Palm Springs film festival gala showcases Oscar hopefuls Sandra Bullock, Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts …

The silver anniversary edition of the Palm Springs filmfest kicked off with a gala that feted Oscar hopefuls. With an expanded roster of awards, there was a ton of top talent to impress the well-heeled crowd of 2,000 plus who packed the convention center. 

As Tom Hanks (“Captain Phillips,” “Saving Mr. Banks“) noted when collecting the Chairman’s Award from his pal — and Spotlight winner — Julia Roberts (“August: Osage County“), this event marked the beginning of the awards season marathon of dinners and acceptance speeches.

These trips to the podium made for great auditions for the contenders who collected hardware here. Key scenes from their films unspooled before they took to the stage, reminding Oscar voters in attendance — whose ballots are due by this coming Wednesday at 5 pm PT — of the merits of their performances. 

Many of the major contenders were represented with “12 Years a Slave” winning both breakthrough performance (Lupita Nyongo) and director (Steve McQueen), while its chief Oscar rival — “Gravity” — earned the Best Actress award for Sandra Bullock who got the warmest reception of the evening with her wry remarks. She included a shout-out to Meryl Streep (“August: Osage County”) who was there to pick up the Icon prize. 

Bulllock’s buddy Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club“) was eloquent as he paid tribute to the perserverance of the team that shepherded this film to fruition while accepting Best Actor. Another Oscar hopeful — Bruce Dern (“Nebraska“) — was lauded for his lifetime of work by Jane Fonda who wowed the crowd with her sparkling tribute to her two-time co-star (“They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”; “Coming Home”). 

Also on hand were many of the cast of “American Hustle” — Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner — who received the Ensemble award from their director David O. Russell who did a superb job of explaining his complicated film in simple terms. 

U2 bandmates Bono and The Edge received a prize named in honor of filmfest founder Sonny Bono for their tune “Ordinary Love” in “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” while composer Thomas Newman (“Saving Mr. Banks”) became the first two-time recipient of the music award.

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