Palm Springs 2018: Guillermo Del Toro and ‘Call Me’ Stars Celebrate Among Heightened Security and Hope for a Better 2018

Newly minted Palm Springs resident and likely Best Actor nominee Gary Oldman has nothing but love for the Palm Springs Film Festival. “It’s got a bit of Cannes Film Festival about it,” said Oldman, who was on the red carpet before accepting his Desert Palm Achievement Award Tuesday night. “The outside, the lights, the palm trees… everyone and its mother comes here.”

With less than two weeks before Oscar nominations close January 12, it’s also one of the season’s biggest moments for contenders to strut their stuff. While there’s no questioning the merit of those honored at the PSFF’s annual Film Awards Gala — including Saoirse Ronan (“Lady Bird”), Timothée Chalamet (“Call Me by Your Name”), Oldman (“Darkest Hour”), Holly Hunter (“The Big Sick”), Mary J. Blige (“Mudbound”), and the creative team behind “The Shape of Water” — awards-season strategists view the event more as a stepping stone than a destination. As one said, it’s a campaign opportunity.

Honorees Sam Rockwell and Gary Oldman attend the Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala

Frazier Harrison/Getty Images for Palm Springs International Film Festival

The awards bring major press coverage to the festival — no small feat for a festival in a city with a population of less than 50,000. When one journalist asked the Sony Pictures Classics representative escorting Chalamet down the red carpet whether the actor could spare time for her, the rep replied, “I think we have time to speak with all of you. That’s why we’re here. We’re not here to eat chicken.”

Within the projected 130,000 PSIFF attendees, the real power lies in an estimated 30 to 60 Academy voters. Festival chairman Harold Matzner touted that 48 of the festival’s 53 honorees over the past five years went on to earn Oscar nominations.

Kumail Nanjiani presented the Career Achievement Award to Holly Hunter

Rich Fury/Getty Images for Palm Springs International Film Festival

Palm Springs’ awards are just one stop of many this week, which also includes the New York Film Critics Gala Awards dinner and the Golden Globes. In the relentless campaigning of an Oscar contender, however, Palm Springs offers something of a respite with its “black tie-optional” dress code. (This left presenter Aaron Sorkin griping: “Every day is black tie-optional.”) However, Ronan told red-carpet reporters that she appreciated the winners being announced in advance, granting her a brief reprieve from competition.

PSIFF opens with “The Post” and will also screen films like “Phantom Thread,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” and “The Disaster Artist,” but it possesses the most clout for its foreign-language offerings. The festival will screen works from more than 77 countries, and host a panel with the directors of the nine Best Foreign Language Films on the 2018 Oscar shortlist.

“The community really loves film,” Guillermo del Toro, director of “The Shape of Water,” told IndieWire. “That’s the main dish. There’s no side dish. Just loving films, the people that make them, loving the people that promote it, actors, it’s a beautiful celebration.”

J. Miles Dale, Richard Jenkins, Guillermo del Toro, Sally Hawkins, Alexandre Desplat, Octavia Spencer, and Salma Hayek

Frazier Harrison/Getty Images for Palm Springs International Film Festival

After passing through metal detectors, convention center guests — mostly older and white — walked along a second, indoor red carpet that passed a parked silver Cadillac (an event sponsor), an expansive bar, and vases that pulsated with changing neon hues. Rimmed with pastel blue and green chairs, each dining table contained a plethora of objects: tiny, glowing Buddha-figurines in place of candles; chocolate “movie theater film reels;” centerpieces inlaid with glass pebble tiles, plastic seahorses, and some 16,000 white orchids flown in from Holland.

Distracting somewhat from speeches by Patty Jenkins (“[Gal Gadot] made me believe that some of the greatest work can and might be done in tentpole movies”) and Chastain (“What a difficult year 2017 has been for all of us. Major change is coming, and change is good, change is needed”) was the robust security presence, which included 350 members of the Palm Springs Police Department and six armored vehicles surrounding the building.

“We want to emphasize that there has been no threat of any kind,” Matzner said. “Unfortunately, this is definitely the right security for today’s America.” (At similarly secured afterparty, this reporter was threatened with ejection for glancing across a hip-high hedge into the VIP area, where secluding Chalamet celebrated with his “Call Me by Your Name” co-star Armie Hammer.)

Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet

Rich Fury/Getty Images for Palm Springs International Film Festival

Meanwhile, Matzner earned the night’s loudest cheers and best segue honors: “The incredibly popularity of [“Wonder Woman”] reflects the fact that the world is ready for more powerful women…the end of unequal pay, sexual misconduct, and a stubborn glass ceiling.” Celebrities on the red carpet spoke about their plans to wear black to Sunday’s Golden Globes in support of the Time’s Up initiative against sexual harassment. While presenting, Harvey Weinstein accuser Salma Hayek flubbed the word “victim” when reading a list of archetypical film characters from a teleprompter, ad-libbing, “Boy, that word I’ve been using so much that I get confused.”

A lighter moment came when “The Big Sick” star and co-writer Nanjiani presented to Hunter in what turned into a 10-minute stand-up set. Prior to filming their scenes, Nanjiani emailed Hunter to schedule rehearsal. “Her response was that ‘I can’t do that day. My cat has acupuncture,'” Nanjiani said. “After a while [on set], I walked up to her and asked, ‘Hey, how’s your cat?’ She said, ‘What?’ ‘Your cat. It had acupuncture. How’s it doing?’ And she said, ‘Oh I don’t have a cat, I was just fucking with you.”

Read the full list of winners below. PSIFF runs through Monday, January 15. 

Breakthrough Performance Award: Mary J. Blige (“Mudbound”)
Rising Star Award, Actor: Timothée Chalamet (“Call Me by Your Name”)
Rising Star Award, Actress: Gal Gadot (“Wonder Woman”)
Spotlight Award, Actor: Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”)
Spotlight Award, Actress: Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”)
Desert Palm Achievement Award, Actor: Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour”)
Desert Palm Award, Actress: Saoirse Ronan (“Lady Bird”)
Career Achievement Award: Holly Hunter (“The Big Sick”)
Icon Award: Willem Dafoe (“The Florida Project”)
Chairman’s Award: Jessica Chastain (“Molly’s Game”)
Vanguard Award: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Guillermo del Toro, Alexandre Desplat, and J. Miles Dale (“The Shape of Water”)

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