The first big get of the season is Forest Whitaker being honored for the Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence for the upcoming Santa Barbara Film Fest. The fest is always in the best position — just before the Oscar race starts in full. Whitaker’s work in Lee Daniels’ The Butler is among the year’s best in a very competitive year for Best Actor. They haven’t announced presenters yet but Oprah Winfrey lives in Santa Barbara. From the press release: Santa Barbara, CA – The Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s eighth annual KIRK DOUGLAS AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN FILM will be presented to Academy Award-winning actor FOREST WHITAKER. Guests will gather to celebrate his achievements at a black-tie Gala dinner at Bacara Resort & Spa in Santa Barbara on Sunday, December 15, 2013. In the tradition of the award, top-name presenters will be revealed closer to the event. “Forest Whitaker is an exceptional man and actor. His commitment to human causes, his passion for what is right, and his dedication to his craft are inspirational and at my age, inspiration is rare,” commented Kirk Douglas. Whitaker is in exceptional company, joining previous recipients Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Quentin Tarantino, Ed Harris, John Travolta and Kirk Douglas. Whitaker brings an authentic realism to each of his performances. Often referred to as a ‘gentle giant,’ Whitaker has the ability to get under our skin, guiding the audience through every character he embodies, making him one of the most versatile performers of all time. This promises to be an exciting year for Whitaker. He most recently portrayed Cecil Gaines, a butler at the White House serving eight presidents during his tenure in Lee Daniels’ The Butler, opposite Oprah Winfrey; he will grace the screen in Out of the Furnace, opposite Christian Bale; and he will also be seen in his first musical, Black Nativity, opposite Jennifer Hudson and Angela Bassett. In addition, Forest is the founder of LA-based Significant Productions, where he served as a producer on Fruitvale Station, which won the 2013 Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Forest made his directorial debut with Strapped, for which he won the International Critics Award at the Toronto Film Festival. He has directed and executive produced popular classics including Waiting to Exhale, Hope Floats and First Daughter. He’s produced numerous award-winning films and has executive produced several made-for-television movies and miniseries, most notably, Door to Door in 2002, for which he earned an Emmy Award. Other notable films include The Last Stand, Where the Wild Things Are, The Great Debators, Phone Booth, Panic Room, Pret-a-Porter, The Crying Game, A Rage in Harlem, Good Morning, Vietnam, Platoon, The Color of Money, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and countless others.