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Things I Learned On the Awards Party Circuit

Things I Learned On the Awards Party Circuit

On Oscar night I started on the red carpet —taking pictures, grabbing video interviews and tweeting madly–and then repaired to the interview room to listen to the show and backstage Q and As (transcripts here). After the best picture winners for The King’s Speech had wrapped up, I walked over to the Governor’s Ball just as Nicole Kidman and husband Keith Urban were leaving, heading down the escalator; the trio of winning producers, Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin, posed for me with their Oscars.

Inside the entrance, waiters were serving Moet Chandon and there was a spread of sushi and giant seafood on ice: shrimp, oysters and crab legs. Inside the huge ballroom, folks were seated at tables and booths, dining on vegan paella as waiters served Oscar-shaped salmon.

Retiring Academy chief Bruce Davis told me and The Wrap’s Steve Pond that the show was on the short side, three hours and ten minutes. It hasn’t been this short since 2005. They didn’t have any dance numbers and had several presenters give out more than one award, which saved time, as well as cutting the best actor and actress presentations back to one person. He’ll throw the Sandra Bullock-as-host idea into the hopper before he leaves in June.

Anne Hathaway ran into the ballroom to grab a glass of champagne, then out to meet the photographers again. Warner Bros. execs Dan Fellman and Sue Kroll were tickled at their four Inception wins. Kroll hugs Mark Wahlberg, then greets Amy Adams, whose form-fitting gown is almost the same azure blue as hers.

True Grit director Joel Coen was ready to get back to work in New York with brother Ethan on whipping into shape some of their scripts that have been collecting dust. He was sorry that cinematographer Roger Deakins lost after nine nominations. We agreed that Inception was on a scale that was tough to beat. Black Swan‘s Darren Aronofsky said that I owe him a signed $20 bill for a bet we made back at the New York premiere about Portman winning the Oscar. I promised to deliver. He introduced his director of photography, Spirit-winner Mattie Libatique, to Coen. Libatique and I fondly recalled serving on the Sundance jury with John Waters.

I wandered over to the Sony Pictures Classics table, where Michael Barker ribbed me for backing off doc winner Inside Job at the last minute, in front of Charles Ferguson, who said he wants to do a thriller next. He was trying to decide whether to dance at Elton John or drink at Vanity Fair.

Foreign branch chair Mark Johnson continued to argue that his convoluted committee system is necessary to keep foreign countries guessing what Oscar voters are going to like–left to their own devices the few older folks who vote, who have the time to see enough of the films, tend toward the heart-tugging mainstream. At Saturday’s foreign symposium, members got to hear the filmmaker behind controversial Dogtooth–voted in by Johnson’s cross-section committee, not foreign branch members at large– defend his movie, and seemed satisfied, Johnson said.

Sony’s Sir Howard Stringer was hanging with The Social Network‘s Jesse Eisenberg and The Wolfman‘s seven-time Oscar winner, Rick Baker, who knows that his prosthetic makeup techniques are a dying art. I sat down at an empty table to watch Academy members salsa dance to Tito Puente, Jr.’s band, playing on a revolving stage. A waiter told me that Aaron Sorkin left as soon as he had his Oscar engraved, and that David Fincher never showed. The champagne was mine.

Heading toward the coat check, I hung out with fellow journos Anthony Breznican and Geoff Boucher. We agreed that the show was flat. I followed Jeff Bridges and entourage out as they picked up their Academy swag and headed toward the valet; I bit the head off a gold chocolate Oscar. It was good. I walked down Hollywood Boulevard to the Fox Searchlight party, where staffers who’ve been working their heads off for months on 127 Hours and Black Swan were partying down to a rockin’ femme DJ. I joined in.

Pre-Oscar parties started off Thursday night with Roadside Attractions’ Soho House fete celebrating Oscar nominees Biutiful (two) and Winter’s Bone (four). Last year’s Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow, who has championed Winter’s Bone, towered over the diminutive writer-director Debra Granik. Bigelow, who doesn’t care for public speaking, although she had to get used to it last year, was girding herself to present best director Sunday, following Academy tradition, but was less worried about doing a rehearsed presentation bit.

Javier Bardem was in good spirits. It’s worth noting that back in May when the film debuted to mixed reaction at Cannes, things were looking less upbeat for Biutiful, which wasn’t seeing much interest from buyers. What a difference a good distributor makes. Even now, with one Oscar win behind him and another nomination, Bardem worries about his next job. He says it’s the state of all actors. And he’s very happy about his new baby at home. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu was also in fine fettle, acting out the magic wattage that major actors such as Bardem, Brad Pitt (Babel) and Sean Penn (21 Grams) deliver in a camera close-up. Producer Jon Kilik is upbeat about possible franchise Hunger Games. Casting will be key.

Roadside is on the upswing. The Lionsgate-partnered indie did well acquiring movies at Sundance, including The Music Never Stops, Margin Call, HBO’s Project Nim and Miranda July’s The Future. Co-heads Howard Cohen and Eric D’Arbeloff know that they must capitalize on this wind in their sails.

Tom Hooper was still working the room at IFC’s rooftop party on hopping Sunset Boulevard. IFC unaccountably moved away from their post-Spirits bash at Shutters to this inevitably smaller and less lustrous affair. The other one gets the captive, rowdy Spirits audience (this year they held a smaller party for Film Independent patrons). Friday I kept my head low in advance of the weekend and ventured out Saturday night post-Spirit Awards to HBO’s annual documentary celebration at the Four Seasons. Gasland‘s Josh Fox is still fighting the fight against the gas companies, and director Lucy Walker explained how she masterminded Waste Land, generously giving co-director credit to local shooters.

Later that night the Weinsteins hosted an elegant fete at Soho House, on a grander scale than Roadside’s. The high points: a chat with Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter, who figured she was three down in the supporting actor race. Burton’s prepping Dark Shadows for a summer start; like me, he was addicted to the vampire soap opera as a kid, running home from school to watch Barnabas Collins and Angelique every weekday afternoon.

Colin Firth admitted that he doesn’t want to make any decisions about what roles to do next until he can think clearly. Now is not the time, he said. Charming David Seidler struck a similar note, although he has two true stories working, the female Lawrence of Arabia, who organized the Arab bedouin tribes 100 years before, and the 1940 secret Olympic Games that were held in Nuremberg the year the Tokyo games were canceled; the Germans never knew. Bob Weinstein is optimistic that after he delivers Spy Kids 4, Robert Rodriguez will come around to the sequel Sin City 2, at long last. I met the Weinsteins’ diminutive mother Miriam and Harvey’s two teen daughters; stars on hand included Leo DiCaprio, Kate Beckinsale, Adrien Brody, Emma Stone and Bradley Cooper.

Ex-Lionsgate exec Sarah Greenberg is now running PR for TWC out of New York; she and production president Donna Gigliotti (who is producing Doug McGrath and Aline Brosh McKenna’s adaptation of the novel I Don’t Know How She Does It with Sarah Jessica Parker, Greg Kinnear, Pierce Brosnan and Christina Hendricks) are working inside a tighter ship than before, when the Weinsteins were rolling in cash. The danger, as the Weinsteins return from the shoals of debt with a big Oscar-winning smash, is that Harvey’s impulsive buying and voracious appetite will return. On the other hand, those instincts served him well with Blue Valentine and The King’s Speech. The party vibe was definitely: “We’re back.”

In the swift transition from Golden Globes to Sundance, I never finished writing up my Golden Globes party coverage. Better late than never.

That weekend started with a Thursday night party at the Sunset Tower for Globe nominee I Am Love with Tilda Swinton and a gang of Venice Film Fest folks. I talked Trailers from Hell with Joe Dante and Elizabeth Stanley; it’s a must-visit site crammed not only with great vintage trailers painstakingly tracked down by Dante, but solid intro essays by folks like Josh Olson and Allan Arkush. The high point: Venice juror Quentin Tarantino–ever generous–running through what he liked about Animal Kingdom with Australian director David Michod, who was thrilled. Michod is weighing his options—like any director in his position, it’s a question of picking the right thing for him–not for other folks.

Friday night brought the Broadcast Film Critics Choice Awards; I was sitting on the main floor at Paramount’s Waiting for Superman table, with Davis Guggenheim, Elizabeth Shue, John Legend and Participant CEO Jim Berk. On the left were True Grit‘s Matt Damon, Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld, on the right, The Fighter, which won supporting actor (Christian Bale) and actress (Melissa Leo) and ensemble. One sour note at the Critics Choice was not giving out the award for best song: in case they missed the perfunctory announcement, 127 Hours winner A.R. Rahman personally informed his fellow nominees John Legend (Waiting for Superman) and Trent Reznor (The Social Network), who were prepared to go onstage. On the way out I greeted Steven Spielberg, who kindly said, “I like your blog.” It made my night.

At the after-party at Siren Studios, Toy Story 3‘s Michael Arndt admitted that he’s going solo again and will reclaim his New York apartment as he writes up several ideas that have been cooking to see what speaks to him. He also–no surprise–wants to direct. Andrew Stanton has spent his career at Pixar and isn’t going anywhere; he has branched out to live action with Disney’s John Carter of Mars, a live-action Edgar Rice Burroughs adventure (as a kid I loved his entire Tarzan series and Martian novels) which is so packed with VFX (not done by Pixar) that he still has time to do his day job and look at the effects at night. “I can’t wait to see it,” I said. “You’ll just have to wait,” Stanton said, although the movie has been pushed up to March 9, 2012 instead of June. Small consolation.

At Saturday’s Spirit Awards brunch I reintroduced myself to Restrepo‘s Tim Hetherington (pictured), who’s going back to Afghanistan in March along with co-director Sebastian Junger for Vanity Fair. I wished the Winter’s Bone gang (pictured) luck, and had a long talk with Focus’s James Schamus on how the economics of Universal’s Focus Features may change under Comcast’s ownership.

Later at the BAFTA brunch at the Four Seasons, I talked to Ben Affleck about the same question of how to follow up a hit, but at another level–Warners and several studios are trying to lure him (he turned down Superman) and he wants to do what he wants to do. But do you walk away from the bird in the hand? It’s hard. He knows he came out ahead on The Town by keeping costs down. Had Warners made The Town with Adrian Lyne it would have cost $90 million.

Harvey Weinstein has moved on from failing to buy back Miramax, named after his parents, saying that the new Miramax has an amazing library to exploit on their new digital model. Biographer A. Scott Berg talked to the regal Claire Bloom, who was frightening as Bertie’s mum in The King’s Speech. The Social Network producer Scott Rudin congratulated King’s Speech screenwriter David Seidler and greeted his True Grit star Jeff Bridges, who clearly feels more comfortable talking to Affleck.

A very skinny Andrew Garfield says it was hard to get the gigs in all his films, including Spider-Man. Never Let Me Go was too profound and hard to watch for most folks, he says. He’s quite proud of it. Vinny Jones of TV’s The Cape hugged James Frain of Tron: Legacy. Aaron Sorkin wanted to direct The Social Network before David Fincher came on board. He’s setting out to direct now. Lawrence of Arabia editor Ann Coates sits in a wheelchair by the door.

Saturday brought Disney’s small-scale pre-Globes party, where studio chief Rich Ross and production head Sean Bailey revealed that they were going to talent scout at Sundance and other world film festivals.

At Paramount’s fab pre-Globes party at the Chateau Marmont, The Fighter‘s Mark Wahlberg and David O. Russell rubbed shoulders with True Grit‘s Ethan Coen and Josh Brolin and wife Diane Lane. Jeremy Renner worked as a makeup artist for a decade, he tells TOH’s Sophia Savage, who I introed to Coen and Paramount execs Rob Moore, Adam Goodman and Brad Grey, who were all smiles at the surprise scale of True Grit‘s success. Kimberly Pierce is moving to HBO like everyone else; and director Larry Cohen, still mourning his sister Ronni Chasen, remembers shooting Q Is Missing at my old Manhattan apartment across 110th Street.

I always park at the Sunset 5 and walk over to the Marmont–on the way out Guggenheim and Shue, Julie Delpy and others were complaining about how long they had been waiting.

I took my college daughter Nora, home for the holidays, to the Searchlight Golden Globes viewing party, where we met astronaut Buzz Aldrin, oogled the cast of Glee, and checked out Anne Hathaway’s backless dress up close. We admitted to Mark Heyman, one of the writers of Black Swan, that I’ve stopped calling Nora “my sweet girl.” At the Weinsteins party we ended up in a monumental crush wedged between 50 Cent, Colin Firth, Jennifer Lopez and Mark Wahlberg.

As ever, Universal had better music and easier talking but fewer celebs. At HBO, with its splendid poolside decor, we met THR’s Tim Appelo, Lea Thompson and Howie Deutch, Paul Giamatti, and ace editor Leo Trombetta (Temple Grandin). A member of the Hollywood Foreign Press told me that Robert DeNiro behaved badly on the show because they didn’t meet all his swag demands. At the Warner/InStyle party, which was decorated with huge Godiva chocolate displays, dancers took off their shoes and let it rip, late into the night. On the way out, the hosts gave out little packages with fold-up ballet flats. On the way back to the shuttle, most of the women had shed their killer stiletto heels.

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