Blinded by the sight: Post-Oscars, Vanity Fair's Sunset party brings out stars

By Amy Argetsinger and Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, March 9, 2010; C01

HOLLYWOOD -- The stars are in high-def 3-D smell-o-vision tonight, reeking of tobacco, sporting a sweaty sheen, squirming in a pileup of breasts, buttocks and best wishes. In the Terrace Room of the Sunset Tower Hotel, actors and show-biz types mosh toward the champagne, hoping to recapture whatever twisted high comes from watching their peers win and lose chunks of gold-plated hardware. In the dimness, it's hard to tell what's real and what's a special effect engineered by one's addled, over-Oscared mind.

Did both Macaulay Culkin and one of the Jonas brothers just spew cigarette smoke directly in our faces? Yes. Is that Kid Rock creeping in the corner, biting into an apple, alone? Yes. Did Jamie Foxx's velvet-blazered shoulders caress our chest as he inched his way past us? Yes. And yes, that is Jane Fonda perched on a suede settee, and, yes, she has just peeled off her fake eyelashes and dropped them into her handbag. Pluck, pluck. Plunk, plunk. Don't need special glasses to see the exquisite, unexceptional details of soft-partying stars. A spot on the guest list for Vanity Fair's after-party will do.

Oscars are so plentiful here in the Sunset Tower that they might as well be party favors. They rest on tabletops like abandoned cocktails. They're clutched and smooched by random people who weren't even nominated. Interlopers worship stars. Stars worship golden idolettes. It's church time on Sunset Boulevard. Let us borrow the profound cadence that Mo'Nique has perfected this awards season.

Lord. We ask. That one day. A talented woman. Will win. Best Director. And deserve it.

Prayers answered. Kathryn Bigelow, director of "The Hurt Locker," holds court on the terrace as a tangerine crescent moon floats up from the twinkly skyline. With the king of the world dethroned only hours before, the former Mrs. James Cameron seems ironically Na'vi-esque in stature: proud, substantial, at least 6-3 in heels, bare biceps quivering from arm-curling her two Oscars.

"She's tall," whispers one woman.

"She's beautiful," another says.

"Hurt Locker" star Anthony Mackie pops out of a clot of tuxedos so he can headlock both his director and writer-producer Mark Boal. "I wanna make out with you guys," Mackie bellows. They settle for a group photo instead.

Can you feel the love? An affection epidemic throbs to the beat of disco funk. Ce-le-brate good times, c'mon. Music-wise, you'd think this was a wedding reception in Dayton, Ohio, but visually it's Annie Leibovitz on uppers: white roses, walls of hedges, silver platters of red velvet cupcakes, flattering lighting, mirrors everywhere. Everyone swims through a gauzy haze, with a cool breeze wafting in from the terrace.

Out front on Sunset Boulevard, A-listers step gingerly out of black vehicles and are greeted by their randy public. Charlize, J-Lo, Ryan Reynolds, Katy Perry and Russell Brand whip gawkers into a frenzy. And yet, Lauren Bacall -- legend, icon, winner of an honorary Oscar, patron saint of sultry smarts in the movies -- hoists herself from a car onto the curb and passes by unnoticed. Nary a cheer or genuflection. This would have been merely curious instead of sad, had Suzanne Somers not pulled up behind her and elicited squeals of adoration.

* * *

We're outnumbered, outflanked. Enter the Sunset Tower at 11:30 p.m. and behold: The density of star power feels crushing. Immediately, there is Patricia Clarkson stuck in the dark corner by the ladies' room. Then Arianna Huffington, Sigourney Weaver, George Hamilton, bam-bam-bam. Kanye's here, taller than expected, smilier than expected, with a big diamond stud in his ear. Spike Lee has decided this is the night to wear a bedazzled beret.

The party is so jammed that everyone is caught in perpetual motion. Knees knock over glasses of pinot. Trains of dresses are trampled and torn. Cigarettes singe the backs of hands. Burn, baby, burn -- disco inferno! Get out of the way, abs of Taylor Lautner! You're blocking the view of the Collins sisters, Joan and Jackie, who have staked out a banquette in the name of vintage Hollywood.

Snowboarder Shaun White, wearing American-flag leggings and sporting two wingmen, wraps an arm around Jodie Foster as someone begs them for a photo. Hilary Swank occupies the red-hot gravitational center of the room with Mariska Hargitay. The two of them seem to be body-blocking young Carey Mulligan, but then Jeremy Renner walks up and embraces her like she's a long-lost sister.

"So great, so great," she murmurs in his arms. The lullaby of Hollywood. You were so great. So great.

The cameras hover while Renner transfers his hug to Sean Penn. And here's what blows the mind: We suddenly realize that Renner and Penn may be the only two men of a certain age at this party (in this city?) with horizontal lines in their foreheads. All the others are either especially tranquil or thoroughly Botoxed. We could be wrong, but even Peter Sarsgaard, Maggie Gyllenhaal's droopy-eyed paramour, seems a bit too smooth for 39.

Speculation spills over as freely as the Mo√ęt. Tim Robbins chats up blonde after blonde, and our thoughts go to him and Susan Sarandon on past nights like this. Robert Downey Jr. bends to kiss his wife's belly, and we wonder, "Baby?" Meryl Streep, draped in a dazzling white gown and apologetic for her martini breath, greets Chevy Chase, who responds by bellowing "Powerful!" while pinching and wiggling the skin of his neck. But we may have misconstrued what was said and done. It's hard to hear above "Jive Talkin' " and "It's Raining Men," but random, unconnected scraps of conversation are gettable.

"I just wanted to take advantage of the world in front of me," says Best Actress nominee Gabourey Sidibe of "Precious" to an affirming cluster of people. Meanwhile, Alec Baldwin is gleefully recounting a story ("She goes, 'You'll never get to touch her' "), and Nick Jonas fuels a separate debate by interjecting, "Don't tell me about that. You weren't there for 9/11." We think we hear advance word of a party at Madonna's, but it could be wishful thinking goosed by preparatory consumption of an energy drink.

Shortly after midnight, Sandra Bullock arrives, takes over, strikes an oops-how-did-I-get-this? pose with Oscar, as if "The Net" never happened. The galaxy explodes in camera flashes. She pulls husband Jesse James into a photo booth and then cackles when the goofy pictures come out. Meanwhile, her "Speed" co-star Keanu Reeves chats up Somers, who's everywhere we turn. There she is at the bar. Here she is telling "Precious" screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher that his acceptance speech was "the emotional moment of the year."

Across the room, feature documentary winner and former District resident Louie Psihoyos of "The Cove" tells us what he would've said if he hadn't been played off by the orchestra.

"I was going to say the oceans are in peril," Psihoyos says. "Everything from whales to plankton, which provides the oxygen that's in this room right now."

Smothered by Somers? We need more plankton!

* * *

A pair of wallflowers stands in the southeast corner of the terrace. The woman looks like Ellen Barkin, but her face is pulled tight as a trampoline, past the point of easy recognition.

"Let's go over there," her date says, pointing to the opposite end of the room. "It feels like we've been in this spot a while."

It does indeed. The Oscar telecast is replaying on a flat-screen near the terrace bar. Once was enough, and after 1:30 a.m. everything seems redundant. The same stars keep bumping into us. (We said that's enough, Brendan Fraser.) But then a gust of fresh air, followed by a cascade of silvery locks and a hailstorm of "hey, mans" and "groovies." Jeff Bridges has ambled into the room with his gorgeous wife. Everyone slides into El Duderino's orbit. His aura feels nice, earned, fatherly, good, but the feeling evaporates when he departs.

After 2 a.m., the bartenders run out of clean tumblers. Then they're out of ginger ale. Someone's emptied their vodka into a bowl of nuts. The white marble floor in the main room is slicked with spilled drinks, and the carpet on the terrace is strewn with swizzle sticks. Black feathers and crumpled In-N-Out burger wrappers litter the ground. The cummerbund is riding up. The event's winding down. Rachel McAdams and Ben Stiller realize they're too famous to be seen in the dying stages of a party, so they scoot. And so do we, back to the starchy embrace of our hotel beds, planning to knock on Madonna's door in our dreams.

Staff writer Jen Chaney contributed to this report.

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