Hollywood Kicks Off Awards Season

Talk about early: More than four months before the Oscars, a slew of movie stars kicked off the movie-award season by gathering for the Hollywood Awards.

"It seems to be the basic principle of this award is that you give it to a movie you haven't seen yet," best director Sam Mendes ("Jarhead") joked with AP Television at Monday night's closing gala for The Hollywood Film Festival.

"It came as a lovely surprise to me," Mendes said, "and I think it's great for us because the movie is just about to come out, we want people to know about it, so we're here and we're blowing the trumpet loud."

Joaquin Phoenix was named actor of the year for his work in "Walk the Line," the upcoming film biography of country music legend Johnny Cash. Charlize Theron won the actress award for her portrayal of a working-class hero in the drama "North Country."

Theron is no stranger to awards, earning an Oscar and a case full of other trophies for her performance in the 2003 drama "Monster."

"They're all different, you know," she said. "This is nice because it's local, and I think we need more of that kind of local support here. I think we've become very much about ... being the moneymaking machine, and it's nice to kind of take a moment and look at the year's work and celebrate the filmmakers and the actors."

Other honorees included Diane Keaton for lifetime achievement and Rachel McAdams ("The Family Stone") and Jake Gyllenhaal ("Jarhead") for "breakthrough" performances.

Actress Jennifer Aniston, 36, introduced Gyllenhaal, 24, with whom she co-starred in the 2002 indie hit "The Good Girl." "I like to think of myself as his Mrs. Robinson," Aniston joked.

The many principals of the drama hit "Crash" were named best ensemble.

"Star Wars" mastermind George Lucas was there to present the visual effects award to longtime colleague Dennis Muren. With the "Star Wars" films finally put to bed, Lucas said he's now busy working on a "Star Wars" TV series.

"It's animated," Lucas explained. "It's about the Clone Wars. It's got all our characters fighting the dreaded Federation. And at the same time I'm working on 'Indiana Jones' and I'm working on a film called, 'Red Tail,' which is about African-American fighter pilots."'

Besides Aniston, show presenters included Jodie Foster, Keanu Reeves, Goldie Hawn, Geena Davis and Halle Berry.

The Hollywood Awards are not televised — a plus, according to Berry.

"I love that it's an awards show that's just for us to come together and talk to each other," she said. "I think it's nice to have a film festival in Hollywood, where it all generates from. That feels really good."