The road to Oscar brought a blast of expected contenders to this desert town some 100 miles east of Hollywood as the Palm Springs International Film Festival held its annual awards gala.
Among those attending the Saturday night affair was James Franco, a likely Academy Award nominee for the drama "127 Hours" and also co-host along with Anne Hathaway of the Feb. 27 Oscar telecast.
"Yeah, it’s weird," said Franco, who does some of his studies at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, NC. "Yesterday, I was in North Carolina and it was snowing. And I flew out at 9 pm and landed at about 1 am in LA. And then I met with Anne Hathaway and did some preparation for the Oscars. And now here I am in Palm Springs. And then I’m going to go back to the snows of North Carolina and study poetry. I’m sure I’m developing a split personality. But at least it’s in two worlds that I still love."
Franco was in town to present his "127 Hours" director Danny Boyle with the Sonny Bono Visionary Award, named after Palm Springs’ late mayor, who spearheaded creation of the festival 22 years ago. Only recently, however, has the fest’s gala become an award-circuit staple.
"It’s obviously a legendary festival," said Colin Firth, who received the Desert Palm Achievement Actor Award for his work in "The King’s Speech." "I’ve never been here," he continued. "So, it’s quite a debut for me."
Javier Bardem was honored with the fest’s International Star Award for his work in "Biutiful." "I don’t know what it ("International Star") means," Bardem chuckled. "It guess it means I don’t speak English."
Ben Affleck, who co-wrote, directed and starred in "The Town," admitted he, too, was also a bit baffled by his Palm Springs honor. "They told me I was going to get the Chairman’s Award. I thought it was, like, the award for the people who loot the company, and everybody goes broke," Affleck joked.
The cast of "The Social Network" was given the Ensemble Performance Award and, as they have since the film’s premiere last fall, the cast walked the red carpet together. "I think the fact that we all have each other means a great deal," said Andrew Garfield, walking the media gauntlet with co-stars Jesse Eisenberg and Armie Hammer.
"These events are a great honor," Garfield continued. "But they’re also nerve wracking. It’s incredibly intimidating to be in front of a wall of lights for even a minute. It’s a strange thing on the senses. So, the fact that I get to be here (with his co-stars and director), it is like a nice little traveling family theater group."
Desert Palm actress winner Natalie Portman’s small baby bump could be seen through her long-sleeved beige and black Vionne cocktail dress. Award season may actually prove a good thing for her pregnancy. "Actually, I feel very calm," Portman explained. "I feel so lucky and happy. I’m very grateful to have my personal life be in such a lucky place right now."
"Winter’s Bone" star Jennifer Lawrence was given the night’s Rising Star Award. "I’m looking around and, like, really appreciating," she said. "I mean, I just saw Robert Duvall ("Get Low") five minutes ago and I was like, ‘Everybody needs to stop and appreciate that we’re looking at Robert Duvall, just for a minute."
Duvall, who turned 80 last week, picked up the Career Achievement Award, and said one of the secrets to his endurance has been "hanging out with young people . . . Sometimes I’d rather work with the first-time director than the guy who has done it 50 times."
The 22nd Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival continues through Jan. 17.
Actor Colin Firth holds his Desert Palm Achievement award with presenter, actress Helen Mirren. (AP Photo/Dan Steinberg).