Bradley Cooper, Richard Gere and Helen Mirren Take Big Prizes at the Palm Springs International Film Festival Gala

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Bradley Cooper, Richard Gere and Helen Mirren Take Big Prizes at the Palm Springs International Film Festival Gala

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Helen MIrren shows off her award at the 24th Annual Palm Springs Film Festival Gala on January 5, 20 …

It happens every January, as Hollywood's biggest stars hop on private jets or into stretch limos and take a trip to the desert. To Palm Springs, that is, to celebrate that sunny city's annual film festival, which runs for 12 days each year. It all kicks off with a seriously star-studded black-tie awards gala, which is the unofficial start of awards season in Tinseltown.

Which is why superstars like Bradley Cooper, Richard Gere and Helen Mirren - looking gorgeous in a bright-red Escada gown and dripping in Cartier (the event's main sponsor, along with Mercedes-Benz) jewels - flocked to the Palm Springs Convention Center on January 5 for the 24th annual bash.

It just happened to also be Bradley Cooper's birthday, and as he accepted his Bet Actor Desert Palm Achievement Award from his "Silver Linings Playbook" director David O. Russell, the audience burst into the birthday song in his honor.

"I love filmmaking so much," Cooper gushed. "And I love being in a room filled with people that I admire and respect."

People like two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks, who handed "Flight" director Robert Zemeckis his Director of the Year Award; and Martin Sheen, who helped honor "Lincoln" star Sally Field with her Career Achievement Award. Field gave a rousing speech about following her acting dreams since she was a teenager, saying, "I've ridden the highs and tried to learn from the lows, but it has never occurred to me to change my mind."

Young Tom Holland, who stars in "The Impossible," presented Naomi Watts, his co-star, with her Best Actress Desert Palm Achievement Award, while industry veteran Ang Lee, who directed "Life of Pi," gave Mychael Danna (that film's composer) the Frederick Loewe Award for Film Composing. "The Sessions" duo of John Hawkes and Helen Hunt got into the action, too, as he presented her with the PSIFF's Spotlight Award.

Helen Mirren brought the crowd to their feet, as she swept to the stage to accept her International Star Award from "Les Miserables" director Tom Hooper; he'd just taken home his own trophy, the Sonny Bono Visionary Award, from Eddie Redmayne, moments before.

Diane Lane had a little lovefest for "Arbitrage" leading man Richard Gere, calling him "ominously dripping with sex appeal" as she gave him the Chairman's Award; he responded to a reel of his most famous moments by laughing and saying, "wow, I was really skinny then, wasn't I?"

Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston and Alan Arkin accepted the night's final prize, the Ensemble Performance Award for "Argo," then everyone moved on to the Parker Palm Springs Hotel, where the after party raged well into the night. Sally Field and John Hawkes chatted in one corner, while fans mobbed Bradley Cooper as photographers lit up the scene with flashbulbs.

And the fun rolled right on the next day at Variety's Indie Impact Brunch Presented by Mercedes-Benz. That posh brunch on the lawn of the Parker Palm Springs celebrated David O. Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook," as Cooper presented him with the Indie Impact Award. Cheering him on were more honorees, Variety's "10 Directors to Watch" including Rebecca Thomas, Wayne Blair and Haifaa Al-Monsour, along with Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hooper, John Hawkes and former NFL great turned actor Fred Williamson, who was missing the NFL Wild Card playoffs in order to make the scene. That goes to show you just how fun the Palm Springs International Film Festival is!

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