In the desert, awards season is heating up

With its increasing proximity to the Oscar nomination deadline, the once-sleepy Palm Springs International Film Festival awards has burst into a serious A-list star scene. This year's 18th annual black tie gala Jan. 6 honored a slew of potential Oscar contenders, including "Babel" director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and stars Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Rinko Kikuchi and Adriana Barraza; and "Little Children" director Todd Field. 1. "Little Miss Sunshine" costars Abigail Breslin and Alan Arkin faux-tussled over control of the microphone when accepting the film's chairman's vanguard award. Naturally, Olive, um, Abigail won. 2. An uncharacteristically smiling Morgan Freeman, who presented the director of the year award to Inarritu, endured the attentions of a bevy of happy gala-goers. 3. Blanchett, left, on the carpet with Kate Winslet in (ouch) matching cobalt blue gowns, joked that (a la Britney) she wasn't wearing any underwear when accepting her career achievement award. Presenter Sienna Miller -- in a vintage Ossie Clark frock -- hugged breakthrough award winners Adam Beach and Jessica Biel. And the "Babel" cast led the Palm Springs Convention Center crowd in singing "Happy Birthday" to a blushing Kikuchi. After the gala, Kikuchi and other winners gathered at the Parker hotel's after-party where she admitted that it will be difficult to top such a glam 26th birthday bash. -- ELIZABETH SNEAD


Look who's the 'Alpha Dog' now

Rumor is Justin Timberlake and longtime steady Cameron Diaz are split. Naturally, he's on Hollywood's most-wanted list, and his female fans were in a frenzy at the ArcLight for the premiere of his new movie, "Alpha Dog." Some JT fans even waved placards, saying, "Justin, you'll always be my love!" 4. Timberlake's costar Sharon Stone, last seen at an awards show holding hands with her "Bobby" co-star Christian Slater, didn't make any moves on the singer-actor at the Ivar Studios after party, where, 5., JT, left, was busy chatting with costars Chris Marquette, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster.


No party should be without ...

... Hollywood's hottest activists. 6. Tireless do-gooders Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt left their three kids at home to attend the Pacific Design Center premiere of "God Grew Tired of Us," a Sundance award-winning documentary about Sudan's lost boys, produced by Pitt, Dermot Mulroney and Catherine Keener and narrated by Nicole Kidman. Trouble was that most of the TV crews just wanted reactions from the stars about the breaking news of raging fires in Malibu. "It's horrible," said a shocked Kidman, asked on camera for her reaction. What, like she's gonna say, "Wow, cool"?

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