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My Night at the Oscars, from the Red Carpet to the Governor’s Ball

My Night at the Oscars, from the Red Carpet to the Governor's Ball

It was mighty fun attending the Oscars as a guest, as opposed to standing on high heels with the print press off the red carpet or backstage simultaneously tracking the show and winners’ interviews. It’s been a while since I covered inside the Oscar show for Premiere and EW–back at the Shrine and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Indiewire colleague and Oscar virgin Peter Knegt, wearing a new tuxedo, and I opted to walk instead of driving. This required a police escort up Highland from Sunset to the red carpet entrance on Hollywood Boulevard. Sparkling big-haired Adele was behind us, wraith-like Anne Hathaway ahead.

The red carpet is like a strong river with currents pushing you forward past the parallel “real” red carpet, where the celebs such as best actress nominee Quvenzhane Wallis, presenter Octavia Spencer, Michael Haneke and MPAA chief Christopher Dodd were walking the press line. We ran into Alexander Payne, who likes to go every few years just for fun (next year “Nebraska” could be in play) and Fox Searchlight chief Nancy Utley, who was rooting for “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and “The Sessions” star Helen Hunt, who had won an Indie Spirit the day before.

While many security people warned me not to take pictures, I kept moving and ignored them, even trying to shoot Academy CEO Dawn Hudson, who shied away. I did get affable Universal chief Ron Meyer and his wife Kelly to pose.

Moving through the throng was friendly Jessica Chastain, with her grandmother; after the Oscars she looks forward to attending Fashion Week with her handsome boyfriend,  Italian fashion executive Gian Luca Passi de Preposul, as well as a trip to Milan, before starting the title role in Liv Ullman’s “Miss Julie.” Also passing by were Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jennifer Aniston, Amanda Seyfried (heading up the staircase) and Olivia Munn, who took my stepping on her train with good grace: it held firm, thankfully.

Inside the Dolby Theater, Peter and I arrived too late for the champagne; the Mezzanine was cordoned off due to a women’s room flood soaking the carpet. Hungry “A Royal Affair” star Mads Mikkelsen asked a waiter for a mini-burger, while Eddie Redmayne headed for the men’s room and I spilled caviar on my iPhone. Nice work if you can get it.

The Academy Awards brings out the top moguls: I saw not only usual suspects Tom Bernard of Sony Pictures Classics, who backed Oscar-winners “Amour,” and “Searching for Sugar Man,” and Working Title’s Tim Bevan, who produced winners “Les Miserables” and “Anna Karenina,” but Tim Burton (“Frankenweenie”), Lionsgate’s Rob Friedman, Paramount chairman Brad Grey, Disney’s Robert Iger, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes and recent Fox chairman Tom Rothman and his ex-boss, News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch, who were both rooting for Ang Lee’s global hit “Life of Pi.”

The Dolby Theatre boasts a vertiginous balcony, which also housed fellow journalists Manohla Dargis (The NYT) and The Wrap editrix Sharon Waxman. I inched my way in my high heels across a pitch-dark narrow ledge to my seat, afraid of slipping. The man sitting next to me, rooting for the “Skyfall” sound editing team (who eventually won an Oscar along with “Zero Dark Thirty” for the sixth tie in Oscar history), said that he’s a skier and was just as worried about falling. This meant that I was trapped in the middle of a long row for the entire evening–Peter did skip down to the lobby bar for a bit to check out the losers getting drunk. Later I ran into one woman who did fall and gashed her leg. Sober as a judge.

Producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron came onstage before the show to humbly request the winners to keep their speeches “lively but succinct,” knowing that they were courting length records with all their musical numbers. Sure enough, we enjoyed Oscars the Musical, even though the sound was a little strange–was it because the orchestra was piped in from the Capitol Records building? Clearly, the producers had an enormous show to mount with many moving parts; it was cool watching all the sets move in and out during the commercial breaks, and Mark Wahlberg standing next to an empty stool as the video bit with his stuffed Ted co-star unspooled behind him. He stepped up live in close-up to open the second award envelope.

Afterwards at the Governor’s Ball, an exhausted Zadan said they were aiming for three hours and a half but the tie cost them five minutes. Ex-Academy president Tom Sherak reminded that the show was nowhere near four hours–thank God. The reason for the length: the too-long opening bit with William Shatner (reacting live from a backstage set with earbuds in his ears) as well as several enjoyable song and dance numbers and the rousing “Les Miserables” ensemble. Zadan persuaded Hugh Jackman to do it first, who then approached Russell Crowe. 60 people were on that stage.

The Bond 50th anniversary celebration brought the magnificent Shirley Bassey, who earned a standing ovation when she hit that high note at the end of “Goldfinger.” It’s too bad Adele couldn’t follow with her Oscar-winning “Skyfall,” but they went straight to a commercial. The planned reunion of the Bonds didn’t happen because both Roger Moore and Sean Connery weren’t up for the trip, said Bond George Lazenby at the BAFTA nominee celebration Friday night in the British Consul’s garden in Hancock Park. (When I introduced him to Jared Harris, they shared tales of Jared’s father, legendary drinker Richard Harris.)

The music played well in the house, better than host Seth MacFarlane, who earned many audible groans and failed to engage with this audience; as offensive as he often was, the writing was weak and he wasn’t funny. While he can sing and dance and read a teleprompter, he actually hasn’t developed a real persona. MacFarlane was “serviceable,” said one attendee at the Governor’s Ball, while the closing number was in bad taste, everyone agreed, and made Neil Patrick Harris look really good.

The Academy insists on continuing to chase the young male demographic while alienating the core older audience that goes to see the nominees. Isn’t the Oscars supposed to be a celebration of the movies? I worry that the Academy will consider MacFarlane a success by virtue of an uptick in ratings, which were partly due to his appeal to the younger demo, but were more about the caliber and popularity of the many hits on display.

At the Governor’s Ball, when I asked Jennifer Lawrence why she fell, she said, “Look at this dress!” Quentin Tarantino forgave me for not picking him to win by planting a big wet one. Christoph Waltz admitted that in Austria, he used to lose awards–but not since he started working with Tarantino. Michael Feinstein in my humble opinion comes nowhere near last year’s Ball crooner, Tony Bennett.

After happy producer George Clooney got his Oscar engraved, he reminded me that “Argo” started winning awards at the Golden Globes and Critics Choice before the Academy’s Ben Affleck “snub.” In other words it might have won anyway. He was one of many bearded men at the Oscars–but his is for a role in his next directing gig, “Monuments Men,” which starts shooting in a few days in Europe– and could be a factor at next year’s Oscars.

At night’s end we checked out Fox’s dance party at Lure, where the “Beasts” contingent was dancing up a storm alongside all the “Life of Pi” winners. I hoisted an Oscar and was reminded of how heavy they are. Fox 2000’s Elizabeth Gabler was bone-weary after a decade-long fight to get the movie made and turn it into a worldwide hit heading for the $600 million mark. On my way out, Ang Lee arrived. He was smiling.

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