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Party On, Oscar
A Long Night of Rubbing Elbows, Raising Toasts, Drowning Sorrows

By William Booth and Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, March 7, 2006

LOS ANGELES, March 6

Sweetie, wake up. Weird dream we just had, gotta tell you about it, gotta figure out what it means , and like usual, Madonna was in it. It started normal -- the pre-show, all that cleavage and amazing dental work, then the show-show, and the cramped press dungeons of the Kodak Theatre, and that familiar sweatiness beneath our snug tuxedos, and finally, the cool night air and the party circuit.

We're on our way into Vanity Fair's wingding at Morton's on Melrose, past those sculpted topiaries spelling out "Vanity Fair" that we have come to love so, for they represent the cush life, and we notice that people are leaving, and it's not yet midnight, but that's how it always goes: Philip Seymour Hoffman is making a beeline for his ride. Reese and Ryan are waving goodbye, with that get-home-and-pay-the-babysitters look. (We heard they have, like, 16 on staff.) Then, right in front of our oafy faces: Madonna.

No, no, no, this isn't like the other Madonna dreams we told you about.

This one was reeeeeeeeeal. Understand that we are mostly blase about famous people, see 'em all the time, write chatty little profiles of them when their new moobies come out. We play it especially cool once we get behind a velvet rope. That's because famous people want you to be blase, they want you to pretend they're normal, and you oblige.

But Ma-freakin'-donna. C'mon. That's another level -- pope and Beatle-not-Ringo level. Even the most tippy-toppest celeb wranglers are atwitter. She and her husband, Guy Ritchie, came, saw, went. (She was heard to say "oy" after experiencing a press photobarrage going in, but that was the Esther talking.) And there they go, back out into the flashbulbs, toward a limo. She's wearing a pink party dress and that '70s curling-iron hairdo she's unfortunately fond of. We feel our knees buckle slightly. And we check a very big, decades-old item off our Things To Do list, one that's been on there since high school:

Come within four feet of Madonna.

Done and done.

And in!

In at VF -- where we are politely informed that we are extra-special lucky this year to be here because VF slimmed down the invite list -- by 500 names. (Total attendance was about 1,000.) That is a lot of hurt. But nature, as we know from watching the penguins, can be cruel. Still, if some had to suffer for more elbow room at the bar, so be it. The benefits are obvious: You can breathe. There's a nice peachy glow of light across the room. This party is where all P's are V and I. We easily acquire our much-needed drinkypoo.

Ah, the elbow room -- couches, couches everywhere! For the sprawling actress-kittens Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller. You think they look good standing up? You should see them lying down. Head spinning, we flop down and break the ice with John Leguizamo, you know, my, this couch is comfortable. "Don't I know, bro," he says. "Rest your dogs awhile." We begin to say how much we admire his character on "ER," yap, yap, yap. Then -- Tora! Tora! Tora! -- coming right at our couch, Jennifer Lopez, a vision wrapped in green, and we say a silent prayer: Please sit down. But she comes right up to Leguizamo and starts shooshing her chiffon gown back and forth and teasing him, baby, baby, let's dance.

And then it hits us: We are sitting next to Marc Anthony. That would be her husband.

We would be mortified, but we quickly realize that Anthony wasn't really paying attention to us -- why would he? -- so no harm, no foul, and we are no longer paying attention to him, because J-Lo is rolling hips that could launch a thousand ships and making marital pouty sexy faces. She wants to dance. For the love of God, man, dance with her.

But no. The Latin music sensation denies her.

Stunned, we go to fill our cups. But bump right into Stephen Gaghan.

Screenwriter-director of "Syriana," is that you? Great movie. Didn't exactly understand it. But fantastic, babe, all plot-twisty and Middle-Easty. But Stephen is not having it. "Four and a half years, man. Four and a half years." Of college? What? Then it dawns on us that he is disappointed he did not win for screenplay.

This is upsetting. VF shouldn't be about upsetting. So we feel better when we're suddenly standing next to Paul Haggis in the men's room (did we really follow him in there?) and congratulate the director for his victory for "Crash," and no, Haggis doesn't appear to find it creepy at all that we're having a nice little chat here, side by side. "This is just an amazing, amazing, amazing night," he says. "I just hope I remember it all."

Tell us about it. As the night wears on, our cocktail napkin scribbles become even more cryptic. For example: "Skoll Tall Dog." That one is relatively easy to decode the next morning after a plate of eggs, six cups of coffee and three aspirin. We were chatting up Jeffrey Skoll, the billionaire boy-genius co-founder of eBay who is now a movie-financing mogul, and naturally he introduced us to his stunning and brainy fiancee, who we noted in heels was about a foot taller than Jeffrey. What do you talk about with the fifth-richest Canadian in the world? Your dogs.

But try deciphering this chicken-scratch note to selves: "Hot Salman Hug Bana Smoke." Satanic novelist Salman Rushdie told us he was hot and needed some air but we let him go because we were watching Eric Bana, the top assassin in Steven Spielberg's "Munich," hug Joaquin Phoenix, aka Johnny Cash from "Walk the Line," who really can smoke a cigarette! We mean, the man enjoys it. But didn't seem to be drinking.

Because we are here to report that rumors of Phoenix's weird behavior were not borne out on Oscar night. He couldn't have been more coherent, more civil, more solicitous at the VF fete. When we expressed sympathy for his loss in the Best Actor category, he said no, no, no, don't shed a tear for him. He really enjoyed bonding this year with his fellow nominees -- as opposed to the year he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for "Gladiator" in 2001"when the only person I really ever talked to was Benicio del Toro."

Friendly as can be. Not as friendly was HBO talk show host Bill Maher, who took a timeout from excessive rump-rubbing of his date to huddle with his buds back by the Gents' like some truant schoolboy. Bill's mind just seemed elsewhere.

* * *

Fear not, party people, for we are legion, and we managed to not only be at VF but also up the street and around the corner at Elton, out behind the Pacific Design Center building in West Hollywood. (That would be the 14th annual Elton John Oscar-watching and aftergala, which raises money for AIDS research.) We get past a Tori Spelling/Carmen Electra traffic jam at the p'prazzi pool and have a looksee:

Mrs. David Furnish himself is up on stage at his trademark red piano when we arrive, jamming with John Legend. "Take it slow, take it slow," Legend sings, and we do: meander through the crowds and casually celeb hunt, getting momentarily distracted by the gargantuan food spread -- fried won tons, meats on sticks, dips and spreads, then another long buffet, all chafing dishes, filled with ravioli and eggplant, and then the dessert table with its mousse cups and pistachio torts. Why, this is no afterparty, it's Sizzler!

But put that potsticker down! This is Hollywood, child, we do not eat -- we drink. (Hungry? Then smoke.) We commiserate with another paper's reporter about boldface names we've missed already (John Waters and Patty Hearst are gone, as are the Flying Tomato and the pretty little ice skater.) We make a trip over to the "special" couches where Elton perches after his show. Macy Gray is in a texting moment; Chris Kattan is heading out. Pam Anderson and David LaChapelle are here again this year, and with them is Amanda Lepore, the New York transgender performer, appearing tonight as (you pick): Pam Anderson's grandmother or the Pam Anderson of the year 2025, beamed to us by time machine.

It's the lips. Lepore is a lip-injection junkie. And then you start to look around and realize what plastic surgery has wrought all over this room of L.A. people -- a sea of women with Duck Face, that curiously wrong tightening. Ever-present "Dancing With the Stars" has-been and is-again Lisa Rinna stands in the VIP zone. She is Duck Faced. And guess what? It no longer looks like an error. People want Duck Face.

That's our big contribution to the Elton John party. That, and George Lucas, protected from our fanboy urges, but looking completely bored out of his mind. No one talks to him. We would, if there weren't so many beefy security guards preventing it. We have very specific ideas about the next Indiana Jones movie: It's the Cold War, and sixty-something Indy, with his hunky Gyllenhaalesque son, goes to Argentina to find Hitler, who's still alive. (Tell us you love it. Call us at the Beverly Hilton.)

* * *

Back at VF, gaining on 2 a.m., things are waning, and one of us is giddy and one of us is glum. (One drunk, one tired.) They are playing '80 songs we loved in junior high -- .38 Special, and the Cars. We're find ourselves orbiting a happy herd of heavy-lidded heartthrobs: Jake Gyllenhaal, Matt Dillon, Peter Sarsgaard. Sacha Baron Cohen, aka "Ali G," is telling stories, and he has a big Band-Aid on his forehead but sneers at us when we ask why. Hilary Swank is a bubbly thing. Heidi Klum and Seal are having a little powwow with Jon Stewart and . . . well if it isn't Kyle MacLachlan.

Oscar-winning "Brokeback Mountain" screenwriter Diana Ossana, in a tight blue gown, kittens up to her sheepherding cowboys (mixed animal metaphor? Hello, we've been drinking?) and she has a long, serious conversation with Heath Ledger, and the only snippet we overhear is this: "He didn't even thank the cast," Ledger says.

This sounds like carping. Time to go.

We learned some things, too. We learned that the word "red" does not describe the holiday sunset of Amy Adams's hair. We learned that Weinsteins are friendlier when they're svelter. We learned that Adrien Brody, the ghost of "The Pianist" past, has excellent manners. We learned Nicole Kidman is still the best dressed and most poised woman in a room, though her teeth remain unnaturally small. We learned to love the French, with those plushy stuffed penguins. "March" producer Emmanuel Priou let us hold one, and you know what? We think with a little club soda and a napkin, that stain will come right off.

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