Sally Field’s Killer Speech is the Talk of Palm Springs Gala

Guests at the Palm Springs Film Fest gala honoring Bradley Cooper, Helen Mirren, Naomi Watts and others left buzzing about Sally Field's marvelous acceptance speech

Sally Field gave a killer speech that burnished her Oscar candidacy, Bradley Cooper had his mind blown, and Helen Mirren made the Palm Springs International Film Festival seem a little more international and a little less schizophrenic.

Getty ImagesAll of those things happened on Saturday night in the desert resort 100 miles east of Los Angeles, where the festival's annual Awards Gala showcased 10 Oscar hopefuls, from directors Tom Hooper and Robert Zemeckis to composer Mychael Danna to actors Field, Mirren, Cooper, Richard Gere, Helen Hunt, Naomi Watts and the cast of "Argo."

It was an evening of extreme glitz and showbiz sheen (not just Martin Sheen, who presented to Field), a lavish dinner for 2,000 that raised $1.8 million and included tributes to folks who hope for more good news when Oscar nominations are announced on Thursday morning.

Also read: Stars Backstage at TheWrap's Palm Springs Photo Shoot (Photos)

In previous years, the PSIFF gala has taken place while Oscar ballots were in the hands of voters, which made it a valuable showcase in an industry-heavy town with more than a few aging AMPAS voters. But with the Academy moving up its nominations this year, the gala fell the day after the nominating polls closed and a month before final ballots will be available, giving it less value as a campaign stop.

Getty ImagesStill, studios negotiated for the 10 awards, and at least one of the honorees left the audience in the Palm Springs Convention Center buzzing about the impact the honor could have on her Oscar chances.

That would be Field, whose performance as Mary Todd Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" is currently considered a likely runner-up to Anne Hathaway ("Les Miserables") in the Oscar race for Best Supporting Actress.

Forget about her much-parodied "You really like me!" speech at the Oscars nearly three decades ago; on Saturday, accepting the festival's Career Achievement Award, Field gave a funny, self-deprecating, eloquent and touching summation of her career, capturing just how much acting means to her with such flair that many in the room were left to speculate that she could turn into a frontrunner if only voters could hear her speech.

Field's remarks began with her remembering her first day on the set of her first acting job, the TV series "Gidget," which she landed at age 17. Before her first scene, she said, a producer took her aside and told her, "Sally, you can't change your mind."

Saying, "I didn't back into being an actor, I was born one," Field ran through her entire career, from silly jobs to meaningful ones: "Yes, it's true I've done love scenes with a pelican," she confessed at one point. "But I've also done love scenes with Paul Newman." 

Her moving conclusion: "[Playing Mary Todd Lincoln] I felt the weight of all the many years and miles I've traveled … But in all the nearly 50 years, it has never, ever once occurred to me to change my mind."

If Field stole the show in many ways, the always-remarkable Mirren went a long way toward reconciling some of the many contradictions that surround the gala and the festival.

The festival itself is a truly international film festival, with a heavy focus on foreign films: Of the 180 films screening at the 12-day event, only 28 are made in the United States. The fest is showcasing 43 of the 71 entries in the Oscar foreign-language sweepstakes, although the early release of the category's shortlist meant that all but eight of them were out of the running before they came to Palm Springs.

But while the festival that surrounds it is devoted to international cinema, the Awards Gala is straight-out Hollywood glitz, desert style. With sponsor Cartier getting name-above-the-title billing, the eternally chirpy Mary Hart as emcee for the 10th time, and an "Entertainment Tonight"-produced look at the year's upcoming films that did nothing but showcase Hollywood product, the gala at first glance has next to nothing to do with the festival, apart from bringing in enough money to support it.

In fact, after Hart first mentioned Cartier, the video screens in the huge hall showed an elaborate ad for the jewelry company that to all appearances probably cost more than most of the films playing at the festival. 

Getty ImagesBut Mirren, who received the International Star Award, would have none of that. "Thank you for being so supportive of international film," she said in her speech, and then threw down a challenge to the room full of well-heeled donors and sponsors: "Please, please watch films with subtitles. It's not so difficult. You're missing out on so many wonderful experiences in the cinema."

It was the night's most explicit acknowledgement that there ought not be a gulf between the festival and the gala, though a few other honorees and presenters brought the two together as well.

Director of the Year winner Zemeckis, for instance, concluded his speech by mentioning that his wife, Leslie Zemeckis, has a film playing in this year's festival, the conjoined-twins documentary "Bound by Flesh."

Hunt, who received the Spotlight Award from her "The Sessions" co-star John Hawkes, spoke fondly of how the festival had shown her 2007 directorial debut, "Then She Found Me," and how much it meant to her that PSIFF had given the Audience Award to a film "not seen by as many people as I would have wanted."

And "Silver Linings Playbook" director David O. Russell, who presented the Desert Palm Achievement Award, Actor to Cooper, described a series of lunches he had with the actor before casting him in the film.

"I think he surprised people, and I love that as a director," he said. " … During those lunches, I saw an actor who hadn't put all of his soul and heart up on the screen yet."

Russell also fondly remembered coming to the desert two years ago with his film "The Fighter." "It kinda blew my mind," he said of the size and scope of the festival and gala. "I told Bradley, 'It's a big deal. You'll see when you get there.'"

Getty ImagesCooper, who was celebrating his 38th birthday (and who got a Hart-led singalong), did indeed seem impressed, humbled and maybe even mind-blown by the honor.

"I love filmmaking so much," he said after accepting the award from Russell. "And I love it because it is a collaborative art form."

Other moments from the gala:

Ang Lee presented the Frederick Loewe Award for Film Composing to Mychael Danna, who wrote the music for "Life of Pi" — and who, Danna said, was seriously considering getting out of film music and becoming a doctor before he met Lee 20 years ago.

Diane Lane gave the Chairman's Award to Gere, whose highlight reel drew screams when it showed him in "Pretty Woman" and "An Officer and a Gentleman." "I was really skinny then, wasn't I?" said Gere when he took the stage, at the beginning of a speech that detoured into a plea to pay attention to the plight of the Tibetans and ended with what Gere said was his version of a haiku he'd read: "In front of movie screens there are no strangers."

Getty ImagesHunt thanked Hawkes "who … gives me much-needed indie street cred … I feel so lucky to get to dance with you, albeit naked and in bed."

Tom Hanks presented the Director of the Year award to Zemeckis, who called his "Cast Away" and "Forrest Gump" star "the most generous actor in the world."

The 16-year-old co-star from "The Impossible," Tom Holland, gave the Desert Palm Achievement Award, Actress to Naomi Watts, and began by running down a list of work that included "Mulholland Drive," "21 Grams," "King Kong" and "Eastern Promises." "Of all those films, I can only vouch for 'King Kong,'" he added. "I want to see 'Mulholland Drive,' but my dad keeps telling me I can't."

Watts paid tribute to her co-stars and to director Juan Antonio Bayona, but mostly she saluted the woman she played in the real-life drama about the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004: "For my mind, there are very few heroes as formidable as a mother fighting for the life of her children."

Eddie Redmayne (who turned 31 at midnight, but who didn't get a song) presented the Sonny Bono Visionary Award, named after the actor, musician and late Palm Springs mayor and congressman who started the film festival 24 years ago, to his "Les Miserables" director Hooper. Said Hooper of his material, "This musical looks death squarely in the face and gives us a way of navigating it."

Hooper then turned around the presented the award to his "Prime Suspect" and "Elizabeth I" star Mirren — because, he said, "When Helen Mirren asks you to do things, you generally say yes … You don't say no to the Queen."

And Tony Mendez, the former CIA agent played by Ben Affleck in "Argo," presented the Ensemble Performance Award to that film's cast, which was represented by Affleck, Bryan Cranston and Alan Arkin.

Talking about the secret plan to smuggle Americans out of Iran by having them pose as a film crew — a far-fetched idea labelled "the Hollywood option" by the intelligence agency — Mendez said, "I never imagined that our 'Hollywood option' would one day be optioned by Hollywood."

A couple of months ago, Arkin joked to TheWrap that he was looking forward to awards season because when he won Best Supporting Actor for "Little Miss Sunshine" he'd been invited to lots of events that included gift baskets full of soap and shampoo, and he was hoping to replenish his supplies. 

When he stopped by TheWrap's hospitality area and photo studio in the lobby of the Convention Center on Saturday, Arkin admitted that this year hadn't been working out that way quite yet.

"I haven't gotten one bar of soap in a gift bag yet," he said. "I've stolen a few from hotels, but that doesn't count."

Alas, the Palm Springs gala gave out Dale Chihuly glass sculptures to some winners, Cartier baubles to the presenters and flashing glass flowers to the guests … but no soap.