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Palm Springs Film Festival gala is an Oscar night warmup

January 8, 2012 | 12:08 am

Michelle Williams collected an award for Marilyn Monroe 50 years late, Octavia Spencer thanked some "white, very white" knights and George Clooney entreated his precocious 20-year-old "Descendants" costar Shailene Woodley to, some day in the future, "give a retired two-time Sexiest Man Alive a job ... and then after you give Brad [Pitt] a job, maybe you'll give me one."

A week before the Golden Globes and seven weeks before the Oscars, Hollywood began polishing its acceptance speeches Saturday night at the Palm Springs International Film Festival’s 23rd annual awards gala. The desert city film festival gala is often a bellwether of Oscar nominations -- 15 of last year's attendees collected nominations for the 2011 Academy Awards.

Williams, who was on hand to accept the Desert Palm Achievement Actress Award, said her thoughts were on Marilyn Monroe, whom she plays in "My Week With Marilyn" and who, unlike Williams, struggled to be taken seriously as an actress.

PHOTOS: Palm Springs Film Festival awards gala

"My only wish is that Marilyn herself could have experienced in her lifetime what I am experiencing tonight," Williams said. "When she did stretch beyond her pin-up picture, she was pushed back into her place. I accept this award on both our behalf."

Though the Palm Springs gala is “black-tie optional,” according to the invitations, most of the celebrities are considerably more relaxed than at other awards events. The event isn’t televised and honorees already know that they’ve won, a fact that leads to some impromptu speeches.

Multiple attendees compared the crystal award they received to a bong — "I may smoke this later," said International Star Award recipient Gary Oldman — and obscenities flew fast and furious. "George Clooney closed the night with an f-bomb!" marveled the evening's emcee, “Entertainment Tonight’s” Mary Hart.

Mock serious speeches abounded -- Tom Hanks watched, bemused, as his 14-year-old "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" co-star Thomas Horn bested him in smooth teleprompter reading, and Jonah Hill took a crack at his "Moneyball" co-star Brad Pitt, who was on hand to accept the Desert Palm Acheivement Actor Award.

"Brad Pitt has constantly made choices that are risky," said Hill. "Look at the unconventional story lines of the two movies he's being honored for this evening. 'Moneyball' is about baseball statistics and 'The Tree of Life is about... I'm sorry, I've seen it three times and I still have no idea what 'The Tree of Life' is about. But it was beautiful."

Pitt, who was using a cane after, he said, tripping and falling while carrying one of his twins skiing, walked a 300-foot red carpet into the gala alongside partner Angelina Jolie. Other stars in attendance included Jessica Chastain, Charlize Theron, Glenn Close, Al Pacino, Olivia Wilde and Melissa McCarthy.

Spencer, who was on hand to accept the Breakthrough Performance Award for her work in "The Help," thanked her late parents who, she said, "sent me two white knights, very, very white in the form of [director] Tate Taylor and [producer] Brunson Green." After acknowledging a phalanx of studio personnel and fellow honorees, including Pitt and Clooney, Spencer said, "I would be remiss if I didn't say ... I'm single, gentlemen. I just had to throw that in there."

Later, "The Artist" director Michel Hazanavicius was presented with the Sonny Bono Visionary Award by his stars, Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, who is also the mother of two of his children. "Octavia," Hazanavicius said, "I'm married, but I'm French, so ..."

Organizers said the event raised $1.6 million for the nonprofit Palm Springs Film Society.


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-- Rebecca Keegan


Photo: Octavia Spencer arrives at the 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala at the Palm Springs Convention Center on Saturday. Credit: Frazer Harrison / Getty Images