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Award Season has a bright start at the Palm Springs International Film Festival

The 27th annual Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) honored the best in motion pictures at the yearly Awards Gala tonight, Saturday, January 2, 2016, at the Palm Springs Convention Center, in Palm Springs, California. The Awards Gala was hosted by TV personality Mary Hart.

The Rising Star Award was presented to Alicia Vikander by actress Amber Heard. Vikander was honored for her touching performance in "The Danish Girl." Vikander took to the stage in a simple, soft pink dress and accepted her award saying, "I can't believe that I'm in this room with talent that I have looked up to while growing up." She also noted her co-star in "The Danish Girl," "I thank Eddie Redmayne as an incredible partner and now good friend."

The Sony Bono Visionary Award was presented to director Tom McCarthy by actor Michael Keaton. McCarthy's award was to honor him for his work in his newest film "Spotlight." McCarthy responded about his honor by saying, "I'm truly honored and touched to be here at this beautiful city and wonderful film festival. I don't spend a lot of time reflecting on what I do at work, but I do love to engage an audience. It's difficult to make films like 'Spotlight' today. I have to thank my band of zealots: the ensemble cast and crew. And to thank the real reporters and editors featured in this film."

Receiving The Breakthrough Performance Award to actress Brie Larson for her groundbreaking performance in "Room," was the film's director Lenny Abrahamson and the young actor Jacob Tremblay.

Brie Larson took to the gala stage dressed in emerald green dress and thanked the Palm Springs International Film Festival for screening her short film "The Babysiter," in 2009. Then continued with, "There is no way I could have created this performance without my director Lenny Abrahamson. 'Room,' was one of my favorite books and I can't believe that I got the opportunity to play one of my favorite literary characters."

Honoring actress Rooney Mara for her performance in "Carol," with the Spotlight Actor Award was actor Ben Mendelsohn. After a brief look at "Carol," Rooney took to the stage in a little black dress, her hair swept into a bun and smoky eyes glittering through the light.

Rooney accepted her awards, stating, "A few years ago when I got this script, I couldn't imagine playing a character like Therese Belivet. Luckily, the script came back to me a year later. Todd Haynes made one feel it was possible to be naive and complex at the same time and it was beyond a dream come true to work with Cate Blanchett."

Michael Fassbender has been on everbodies top list of actors this year for his portrayal of Steve Jobs in the movie simply titled, "Steve Jobs." But the film, penned by Aaron Sorkin, could be described as anything but simple. The Palm Springs International Film Festival honored Fassbender with the International Star Actor Award. Honoring Fassbender was his co-star Kate Winslet.

Fassbender thanked Sorkin for, "Writing the way you do." And he thanked Director Danny Boyle for bringing the script to him. In parting he said, "I believe that 'Steve Jobs' is a movie that will stand the test of time."

Receiving the International Star Actress Award was the young a pretty Saoirse Ronan. The young lass wore a flowing printed dress and brought the Irish brogue in tow. Presenting her with the honor was actor Paul Dano.

Ronan had quite a long speech, but the main point was, "I believe films are made to be shared and we (her cast and crew) are very lucky that 'Brooklyn' is one of those films."

The funniest honoree of the night was no doubt actor Bryan Cranston. Cranston received the Spotlight Actor Award and said, "Upon hearing I was going to get this award, I was a bit worried because I was not in the movie 'Spotlight.' Then I thought that maybe it was a career achievement award, because I am getting close to the age when one gets those honors and I hear you see a spotlight before the end is near.

On a more serious note, he spoke about playing Dalton Trumbo in "Trumo," "Dalton Trumbo was not a hero. He was just defending his civil liberties. It was a dark period in American history when Trumbo was sent to jail for committing no crime. The fifth Amendment allows us all to be able to express what our difference are and it is those differences that makes our country great."

Johnny Depp was honored with the Desert Palm Achievement Actor Award for his role as real life crime boss Whitey Bulger in "Black Mass." Although Depp earlier made the news declaring that he didn't want to win an Oscar, his acceptance of this award may prove that he wasn't too serious in his previous remarks. Presenting Depp with his award was his "Black Mass," director Scott Cooper.

Among his many thank yous, Depp thanked his wife Amber, "There are so many characters I have played. I want to thank my wife Amber for putting up with me and all these characters. It's been hard for me, so it's got to be hard for her as well."

Academy Award winning actress Cate Blanchett was honored with the Desert Palm Achievement Actress Award for her brilliant performance in Todd Haynes' "Carol." Her honor was presented to her by actress Saoirse Ronan (why not Rooney Mara, her co-star? I have no idea).

In accepting her honor, Blanchett said, "I don't really know where to go from here as an actor, as the bar has been set so high."

The final award of the night went to Matt Damon. He was presented The Chairman's Award by director Ridley Scott for his performance in "The Martian."

"This movie has been a really great experience," he said. "When one strikes a chord with an audience it's really wonderful. Ridley Scott is like Mecca to us actors. He is a master director. I was shocked when I found out he has not won an Academy Award. He's given enough to the world of cinema. So, I hope that this is his year."

The Palm Springs International Film Festival runs through January 11.

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