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And the Winner for Best Throng . . .

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Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 24, 2009; Page C01

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 23 The frantically tick-tapped texts we sent to ourselves in the wee hours this morning seem almost hallucinatory now, but, friends, we swear it happened just this way, as sure as we are now sitting in our white hotel bathrobes ordering French toast, trying to type it all up for you through puffy-eyed wonder. Where to begin?

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With Vanity Fair's Oscar after-party, of course, at about half past 11 p.m. here Sunday at the Sunset Tower Hotel. Adorable valets and doormen and sheriff's deputies gesture us . . . this way? Here? There? Around a hedge, and down a very short red-carpet assault of camera flashes. Taraji P. Henson squealing to one reporter (she changed since the ceremony -- should we have?), Anne Hathaway effusing to another (okay, she didn't change -- whew).

And then, approaching what we assume will be the usual rigorous inquisition of clipboard girls, comes a glorious moment of celeb traffic snarl!

Kate Winslet and Meryl Streep -- they meet. Streep's leaving, Winslet's arriving and, alas, there's only one statuette between 'em. They hug. Streep reaches over to caress Winslet's Oscar, swear to God, with a comic leer: "Let me hoooollld it for you." The photographers are near orgasm.

Excuse us, golden girls, can we get past? Yes, but for some reason we're going to have to knock over Martin Short and Debra Messing to do it. The director Sam Mendes, Winslet's husband, is pulling on his wife's arm -- the party's in here, in here. Frank Langella barrels into us, trying to get a better look. The next face we run into is Robert Downey Jr.'s. And is that Emile Hirsch talking to Kate Bosworth? Or just people who could be them?

It is real, all of it, but what we want most at this moment is our first drink. Barward, we are thrust against the hardened chest of Gerard Butler (King Leonidas from "300"). Thrust again. Thrust once more. We can't help it, buddy -- we are being pushed from behind by . . . Oliver Stone and his Just for Men eyebrows. It's a manwich. For some reason, Butler decides to go find his grog someplace else.

Arianna Huffington is having some sort of intense conversation with a barmaid in a "Love Boat" uniform. Now the bartender is involved. Rivers of Mo√ęt are needed instantly over at Arianna's nook. "Just wait a second while I handle this," the bartender pleads to us.

We're good -- just a little chardonnay, thanks. We're about to go attempt to touch Jason Bateman's big head, a lifelong dream. And a chipper hey-dude to Judd Apatow, scruffy slacker romantic -- loved the stoner movie during the Oscar ceremony! Where is that minx wife of yours, Leslie Mann? She seems like just the sort you want to stand near and make nice snark with.

Yes, they let us into this party, and no, it's not easy to get in here.

The guest list has been whacked by roughly half of what it was in prior years, down to its essential fizziness. Vanity Fair's party, the Oscar fete of the fated, has revived itself from a year off in 2008 (remember the writers' strike?). Graydon Carter, the mag's editor, is on hand to show generous recessionary courage. Nothing to fear but fear itself, and the sinking feeling that we've already missed seeing Madonna, Mick Jagger -- and Jon Hamm? Gone before we got here? We console ourselves with other nice moments: a nice how'do to the great Elvis Costello (with Diana Krall).

And here's the thing. They're all just standing around. Like you would. Trying to catch the bartender's eye, looking for someone to talk to. Bill Hader, one of those lanky "Saturday Night Live" guys, with a lot of eyebrow and bangs, is on the fringe of a hot-girl klatsch: a googly-eyed Zooey Deschanel with the willowy Hathaway.

"Hi, Anne!" Hader says with an awkward little wave, then stares into middle distance, as if nothing happened, when he doesn't get an immediate response. But then he's in, and they're talking, and then they're not, and he says to someone, "I need to go find my wife."


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