The Academy Awards ballots are due Friday, but campaigning went into high gear on Saturday night at the Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Jessica Chastain, Octavia Spencer, Gary Oldman and Glenn Close all came calling to accept awards in a genial and celebratory setting. (Check this photo gallery and Michelle Williams' acceptance speech below.)
Only in Palm Springs would an untelevised gala start at 5 PM, but no cameras and plenty of wine added to the comfort level of the speakers presenting and accepting a total of eleven awards. Look at it as a practice run for the gauntlet of award shows to come: Critics Choice, Golden Globes, BAFTAs, SAG, Indie Spirits and of course the mighty Oscar telecast.
Williams gave the most heartfelt speech as she accepted her Achievement Award for "Marilyn as well as myself, because Marilyn's fame had been recognized but not her talent." Clearly the actress had put time and thought into her remarks and the audience responded in kind.
Glenn Close was greeted with the the most sustained standing ovation of the evening, perhaps in tribute to the 30 years she put into making "Albert Nobbs," a reality more than the film itself.
Al Pacino wore what appeared to be a sweat band on his head as he introduced his "Wild Salome" star Jessica Chastain with whom he worked years ago and ever since. She said that he had been her "godfather."
Gary Oldman -- polite and veddy British in his remarks --was initially greeted with an almost revered silence because his clip reel clearly impressed the audience with his incredible range in a variety of roles. That appreciation of his talent was underscored by George Clooney during his acceptance of the final award of the evening by nodding to Oldman and saying, "you are fucking it up for rest of us."
Clooney and Brad Pitt, who appreared using a cane that he blamed on a skiing accident, shared friendly barbs over their sexiest man titles and Clooney, swearing the audience to secrecy, said the truth was that he and most of the other honorees would do what they do without the huge paychecks, because they love it. In fact, "blessed" was probably the most repeated word during the speeches -- blessed by the colleagues they worked with, the scipts they were offered, their coworkers and friends. The bonhomie of the evening felt real enough, but what is also obvious in evenings such as these is that they are all signposts along the way to the Oscars. When the Academy talks of moving its date up a few weeks, they seem to think they can reduce the number of award shows or campaigning time. What they don't seem to appreciate -- if others do -- is that the Oscars are the queen in a world without kings. This festival is one of many building blocks of anticipation and appreciation for the ultimate prize -- the Oscar.
Such galas and Palm Springs give a venue to an incredible array of international films that stand on their own, but Oscar's shadow is felt throughout.