Hollywood is used to getting a rehearsal for every big performance, and the Palm Springs International Film Festival was just that this past weekend. The first awards gala of the year, held Saturday night at the local Convention Center, was both practice and predictor for the Oscars Feb. 22, and it didn’t fail to entertain, either.
Brad Pitt, who presented the Best Breakthrough Performance award to “Selma” actor David Oyelowo, started things off with an untimed speech that culminated in him leading a sing-along to teach the audience how to pronounce “Oyelowo.” “You know you’ve broken through when Brad Pitt sings your name. Wow,” said the Brit after hugging it out with Pitt, an executive producer on the film. “We all know him as a great actor, but actually I know him more as a dad,” said Oyelowo. “We both have copious amounts of children,” he added, recalling one of the “epic play dates” between their collective 10 kids at the Jolie-Pitt house.
Following Pitt’s lead, Steve Carrell presented Julianne Moore with Best Actress honors for her role in “Still Alice,” by singing her name. He then joked, “She’s probably one of the most genuinely good people I’ve ever met and I have met both Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, and she makes them look like a–holes.”
Moore was one of several A-List contenders honored that evening, along with Reese Witherspoon, Rosamund Pike, Eddie Redmayne, Benedict Cumberbatch, J.K. Simmons and directors Richard Linklater and Alejandro Gonzåles Inarritu.
Everyone came dressed to impress, chilly high desert temps be damned. Moore, in a short off-the shoulder coral Del Pozo frock, said, “I’m from New York and I didn’t realize it would be fuh-reezing here!” Also donning a citrus shade (and missing the weather memo): Laura Dern in an embellished, floor-length Matthew Williamson gown. “We seemed to think this was the color for Palm Springs,” said Dern, in town to present the Chairman’s Award to her “Wild” co-star, Witherspoon. “A wrap would be good, yeah, but we thought Palm Springs meant like sleeveless and strapless,” Dern chattered. Notably not cold: Eddie Redmayne, who recycled the Gucci velvet jacket he wore for the New York premiere of “The Theory of Everything.” The newlywed, who attended the festival a few years ago in support of “Les Miserables,” thanked new wife Hannah Bagshawe onstage when he picked up his Best Actor statue for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking.
Before the show, Witherspoon, who Dern referred to as her “good friend and therapist,” reflected on her ascent in Hollywood. “You know, it’s thrilling. It’s not always easy.” But she also shared her love of the desert and “these beautiful winter nights just like this one. I just love coming to Palm Springs for music festivals, particularly Stagecoach because I’m a country girl,” said the Nashville native.
Fan favorite Benedict Cumberbatch arrived fashionably late clad in Spencer Hart with fiancee Sophie Hunter in tow. He appeased female admirers, also known as “Cumberbitches,” by posing alongside several, one of whom held a sign that lit up and read: “Cumby We’re Sherlocked.” The star also had a male fan on the red carpet, legendary producer and Palm Springs resident Jerry Weintraub. “I just want to tell you how great you are. You did a fantastic job, fantastic!” said the producer after introducing himself. After collecting their statuettes and enjoying a short rib dinner, guests went on to the after-party at Parker Palm Springs resort, which operated as stars’ de facto headquarters all weekend as the venue for several other events, including the “Selma” cast dinner and Variety’s “10 Directors to Watch” brunch.