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Does the Palm Springs Film Festival point the way for the awards season to come?

93229843 The 21st Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) is starting to look like the road map for the 2009 award season with each passing week. Hot on the heels of its announcement that Anna Kendrick would receive its Rising Star Award (Female) for "Up in the Air" and Morgan Freeman was this year's Career Achievement in Film honoree for "Invictus" comes news that Mariah Carey would be presented with the Breakthrough Performance Award for her critically acclaimed turn in "Precious." All three will be feted at the Film Festival's Awards Gala on Jan. 5.

What's significant about these awards is that it places the PSIFF in the interesting position of a solid award show predictor. All three performers have considerable Oscar buzz surrounding their work in their respective films, and the acknowledgement by the PSIFF could tip the hands of Oscarologists (and voters) in the weeks and months to come. It's worth noting that among the recipients of the 2009 Awards Gala was Sean Penn, who received the Desert Palm Achievement Award for acting along with Anne Hathaway, director Gus Van Sant, who won the Sonny Bono Visionary Award, and composer Alexandre Desplat, who was presented with the Frederick Lowe Award for Film Composing. All four were Oscar nominees for "Milk, "Rachel Getting Married," and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," respectively, with Penn taking home the Best Actor trophy at the 81st Academy Awards.

Earning the reputation as a divining rod for the award season would be a significant feather in the cap of the Palm Springs fest, which has shown enormous determination to find a place on the international festival circuit since its humble beginnings two decades ago. At that time, some of the fest's events were held at the home of then-Mayor Sonny Bono.

The fest endured some lean years in the mid-'90s, but has since rebounded with vigor and become an impressive source for new and independent features, as well as a reliable destination for films on the festival trail. 

The 2010 Palm Springs Film Festival takes place from Jan. 5-18.

-- Paul Gaita

Photo: Mariah Carey. Credit: Getty Images.

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