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Palm Springs Fest Honors Wide Range of Art and Artists, From ‘Poppins’ to Spike Lee

The Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival Gala on Jan. 3, held at the Palm Springs Convention Center, honors a variety of talent. For more information, see psfilmfest.org/events/events-calendar/film-awards-gala.  Those being feted include:

The cast of “Mary Poppins Returns”

Ensemble Performance Award

“‘Mary Poppins Returns is a happy film, that re-creates the magic and adventure of the first film,” said festival chairman Harold Matzner. “In this outstanding sequel, Mary Poppins is back to help the next generation of the Banks family as they race to keep the bank’s executives from foreclosing on their home. Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda lead an excellent ensemble cast that also includes Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury and many others.” The film has been named one of the top 10 movies of the year by AFI and the National Board of Review. It’s received four Critics Choice nominations, four Golden Globe nominations and a SAG Award nomination for Blunt.

— Dave McNary

Timothée Chalamet

Spotlight Award

It’s been just one year since Chalamet received PSIFF’s Rising Star Award for his role in “Call Me by Your Name,” for which the thesp garnered an Oscar nom. This year the fest will honor his latest work as Nic Sheff in “Beautiful Boy.” Chalamet portrays a young man struggling with addiction and recovery. Pic is based on memoirs from journalist David Sheff and his son, Nic. In December, Chalamet told Emma Stone during Variety’s Actors on Actors chat that portraying Sheff was “really difficult.” “To go through those scenes where you’re begging your father to come home and he says no. I can’t imagine anything worse than that feeling: ‘You are such a chaos in our life we can’t allow you in our home anymore.’ ” Chalamet has been nominated for a Golden Globe, a SAG Award and a Critics’ Choice Award for his work in “Beautiful Boy.”

Glenn Close

Icon Award

Close has 84 screen credits and six Academy Award nominations, but incredibly she is not yet in possession of a little gold man. Her recent riveting performance in Bjorn Runge’s “The Wife” might change that. In the film, adapted by Jane Anderson from the Meg Wolitzer novel of the same name, Close portrays Joan Castleman, a spouse who has spent 40 years sacrificing her own identity and dreams to support her husband Joe (Jonathan Pryce) and his literary career. “Joan fascinated me,” Close says. “I understood her because I remember a time when women either became a teacher, a nurse or a secretary. Also, being a shy person myself, I understood how somebody could honestly not want to be in the spotlight.” Despite being bashful, Close is excited about her second PSIFF honor in less than a decade. (In 2011 she received the Career Achievement Award for her performance in “Albert Nobbs.”) “Movies are a very collaborative art, so I’m very aware of the people that made it possible for me to make this film and receive this [award]. I feel I’m acting like the captain of the team and I’m showing up for them.”

Olivia Colman

Desert Palm Achievement Award

Colman officially stole the show with her depiction of Queen Anne in the “The Favourite.” The film follows the court maneuverings of the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), and her down-on-her-heels cousin Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) as they jockey for position with Queen Anne. Thus far the pic has nabbed 10 London Film Critics’ Circle nominations, including one for Colman in the lead actress category. Thesp has also been nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award, a Golden Globe and a SAG award. She has taken home actress awards from the British Independent Film Award and the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. But don’t get the A-lister started about trophies. In December she told the Guardian that “the awards chat makes me want to be sick in my mouth.” That being said, Colman also admitted that she has always dreamt of holding an Oscar. “But I’m really trying to sort of keep everything in check, keep calm. This is silly. What are the chances? I don’t want to get excited. I don’t want to face that disappointment. I just want to be on an even keel. I’m a mum, a wife, I’m a mate. I’m other things. You can see how people get sort of swept into it and I want to stay sane.”

Bradley Cooper

Director of the Year

This marks Cooper’s third PSIFF kudo. In 2013 he received the festival’s Desert Palm Achievement Award for “Silver Linings Playbook,” and in 2014, he shared the ensemble cast award for “American Hustle.” “A Star Is Born” is Cooper’s latest hit, but undoubtedly his biggest creative challenge to date. He not only plays the lead character (Jackson Maine) who falls for a talented singer (Lady Gaga), but he also directed, produced and co-wrote the script. Cooper says the he didn’t mind making the film on a modest $38 million budget. “I don’t like having an extreme budget,” he says. “I actually like the constraints of budget and time. Even when you find yourself in a really tight place time-wise, or you lose your location, often that’s where the best solutions arise. You liken it to the mistake happening onstage in a play and it winds up being this wonderful, magical moment.” Magical is a good way to describe Cooper directorial debut. So far “A Star Is Born” has garnered around $200 million at the box office and plenty of critical acclaim.

Alfonso Cuaron

Sonny Bono Visionary Award

Taken from Cuaron’s memories of growing up in Mexico City, “Roma” is the director’s most personal work to date. It was also one of the most demanding movies he’s ever made. “The biggest challenge was to transcend any fear and try to stay true to that sense of memory that was guiding the process,” says Cuaron. The filmmaker was not interested in making a nostalgic or political film. Instead, he made a universal story. “You don’t set up to do a film that is universal, you can only trust that the human experience is one in the same. The film is about a very specific character, in the frame of a very specific family, in a very specific city, in a very specific country, in the frame of a very specific time. By following this character, you experience the random nature of existence and how our only comforts are our bounds of affection.”

“Green Book”

Vanguard Award

Director Peter Farrelly had just 35 days and $20 million to shoot “Green Book’s” 120-page script that included dozens of locations, all set in 1962. But shooting a period piece in multiple locations for a limited time and budget wasn’t the most difficult part of getting the drama made. “The biggest challenge was getting a studio to accept that I could make this kind of movie,” says Farrelly, known for his comedies including “There’s Something About Mary.” In addition to persuading the studio heads that he could direct a drama, the helmer also had to convince Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen that they could trust him to tell the story of real-life bouncer Tony “The Lip” Vallelonga (Mortensen), who was hired to drive and protect African-American pianist Don Shirley (Ali) on a tour of Southern cities. “Once I had Viggo and Mahershala on board I was confident that we were going to make a good movie,” Farrelly says. So far the film has struck a chord with studio heads, critics and audiences alike. For Farrelly the film’s success has been a novel experience. “It’s a whole different world for me because normally when I make a movie I have a premiere and that’s it. With ‘Green Book’ it’s like being in a rock band where you’re playing for new people in new cities every couple of days and doing Q&As afterwards. It’s a world that I didn’t know even existed. It’s been a really a good time.”

Regina King

Chairman’s Award

“If Beale Street Could Talk” is the first non-animated feature film King has made in close to a decade. “I want to play characters that are complex and layered, and it just so happened when I made the decision to only work on projects shooting in Los Angeles that those parts were television,” King says. “Even when it wasn’t a necessity to stay in L.A., the projects that were of interest to me still happened to be in television.” In “Beale Street,” based on the novel by James Baldwin, King plays Sharon Rivers, a mother supportive of her daughter, whose fiancé is thrown in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. “To show the humanity of this black family was something that I jumped at the opportunity [to do],” King says. Despite her numerous television accolades — King has three Emmys under her belt — the actress is still getting used to the movie award season. “There is fantasticness to being in this business for 30-plus years and this being new to me,” she says. “I can appreciate it on a different level than I would have say 15 or 20 years ago.”

Spike Lee

Career Achievement Award

For three decades, Lee has been creating extraordinary work, but last May at the Cannes Film Festival when his latest film, “BlacKkKlansman,” made its world premiere to a rapturous reception, it was clear that he had made one of his most acclaimed movies yet. Lee co-wrote and directed the film about the real-life Ron Stallworth, a black cop who went undercover in Colorado Springs in the 1970s to expose local Ku Klux Klan activities. Although set in the early ’70s, the film is one of the first movies to take the Trump administration head-on, which might explain why it has taken in more than $88 million at the worldwide box office. Lee won Cannes’ prestigious Grand Prix and is receiving his first PSIFF kudo, positioning him for an Oscar run. But after his film “Do the Right Thing” was not nominated for an Oscar in 1989, the director is cautious about getting his hopes up. “Here’s the thing about awards,” he told Variety in October. “After what happened with ‘Do the Right Thing’ I just had to let it go and just be at peace with knowing that the great work is going to outlast awards. People are still shocked to this day that ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ won best picture [that year]. Who’s watching that film now? So, I’m at peace with it.”

Rami Malek

Breakthrough Performance Award

Malek describes the moment he was cast to play Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in the biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” as one of, if not the most, exciting moments in his career. That was followed by “a myriad of emotions.” One of those emotions was fear. “I tried to never allow fear to get the best of me, but it existed throughout [this project],” Malek admits. To alleviate any anxiety about playing a legendary musician, the actor reminded himself that there is and always will be only one Freddie Mercury. “I said to myself, ‘I’ll try to capture his essence and attempt to embody him, but you’re never going to be him.’” Malek’s pep talks helped him defy the odds and convince audiences that he was Mercury. Across the board, critics have praised the actor’s performance as one of the year’s best. Malek calls being a part of awards season and the recipient of a PSIFF honor humbling. “If you go into it with no expectations, it’s fun,” he says. “It’s a wonderful celebration of film.”

Melissa McCarthy

Spotlight Award

Much has been made about the likeability of McCarthy’s latest role as the frowning, flawed Lee Israel in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” “I don’t understand it,” says McCarthy. “All of my favorite characters in movies, literature and television make bad decisions and they all have good days and bad days.” McCarthy says she not only liked Israel, warts and all, she actually “loved” her. “Even when she was being caustic, her wit so often came out,” McCarthy says. “She wasn’t an easy woman, but I found her quite heroic and strong in that she was simply was who she was and she didn’t want to be apologetic for it.” As for the slew of critics’ association honors, Golden Globe and SAG nods as well as her PSIFF kudo, McCarthy says that she looks at each tribute as a much-needed spotlight on characters such as Israel and independent films as a whole. “What’s exciting to me about these award shows is that it’s a way to get people talking about little movies that don’t get the splashy budgets.”

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