against a back-drop of palm trees and mountains, A-listers including Natalie Portman, Colin Firth, James Franco, Robert Duvall, Ben Affleck and Helen Mirren gathered at the Palm Springs International Film Festival gala on Saturday night, kicking off the road to the Oscars.
Blame it on the desert air (or the easy two-hour drive from Los Angeles), but stars hit the red carpet relaxed and in high spirits. Mark Wahlberg signed autographs for a long line of fans, Aaron Eckhart and Duvall traded real estate tips and Amy Adams, who presented an award to director David O. Russell for The Fighter, showed off pictures of her 7-month old daughter, Aviana.
“That’s her playing her little piano,” said Adams, holding up a picture of her strawberry blonde-haired daughter on her Blackberry, freshly emailed from her fiancÈ. “He’s on baby duty today.”
“It’s my first trip to Palm Springs at all,” said star Jesse Eisenberg, who arrived with his Social Network co-stars. He called the attention he’s receiving “overwhelming.” “There’s nothing to compare it to,” he said on the red carpet, simultaneously catching a fan snapping a photo of him as he spoke. “But it’s nice to be embraced in this way. None of us could have planned this.”
Backstage was just as friendly, with gifts handed out from Cartier, drinks flowing and plenty of schmoozing. Javier Bardem and (a very pregnant) Penelope Cruz, dressed in a flowing turquoise gown, gave Ben Affleck a group hug after he accepted his Chairman’s Award.
“I have tried to get my wife to call me ‘The Chairman’ for years,” joked a bearded Affleck from the stage. “I think tonight might be my night.”
“I like being out here and not in the snow,” said Portman, dressed in a ladylike Vionnet frock on the red carpet. She squeezed in the desert trip between press junket days for her romantic comedy No Strings Attached. Despite a busy schedule, she’s making time to rest before the Golden Globes. “I have most of next week off. I went swimming this morning.”
Bardem chatted about his pal Julia Roberts, who recently hosted a screening of his movie Biutiful to raise the film’s profile during award season. “She’s a great lady,” said Bardem, who first met Roberts on the set of Eat, Pray, Love. “And she’s very deeply generous doing that because I’m sure there are many things that are much more appealing to do than dress up and do a screening for someone.”
New to the award show circuit was Winter’s Bone star Jennifer Lawrence, who called all the attention “a cool whirlwind.” The 20-year-old took home the Rising Star award. “I was so excited when we got into Sundance and this (attention) has just completely caught me off guard,” she said. Dressed in Oscar de la Renta and a wide belt, Lawrence admitted she leaves the sartorial choices to stylists. “Fortunately I don’t dress myself. I’ll just put on whatever they tell me to.”
Carey Mulligan, who scooped a Breakthrough Performance award and begins shooting The Great Gatsby this summer, said her biggest change of late is geography. “I live in New York now, so that’s sort of new. But I always wanted to live there.”
It was just a year ago that Jake Gyllenhaal was supporting his sister Maggie’s Oscar nomination for Crazy Heart. This year, he’s up for a Golden Globe for Love and Other Drugs. “I think few people who are lucky to have the success my sister and I have had,” he said. “And to go through it together in alternating years in one way or another is really wonderful.”
Pre-ceremony, Eckhart was readying himself to present a Career Achievement award to pal Robert Duvall. “I was just reading the films I have to read off and the characters that he’s done and it’s just mind-blowing,” said the Rabbit Hole star. “It puts us all to shame.”
Ask Duvall about his favorite career moments, and it’s a no-brainer. “A third of the way through Godfather 1 I thought to myself, ‘We’re making something really special here,'” said Duvall. “And then when we did Lonesome Dove on television ó my favorite part ó I walked into the dressing room one day and I said ‘Boys, we’re making the Godfather of Westerns!'”
Franco, who will host the Oscars in February, arrived fresh off a “very fun” meeting with co-host Anne Hathaway and Academy Awards producers. With all the praise that has surrounded 127 Hours, he says leaving his Columbia University masters program early to star in the film was worth it. “I know I made the right choice,” he said. “I’ve been able to make those (credits) up. I will have my diploma by the end of the semester, so it all worked out.”
127 Hours director Danny Boyle chuckled when asked what to expect from Franco as an awards show host. “The only thing you can predict about James is that you can predict nothing, really. He’ll be completely unpredictable. God knows what he’ll do.”
Festivities were hosted by former Entertainment Tonight co-host Mary Hart.
Palm Springs Film Fest honors Oscar frontrunners