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At the Hollywood Film Awards Gala, a celebration of this year’s outstanding films – AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell The Hollywood Film Festival and Hollywood Awards Gala turned 15 last night with an extravagant affair at the Beverly Hilton. After a week of screenings at the Arclight Cinemas, hundreds of directors, producers, screenwriters, actors and film fans gathered to honor, as the festival puts it, “excellence in the art of filmmaking.”

Technically, I wasn’t working the event. I attended as a guest of festival founder Carlos De Abreu (who’s also the publisher of Luckily, my friend Scott Feinberg was covering the star-studded gala and has a thorough rundown of the evening’s guests and how they factor into the current awards race. You can read that recap here, and browse a photo gallery of attending celebrities on the red carpet here.

Awards conversations will follow for the next few weeks and months. We’ll have so much to say about our recipients and their powerful films, from Glenn Close, George Clooney, Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer and Carey Mulligan to the cast of “The Help.” All are outstanding, and all begin their Oscar campaigns at the Hollywood Awards Gala.

But while awards positioning was a vital component of the gala, the overriding atmosphere swirling around the ballroom at the Beverly Hilton was a shared passion for film.

“Footloose” director Craig Brewer, whose debut film “The Poor and Hungry” got its start at the 2000 Hollywood Film Festival, kicked off the evening with a passionate speech aimed at the hungry filmmakers seated in the room (and received rousing applause).

Multiple presenters picked up on the sentiment and worked it into their speeches. Ewan McGregor marveled at his collaboration with “Beginners” co-star Christopher Plummer. Quentin Tarantino sang the praises of Diablo Cody’s unique, distinguishable voice when handing her the Hollywood Screenwriter Award for “Young Adult.” Cody, who was visibly choked up to be receiving the award from Tarantino, called him one of her heroes and mentioned how special it was to receive an award from the Hollywood Film Awards, which has shown her tremendous support in the past.

Backstage in the green room, talent who were present in support of certain films eagerly gathered to praise their competition. Clooney, at the gala to pick up the Hollywood Actor Award for his work on Alexander Payne’s “The Decendants,” was overheard telling people how much he loved “The Artist.” Likewise, Clooney’s “Descendants” co-star, Shailene Woodley – herself the recipient of a Hollywood Spotlight Award – went out of her way to tell “Artist” co-star Berenice Bejo how much she enjoyed the black-and-white masterpiece.

Several people mingling in the green room stopped to congratulate Williams on her award-winning portrayal of Marilyn Monroe. I had a great discussion with Hollywood Cinematographer Award winner Emmanuel Lubezki about how his collaborations with “The Tree of Life” director Terrence Malick have changed his life.

And the backstage area exploded with enthusiasm when the cast of “The Help” – Emma Stone, Allison Janney, Viola Davis, Cicely Tyson, Ahna O’Reilly, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Mary Steenburgen – arrived to collect this year’s Hollywood Ensemble Award.

Will the winners go on to compete in this year’s Oscar contest? It’s very possible. There’s a reason the Hollywood Film Awards have been called the official launch of the awards season for the last 15 years.

But on this night, the gala also served as a celebration of some truly outstanding films, and the immensely talented people who work in front of the camera and behind the scenes to bring these works of art to audiences around the world. And for that, we thank them.

For complete Oscar and Film Festival coverage, visit our Awards Alley for the latest news items, reviews and interviews all season long.

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