The demands of a film-festival juror are very difficult. You start your morning with a two-hour Filipino melodrama about a 12-year-old aspiring ladyboy with a criminal family who develops a crush on the understanding new policeman in the neighborhood.
Then — because you’re kind of an idiot — you pass up a beautiful California afternoon outdoors to see David Lynch’s three-hour sketchbook “Inland Empire”, even though it’s not eligible for your award, and even though it becomes apparent well within the first act that the man’s creativity is running on fumes.
Afterward, because you need to clear your head a bit, you walk back to the hotel and put on your monkey suit, because it’s time for the black-tie Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala, a four-hour orgy of awards, alcohol and really splendid food.
I’ll give these people credit: They really know how to put together an awards ceremony, even if the awards themselves are kind of dubious, designed to attract actors and filmmakers who may be up for an Oscar in a few weeks’ time.
Todd Field, winner of this year’s Sonny Bono Visionary Award, was modest (or reasonable) enough to question the validity of his qualifications in this category, since he’s only made two features. But they got Sissy Spacek to come and present it to him, so that was really cool.
I’m not often starstruck, but seeing Danny Elfman and Philip Glass on the same stage was awfully nice, and Morgan Freeman appearing out of nowhere to name Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu Director of the Year gave the evening a stately flourish. And later, Laurence Fishburne applied his dulcet delivery to the praises of Sydney Pollack, the SAG Foundation’s inaugural choice for the Patron of the Arts Award.
Individual awards went to Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett, both of whom accepted with the same mixture of humility and disbelief as Field; Blanchett also shared in the Ensemble Performance prize awarded to the cast of “Babel”, joining Rinkio Kikuchi, Adriana Barazza and some blond guy named Brad on the stage. Adam Beach and Jessica Biel were named the Rising Stars; Beach could certainly use the heightened profile now that the “Flags of Our Fathers” Oscar push has stalled out. But can Biel still be said to be rising after “Home of the Brave”?
And the directors and writer of “Little Miss Sunshine” joined co-stars Abigail Breslin and Alan Arkin — who received a spontaneous and extended ovation when he stepped up to the podium, which was truly lovely — for something called the Chairman’s Vanguard Award, although precisely how that mechanical sitcom could be considered representative of the vanguard of anything, I do not know. Of course, I didn’t like “Babel”, either.
Meh. For me, the nicest thing was sitting down to a really lovely meal, and meeting Carmen Moore, who’s here with “Unnatural and Accidental“, which I saw in Toronto and, well, kind of loathed. She accepted my gently delivered condemnation with grace — we are, after all, both Canadian — and was even willing to grab a drink with me and fellow juror Gregory Valens after the party. I mean, it’s not her fault the movie’s almost unwatchable.
Sunday: More long movies, as India and Italy screen their wares for us, and I gird myself for Monday and Tuesday’s gauntlet of five screenings apiece. Is deep-vein thrombosis a concern? Should I invest in some sort of vibrating cushion?