By Ryan Pearson
AP Entertainment Writer
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Matt Damon launched a bold new phase of Oscar campaigning for his “The Martian” director on Saturday, telling a crowd that Ridley Scott has “given more than enough to cinema” over his career to deserve an Academy Award.
Damon spoke at the opening night gala for the Palm Springs International Film Festival, a non-televised black-tie dinner at the desert city’s convention center. It’s become a well-attended stop on the busy Hollywood awards circuit due to its timing during the Oscar nominations voting period and eight days before the Golden Globe Awards. Honorees Johnny Depp, Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale and Michael Fassbender also took the stage.
Damon said he was shocked to discover that the 78-year-old director of “Blade Runner” and “Alien” had never won an Oscar despite three nominations and his helming of 2001 best picture winner “Gladiator.”
“He’s just a master director. There are a handful of them on planet Earth. But he is one of them,” Damon said. “Awards — whatever, who gives a (expletive). I mean, except for this one. But … I hope this is his year. 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.”
Saturday’s loose and sometimes coarse ceremony saw Depp praising his wife, actress Amber Heard, “for putting up with me” and Bale getting in a dig at the 2,000-plus attendees, which included socialites who sometimes chatted away at dinner tables during acceptance speeches.
“I’ve never been at a film festival that ignores the speakers so much as this film festival,” said Bale, on stage with his “The Big Short” co-stars Steve Carell, Jeremy Strong and Finn Wittrock.
Cate Blanchett, being lauded for her performance in “Carol,” was more magnanimous.
She thanked the festival, which runs through Jan. 11, “for reminding us — all of us honored tonight — that if we’re not nominated for any other award not to feel like losers. We had a moment of glory.”
The festival announced its awards ahead of time, minimizing anxiety for actors and allowing plenty of time for informal reunions. Depp hugged his “Finding Neverland” co-star Kate Winslet on the red carpet before the show. Damon walked backstage in conversation with Blanchett. The two shared the screen in “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “The Monuments Men.”
“Room” star Brie Larson and “Trumbo” star Bryan Cranston had both screened their personal movies at the festival years earlier. Cranston wrote and directed a feature, “Last Chance,” that played Palm Springs in 1999. “I will forever be grateful to you for doing that for me. It launched a different phase of my career,” he told the crowd.