“He’s just a master director,” Damon added. “There are a handful of them on planet earth. But he is one of them. I don’t know if you’re supposed to say that out loud. But … when I did The Departed, we said it out loud a lot about Marty [Scorsese] and it panned out.”
Damon, who was given the Chairman’s award, was among the night’s honorees at the black-tie event, which attracted around 2,400 people in a cavernous convention hall to pay tribute to many of the actors (and one director) pegged to receive Oscar nominations on 14 January.
As Harold Matzner, chairman of the board of directors of the Palm Springs International Film Society, stressed in his opening remarks, 28 of the Palm Springs honorees over the past three years went on to pick up Oscar nominations. The evening’s compere, Mary Hart of Entertainment Tonight, put it in more blunt terms. “It’s ground zero for awards season!” she said, kicking off the show.
Cate Blanchett, honored with a Desert Palm achievement award for her lauded performance in Todd Haynes’s Carol, thanked the festival for “reminding all of us honored tonight that if we are not nominated for any other award, not to feel like losers, we had a moment of glory”.
Elsewhere, the event served as an opportunity for the honorees, all of whom had been announced ahead of time, to practice their speech-giving skills ahead of the Golden Globes this Sunday, and all the major awards show of the season that follow in its wake.
Despite this, Johnny Depp, awarded with a Desert Palm achievement award for his transformative performance as crime boss Whitey Bulger in Black Mass, shied away from his prepared notes. “I hope you guys are planted well in your seats, this is going to take about 35 minutes. Maybe 37. Let’s just wing it, shall we?” he said upon taking to the stage.
In his rambling and endearing speech, Depp praised Warner Bros for supporting the dark thriller. “I’ve experienced this with studios where they get very frightened of what you might be doing – is Michael Eisner here?” he asked, name-checking the former Disney head who Depp claims resisted his initial loony portrayal of Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean.
The actor also fondly addressed his wife, Amber Heard, who was also in the audience having presented earlier in the evening to her co-star in The Danish Girl, Alicia Vikander. He thanked Heard “for putting up with me, for living with all these characters, which can’t be easy. It’s hard for me, it’s got to be hard for her”.
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Saoirse Ronan, awarded with the International Star award for her performance in the period immigration drama Brooklyn, did the opposite of Depp by sticking to a written script. Noting that she wasn’t sure what to prepare, Ronan added: “I actually Googled Sandra Bullock’s speech from 2014 … I Googled Meryl’s as well. Aim high when you’re in doubt.”
Michael Fassbender appeared to do the same, glancing down at his notes, in accepting an International Star award for his performance as Steve Jobs in Danny Boyle’s Aaron Sorkin-scripted biopic. In presenting him with the honor, Kate Winslet, who co-starred in the film, shared how nervous Fassbender was to play the Apple maverick. Fassbender used a lot of his podium time to offer Winslet a heartfelt thanks. “Kate, you had my back from day one,” he said. “Your wicked sense of humor and just maternal nature kept everyone’s spirits buoyant and that’s not to mention your acting ability. You’re a class act and I owe you big time.”
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He also notably addressed the film’s poor performance at the box-office, which has many awards pundits unsure of the film’s Oscar chances. “It’s unfortunate about the box office figures, but thank God for Jurassic World,” Fassbender joked. (Both movies were produced by Universal.)
The loudest applause of the evening went to Helen Mirren, who presented her Trumbo co-star Bryan Cranston, with the Spotlight award. “Can you believe it’s 2016?” Mirren exclaimed at the lectern. In his opening remarks, Cranston poked fun at the title of his honor. Said the actor: “I got a call to say that I was the recipient of the spotlight award and I paused because … maybe they were confused that I wasn’t actually in that movie?”
Spotlight director, Tom McCarthy, was awarded earlier in the evening with the Sono Bono visionary award.
Below is the full list of recipients:
Rising star: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) Sonny Bono visionary: Tom McCarthy (Spotlight) Breakthrough performance: Brie Larson (Room) Spotlight, actress: Rooney Mara (Carol) Spotlight, actor: Bryan Cranston (Trumbo) International star, actor: Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs) International star, actress: Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn) Ensemble performance: The Big Short Desert Palm achievement, actor: Johnny Depp (Black Mass) Desert Palm achievement, actress: Cate Blanchett (Carol) Chairman’s award: Matt Damon (The Martian)