HOLLYWOOD, Feb. 25 -- Red carpet on Oscar night: We could use this right about now, as an antidote to all that In-N-Out-drive-thru-style rehab, all that unseemly live video feed from Florida courtrooms, all that breathless Britney weed-whack-a-doodle-do. Celebrities are such a bummer now, except here, at the ultimate prom. Who would have thought the walkup to the Academy Awards could do so much carbon offsetting from B-list pollutants?
How refreshing to see something as mannered and calm as Helen Mirren making her way through a more-mobbed-than-ever arrivals area on this dullish-gray afternoon. Dame Helen, in her ethereally beady Lacroix, says she's a typical Leo (astrological, not DiCaprio), "basking in the sunshine," and she looks skyward toward the blahs: "I'm British, so one doesn't really mind gray skies."
As for the pressure about being favored prior to her winning Best Actress for "The Queen"? (She's fine, Mirren says, but little does she know that those nasty people at E! channel are busily drawing all over her midsection with yellow marker on-screen, as a way of play-by-play commentary on her torso.) "You deal with it," she says about all the attention. "You know you've just got to live with it and go on with it."
Yes, bring on the stars who know how to persevere, in a place where only Best Supporting Actor winner Alan Arkin, Jackie Earle Haley, Best Actor winner Forest Whitaker and Jack Nicholson sport shaved heads, and refreshingly uncomplicated famous people make their way down that plush-pile boulevard with nary a breakdown, crash-up, arrest or 911 call. Upon seeing a close-up of nominee Penelope Cruz's dewy, glowing mug, thousands of women all over the world surely had this simultaneous and deeply felt thought: Who is her facialist and how can I get that number?
Here we debate nothing more salacious than whether Best Supporting Actress Jennifer Hudson spent the past two weeks living by Evian alone. She's poured into a chocolate Oscar de la Renta and a silver shrug jacket -- "It's my little bit of Effie," she says, referencing her "Dreamgirls" character -- and then she absolutely flips for a chance to meet acting nominee Will Smith's son and co-star, Jaden.
Father and son are in line behind Hudson. "He was asleep about 10 minutes before we left," Smith says of Jaden. "This is the kind of day where it's about Mommy. We just get dressed and stay out of Mommy's way."
It's as if we're getting ready to go into a National Merit Scholars induction. Everyone's an honor-roll kid, mulling over their application essay about post-consumer plastics and conflict-free diamonds. Bring on the nerds! Bring that "Little Miss Sunshine" girl, all pretty-prettied-up in pink! Bring out your earnest Mexican auteurs. Bring out your Blanchett, your sense of dame! Bring out your responsible mommies. Bring anything but your personal drama!
Bring on Al and Tipper!
"I never thought I would go to the Oscars," former vice president Al Gore says, all duded out in Ralph Lauren, with a beaming Tipper Gore, in a chocolate satin Bill Blass gown with mint-green trim. Gore, whose "An Inconvenient Truth" took home an Oscar, remembers one year he wanted to congratulate an old college chum (um, Al, do you mean Tommy Lee Jones?) on an Oscar win, so he called from Air Force Two and tried to get put through backstage "and I couldn't even get through. I told them who I was and the guy backstage said, 'Sure, buddy.' "
Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio explained during the awards show that Oscar producers, working with the National Resources Defense Council, have done soooo much to reduce the environmental drain that this event can have on the planet. According to the NRDC, the Academy purchased the offset equivalent of 178 megawatt hours of electricity to lessen the impact of the telecast, red-carpet arrivals and all that other primping, pushing, shoving, squealing, klieg-lighting and hair-straightening can have on greenhouse gas emissions. (Somehow it all works out. Celebrities, who once wanted something so simple as the brown M&M's removed from the candy bowl, now want to know that wherever they go, they aren't leaving carbon footprints.)
More than 300 hybrid vehicles were dropping off stars at the Kodak Theatre.er. This included the debut of the $92,000 electric Tesla roadster, which DiCaprio and George "Swooney" Clooney have already ordered. There was also a backstage greenroom (get it? "green room"?) where presenters would wait amongst eco-friendly wallpaper and carpet made of PET plastics and end tables fashioned from rapidly replaced trees, and sofas that, we are absolutely assured, won't be thrown away Monday, as is often the fate of party furniture, but instead enjoy a nice afterlife as recycled sofas upon which will sit lesser humans.
A-list Hollywood is eating off real dishes this night, and so is the crew, and so, too, the complete wastoids in the press room, to cut down on paper and plastic waste. Wolfgang Puck is giving all the uneaten, ultra-organic Oscar nosh from the Governor's Ball to a food bank. (Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub!) The single-stream waste from the event is going to be meticulously sorted and recycled.
All of which no doubt makes you feel so much better about the real reason we stand on the red carpet: To knock what's worn (Sally Kirkland, we love you but not your visible nipples. "Here's my card," she says. "Give me one of yours." And we can honestly say we don't have one on us); or to decide whose loveliness on this night is still incandescent, in an age of fluorescence. Nominee Meryl Streep, dressed in simple black with a red necklace, joked on the red carpet that, yes, she's been nominated 14 times and that's great because she's "a size 14." (We missed that remark, sorry -- too busy ogling us some very nice Gosling.) Peter Sarsgaard and Maggie Gyllenhaal "mahvelled" at how nice the red carpet can be when you get there early, which they did. "I'm always late," Gyllenhaal says, in a midnight-blue Proenza-Schouler gown. "But today, they just shoved me out the door." (She means her handlers, her primpers, her nanny.) "It's great," Saarsgard said. "We beat the crowd."
Keep in mind how much of their own wattage the stars have burned already during a jampacked Oscar week, with an emphasis on hyper-exclusive, no-press-allowed bashes up one Beverly hill and down another: Friday there was the Creative Artists Agency party at mega-agent Bryan Lourd's house, and the real-life "Entourage" scene at Endeavor agency partner Ari Emanuel's Brentwood house. Saturday was Barry Diller's gourmet picnic lunch on his back lawn, and/or the ever-growing Film Independent's Spirit Awards on the beach in Santa Monica.
Then, for an exclusive 350-or-so late that afternoon (say, if you were once or currently are Mrs. Tom Cruise), there was the Giorgio Armani Privé couture fashion show at billionaire Ron Burkle's house. (Armani drifted past on the carpet and was asked whom he was rooting for to win Best Picture. He demurred, saying "No comment" in Italian.) All of it driven to, parked at, primped for -- contestant energy spent, the planet and the size-double-zero actresses getting hotter all the time. All that combustible-engine idling in valet lines, all those trimmed hedges, all that leaf blowing, all that tan spraying, all those chilled catering trucks grumbling their Freon into the sky -- all that buzz, getting loopy now on the exhaust fumes of fame.
So much happens at once out here: Beyoncé and Gwyneth share a private whisper. Larry David says he's looking forward to the moment "where I take out my first candy bar." Gael Garcia Bernal is wearing a very ratty pair of Doc Martens with his tux. Kevin O'Connell, who did the sound mixing for "Apocalypto," is here for his 19th nomination (he later would lose for the 19th time), and still thinks he should have gotten an Oscar for the jets in "Top Gun."
Then, as ever, the Kate Winslet moment of utter clarity: The nominee appears in a sea foam green Valentino, forever honest and unflappable and real. Her daughter suggested the dress color while eating mint ice cream, and wanted her mum to be able to dance in it, "because she thinks people dance at the Oscars."
People do, in a way -- or their stomachs do. "About an hour ago," Winslet says, "I wasn't so calm. I thought I was going to throw up." She gives us every assurance, for now, that she won't.