On the third day of the new year, Hollywood shook off the rust from the two week holiday shutdown and emerged in the desert.
Palm Springs International Film Fest’s Awards Gala gave 10 pre-determined awards to serious awards season contenders at the Palm Springs Convention Center on Saturday night. Those winners, like Reese Witherspoon, J.K. Simmons, Rosamund Pike, “Selma’s” David Oyelowo, and the cast of “The Imitation Game” were already anointed before they headed east. No mystery there.
For the rest of the surprise guests (Brad Pitt, Shirley MacLaine), star surrogates, The Parker’s party scene here’s a ranker of the winners and losers .
Winner: Brad Pitt
Arriving by helicopter, Brad led the crowd of 2,400 as the babyface choral director antidote to J.K. Simmons’ “Whiplash” tyrant. His goal: teach the masses how to pronounce “Selma” lead David Oyelowo’s name. (Answer: “Oh-YELLOW-oh”).
Pitt used soccer chants, call-and-repeat, and Coldplay karaoke to get the crowd on board. He’s also a winner because he got on and off before dinner was even served, and was likely landing back in L.A. before Reese Witherspoon accepted the final award of the night.
Winner: David Oyelowo
“You know you’ve broken through when Brad Pitt sings your name,” Oyelowo observed while picking up the Breakthrough Performance Award.
Winner: Robert Duvall
He got the first of two standing ovations on the night. (The other, Shirley MacLaine.)
Loser: Show Producers
Duvall’s long speech had to throw off the schedule. Curious what Robert Duvall read over the holiday break? A Lionel Messi biography.
Winner: A-List Surrogates
In addition to Pitt for Oyelowo (and by proxy, his own ”Selma”), Robert Downey Jr. continued to stand up for Duvall (“The Judge”), Steve Carell presented to Julianne Moore (even though the Palm Springs Gala gave no shine to Carell nor “Foxcatcher”), Laura Dern remains tight with Reese Witherspoon (“Wild”), and Michael Keaton came east for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Director of the Year” award.
Losers: Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep (In Absentia)
“Julianne Moore is one of the most generous people I have ever met, and I have met Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. She makes both of them look like assholes.” – Steve Carell presenting to Moore.
Dark rimmed glasses: not just for hipsters anymore!
The snaking line outside the convention center looked like a taxidermist’s pelt parade. The 50 degree evening (which got colder as the night went on) hailed a herd of colors and fur cuts to the desert in numbers rarely seen in Los Angeles.
Winner: Production Design
The Palm Springs Gala started as 200 people having dinner in an atrium. Now, it has come to this. A new panoramic triptych screen that I’m not sure would even fit in the Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom dominated the room. It played well for the opening live musical medley set to montages of the honored films. The music felt like an echo from Oscar telecasts of the past.
Loser: The Food
A 33 word ingredient list for the “Chopped Vegetable Tower” course typified the unnecessarily busy yet bland pre-set courses. Where’s Wolfgang?
Winner: The After Party
It’s been a hit or miss event at the Parker in the past. They stepped it up this year, starting with the police barricades at the top of the block before entering the Parker. There was a theme (a beach), pro dancers, Michelle Pesce from L.A. spinning on the enlarged front-and-center dance floor and more talent than in past years.
Eddie Redmayne and Benedict Cumberbatch claimed a corner inside sponsor Cartier’s enclave. Meanwhile outside, the grouping of Shirley MacLaine, J.K. Simmons, and Jason Reitman drew rings of on-lookers, confusing new arrivals into thinking the huddle was the entrance and holding up a line. A Palm Springs cop looked on at the talent trio.
Both Witherspoon and Dern also came to the Parker’s backyard. While it was Reitman making a quick switch in to street clothes to head out as many guests were still arriving, Allen Leech held “The Imitation Game’s” ensemble trophy, and held court by the bar with white wine, despite being one of the only people with more “work” to come on Sunday.
“Downton Abbey” returns Sunday night…and thus, one more winner: PBS watching Anglophiles.