The Palm Springs International Film Festival gala or, as Tom Hanks called it, "This little, intimate, Sonny Bono rec-room chicken dinner get-together for two-and-a-half-thousand people," took place Saturday night. Meryl Streep picked up an award. So did Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, Bruce Dern and Matthew McConaughey, among others.
And though they were all seated within a few feet of one another in the airport-hangar-sized Palm Springs Convention Center, these Hollywood stars were more or less allowed to eat their pot-roast dinner in peace.
That's because Bono was in the house.
That's Bono, the singer from the Irish rock band U2, not Mary Bono, the widow of another singer named Bono — Sonny, the man who started the film festival 25 years ago when he was mayor of Palm Springs. The line of people, young and old, circling the table where Bono and the band's guitarist, the Edge (wearing his formal black beanie), sat, angling for a picture or a blessing from the rock god, became so thick during dinner that security intervened. Bono didn't seem to mind the well-wishers, though, throwing his arms around whoever approached.
The Palm Springs festival occurs annually during Oscar nomination balloting (last year was the odd exception), ensuring a healthy turnout among prominent awards-season contenders. Hanks, picking up something called the Chairman's Award for "Captain Phillips" and "Saving Mr. Banks," offered the necessary perspective on the reason why they had gathered in Sonny's rec room this night.
"To be invited to the Palm Springs International Film Festival is an honor and a delight beyond words and sometimes beyond reasoning," Hanks said. "It means without a doubt the holidays have come to an end and for a few lucky people, the celebrity mule train is just beginning."
That did not mean the evening was without genuine emotion. As Bono noted when accepting an award for U2's humanitarian work: "More people live off their imaginations in California than any other place in the world." And that inventiveness and creativity were on display from the podium, particularly from Bullock and Streep, both of whom noted the challenges women face in Hollywood when you reach a certain age.
"I feel like I'm an example now in my dotage that you just can't put those old gals out to pasture," Streep said to roaring approval, going on to display a little float-like-a-butterfly, sting-like-a-bee footwork that would have made Muhammad Ali proud.
"I don't feel like an icon," the 64-year-old actress added, referencing the name of the award she was receiving. "Most of the days, I feel like I cahn't. That's with an 'a.'"
That humility played well with the gala crowd, a mix of donors, local business folk and academy members who have retired to the desert. With Oscar ballots due Wednesday at 5 p.m. PST, the event is seen by some as a last opportunity to stump and, under the best-case scenario, try out some material for a Golden Globes acceptance speech. (The Globes take place Jan. 12.)
"Dallas Buyers Club's" McConaughey, wearing a gold lamé dinner jacket with black-velvet lapels, drew some cheers ("All right, all right, all right"), as did "Nebraska's" Dern. ("What's exciting to me is a bunch of you folks seem to have gotten together and have said Bruce Dern can play.")
Several actors from "American Hustle" — Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner among them (Jennifer Lawrence and Christian Bale were no-shows) — followed director David O. Russell on stage to accept the festival's ensemble performance award, though the protracted presentation lacked the fizz and pop associated with Russell's filmmaking.
But that could have been because Russell followed Bono, who spoke at length about AIDS awareness and the "largest health intervention in the history of medicine" that has saved 10 million lives in the developing of antiretroviral therapy.
"And we're at the tipping point — amazing to be able to say this — we are within reach of declaring the first AIDS-free generation," the singer added.
Bono's words cast new light on something Roberts said earlier about acting. "All birds fly finer and faster in formation than any individual bird can ever fly alone." That spirit of community could be felt Saturday night, even amid the flash photography, luxury-brand sponsors and free-flowing alcohol.