Monday Movie: Desert Storm Stars

The Palm Springs Festival Awards Gala is an important stage on the route to Oscar. The festival is held in the first week of January, before the first of the big, televised awards shows, such as the Golden Globes. The gala kicks off the festival. It’s a relaxed affair, not televised and the awards are announced in advance, so the winners come prepared.

They know that by being announced as winners, they are being siphoned off as the serious contenders for the big prizes to come. 

This year I was lucky enough to go to the gala. Though racked with pain down my right side due to a tumble down the stairs, at home, the night before I was due to fly and an injured foot from the fall, I had a great time, albeit not in the heels I’d planned to wear.

Palm Springs is a small, affluent desert town of about 45,000 people. It’s set against an imposing backdrop of mountains which encircle it. It’s generally a quiet place and the gala, held at the Convention centre, is a big star studded night out for residents who can get a ticket. 

The big names were certainly out in force this year; Steven Spielberg, Cate Blanchett, Austin Butler, Colin Farrell, Michelle Yeoh, Brendan Fraser, Viola Davis, Baz Luhrmann, Michelle Williams, Jamie Lee Curtis, to name just a few. 

Awards season is particularly competitive this year. There are few runaway favourites and everyone is campaigning hard for the coveted awards. Spielberg’s family ‘memoir’ of his childhood, The Fabelmans may have failed at the box office but it is pushing for a place on the Best Picture list.  Three of the favourites for Best actor; Butler, Farrell, Fraser set their stalls for that prize while Bill Nighy attended, both the ceremony and a screening and Q+A for his film Living. He will be hoping to be a nominee in the same category. 
Cate Blanchett is cementing her position as front runner for best actress for Tar while her likely closest rival, Michelle Yeoh (Everything, Everywhere, All at once) turned up after flights from Paris and Singapore – an indication, perhaps, of how important this gala is as a place to be seen and counted as a contender.

Each winner brought with them a friend or colleague to present their award which meant that we were also treated to heartwarming and/or hilarious speeches and memories from talents such as Sam Rockwell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Eric Idle and the legendary Sally Field.

My observations:

Colin Farrell’s acceptance speech was moving, funny and self deprecating. If he wins a Golden Globe and is as genuine on television, as he came across in the centre, he will win a lot of fans and votes from the academies and guilds. Farrell has the air of a man who has just realised he could actually win an Oscar. 

He implored the audience to look up Sam Rockwell dancing on YouTube. Apparently it’s life affirming stuff.

The plaudits for Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of the fictional Lydia Tar are so immense that she has the air of a woman who realises she could win her third Oscar and be in Frances McDormand, Meryl Streep, Katherine Hepburn territory.

Her friend Jame Lee Curtis ‘of nepo baby’ revealed a secret, that Blanchett, apart from being an extraordinary actress, also gives the best facials!

Brendan Fraser is still finding his feet on awards circuit. He has the slightly uncertain air of a man who has had his difficulties in the industry but now realises he could actually win an Oscar.

While his film The Whale seems to be have sunk somewhat, there’s a lot of love for Fraser himself.

Austin Butler is everyone’s crush of the year but his work schedule and promotion of Elvis around the world seem to be taking a toll. He looks thinner than at Cannes when it all started with that incredible 12 minute standing ovation. However, he has the air of a man who realises that the kid from ICarly could actually win an Oscar.

Bill Nighy is too old to show unseemly excitement but he has the air of a man, who, after a lengthy career of ups and downs, realises he could be competing in the big league this year. On receiving his award from Booker and Nobel prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro, he quipped that the world would wake tomorrow to see the unexpected words ‘Bill Nighy and International star’ in the same sentence.

Viola Davis gave a barn storming speech in which she compared the work of an actor to the determination of the Tim Robbins character in The Shawshank Redemption, someone chipping away with a hammer and chisel to escape into a a tunnel of piss and shit so he can achieve freedom. She has the air of a woman who knows she won’t win an Oscar this year but who did what she set out to do with the awesome Woman King.

Steven Spielberg and the Fabelmans cast won the Vanguard award and when his friend of 50 years, Sally Field, reeled off the famous quotes from his many hit films, everyone in the room realised how much ofthis man’s work is woven into the very fabric of modern culture. As he himself said, he is the only director whose Wikipedia page runs the gamut of sharks, aliens, dinosaurs, archaeologists, spies and Abraham Lincoln! Spielberg has the air of a man who wants his love letter to his parents and his childhood to be a contender for awards, largely I suspect for their memory.

And yes, I got a selfie with Mr Spielberg. I was chatting to Seth Rogen (as you do), realised someone was watching me. I looked over and it was the legend himself. He was so friendly and charming I totally missed the incredible Sally Field next to him)!

Sarah Polley won the best director award for her captivating. compelling and exquisitely realised film Women Talking. She has the air of a young filmmaker excited and humbled to be in the conversation. Movingly, she was given her award by Eric Idle who recalled first meeting her as a child actress on the troubled shoot of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Personally, I don’t find the best actor and actress difficult to decide this year. I think Austin Butler and Cate Blanchett,by a mile, gave the most astonishing performances in their electrifying portrayals of rock’s greatest icon, Elvis Presley and the fictional but utterly real Lydia Tar. The other performances in contention are excellent but nothing other experienced actors and actresses could not have carried off, in my opinion. By contrast I can’t imagine who else could have played Elvis and Tar with the ferocity these two did. Others will have their favourites but I won’t waiver from this view and haven’t since I first saw the two films.

Awards recipients 

Danielle Deadwyler (Breakthrough Performance Award, Actress)

Colin Farrell (Desert Palm Achievement Award, Actor)

Bill Nighy (International Star Award, Actor)

Sarah Polly (Director of the year Award)

Michelle Yeoh (International Star Award Actress)

Cate Blanchett (Desert Palm Achievement Award, Actress)

Austin Butler (Breakthrough Performance Award, Actor)

Viola Davis (Chairmans Award)

Brendan Fraser (Spotlight Award, Actor)

The Fabelmans (Vanguard award: Director Steven Spielberg, cast: Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Gabriel Lovell, Judd Hirsch.