LOS ANGELES, Feb. 26
Bar. Bar. Bar. We claw onto a corner spot like exhausted little flying squirrels, keen for a drink. Then our radar blips. Oscar!
There is a statuette, just sitting there on the counter, and we begin to pet it, nice kitty, nice kitty, and a bulk of tux turns and we are face-to-face with William Monahan, winner for Best Adapted Screenplay for transforming the Hong Kong crime thriller "Infernal Affairs" into "The Departed."
Monahan is hairy, scary. William, we loved your "valium does work" bit in the acceptance speech, and Monahan says, "It was just a line, man. I didn't have any." Not like we were trying to score a pill, not us. "You can touch it," Monahan says. "Just don't drop it." (Whoops.)
Now deeper, not just in but all the way in -- keep on going as far as you can into Vanity Fair's post-Oscar party at Morton's. Yes, yes, there's Gwen Stefani, that's very nice, the hair in a chignon, but now focus. Keep pushing forward through the sinewy throngs. Rub your chest against Kyle MacLachlan's and try not to think eww and place your hand gently, too briefly, on Naomi Watts's bare shoulder as a gesture of pardon-me-Miss and go ahead and think ahhhh.
Work your way past Jennifer Hudson (God, she's happy) and the helpful man apparently designated to hold the train of her dress all night (is this the boyfriend of eight years we hear so much about but never see?). Trip over something short and up-past-bedtime and hope against hope it isn't cute little Abigail Breslin, or Jaden Smith, or a wee documentarian. Bypass even our one shot to buttonhole Leo DiCaprio and figure out once and for all if he's just bad at chitchat or really is, as one wag remarked, "a human rain delay." Back to the farthest corner of the farthest room . . .
Feel the air get sharper?
Friend, you have entered the Oprahsphere.
She could buy and sell everyone in this room, and that is why everyone is making their way back to see her. She is sitting on a sofa as far away from the party entrance as you can get, in her black gown accented with ribbonlike rainbow stripes, surrounded by people who just need to see her, touch her, perchance to receive beneficent hugs from her. Forest Whitaker remains in the Oprahsphere most of the night. So does John Travolta. Tyra Banks, positively Amazonian around so many bony celebs, moves about in a dangerously tight red gown. We get as close as we can and wave to Orpah Winfrey like old friends.
She waves back.
All is validated.
And to think we were worried this year, all these Vanity Fair parties later. The giant ficus walls, the airborne heli-razzis, the looky-loos screaming from the street to be let in. The telltale whiff of doobage and the inevitable Bill Maher joke that follows. The twiggy actresses conspicuously eating, perhaps trying to convince us that they do actually feed. The same old finger-point-hey-ya from Vince Vaughn.
How is it possible that even as recently as our short wait in the valet line, we were still wondering what's the point, really, of going anymore, for what can be seen that we had not seen before? You keep hearing that it's all over for the VF party. That it's become a celebrity petting zoo. Crybaby gossips whine about how the scene has shifted to private gatherings at famous people's homes, "paps-free" (meaning no paparazzi, something entirely different from carbon-neutral). They're all saying nobody wants to go to the big parties.
What a misreading of Hollywood. For here they all are, and the being here is good: Spike Lee, in a pimpy white suit, has his arms wrapped around Jamie Foxx as a Beatles track goes "I get high with a little help from my friends." We squat down before a couched Maher as the poli-com inserts one-third of an In-N-Out burger into his mouth. "Uhhh yummpp?" he asks. We tell Bill we're scheduled to interview him next week at the taping of his HBO show. Blink. Chew. Blink. "Who are you again?" FFF. That's Fast Friends Forever -- now.
Borat: mobbed. He came as Sacha Baron Cohen. Hey, where's your boyfriend? That would be co-star Ken Davitian, who makes naked glorious peoples sandwich for benefit of Cohen bank account in "Borat." I left him in the van, Cohen quips. He is surrounded by the ladies, who form a protective corral of elbows around the dark-eyed Romeo of Kazakhstan.
* * *
Earlier in the evening, Elton John's people made the rather smart decision to limit his annual Oscar party -- down Melrose Avenue from Vanity Fair's party -- to only dinner guests, who enjoyed five courses (including duck quesadillas, and chocolate pudding in martini glasses) and watched the show on the big screen. (Usually the party lets in another several hundred nobodies after the Oscar telecast -- no such luck tonight.)
Here is Sean "Diddy" Combs, a square diamond stud twinkling from his ear beneath a Bluetooth cellphone, unmistakable behind dark glasses, chatting about real estate with Victoria Beckham, whose wrist is heavy with rocks. There is Sir Elton, rings the size of walnuts glinting from each hand. (Can he play the piano with rings like that? Oh, can he.) Naomi Campbell appears to be wearing a dress made entirely of Frank Gehry bent aluminum.
We compliment Sharon Stone on her dress, and she is graciously . . . icy. Elton comes around to thank us for coming. (Another reporter tells us to hide our pen so he won't yell.) Miss Florida, Allison Kreiger, tells us Miss America is now judged entirely by a celebrity panel, which would have been okay if Delta Burke had not gotten sick, because you see, "she was a baton twirler, and I'm a baton twirler, and she was a Miss Florida, and my platform is eating disorders," but oh, well.
Seal is late, and then never arrives. We've had occasion to visit the restroom, which turns out to be a decidedly unfabulous row of port-a-potties hidden by a fake hedge. ("The Miss America pageant was the same way," Miss Florida informs us.) At last the tedious Oscar telecast wraps up, and a charity auction begins. "We must be the only people in America that are still watching," John remarks. "All over America, people are snoozing in their armchairs." His husband, David Furnish, reminds the guests that we are at an AIDS research charity event. "We wish we didn't have to have this party," he says. "But we do."
Diddy bids $65,000 for a soccer clinic with David Beckham but does not win. The soccer clinic is donated back to be rebid, and Diddy lets it pass. Stone gets up onstage to help out with the auctioneering. She's loose. Very loose. She says AIDS kills people, "that's why we have to be very, very careful when we hate." Elton picks his nails but looks happy when she brings in $500,000.
Just when we're about to lie down on the carpet (how many times have the wine glasses magically refilled themselves?) Elton John starts playing "Tiny Dancer" not 10 feet away.
The crowd gets out their cellphone cameras and rushes forward. James Blunt is up there with Elton and he starts rocking out, and we are all dancing. People are kicking off shoes, standing on chairs and pulling flowers from the centerpieces for their hair. We are six hours into this party, and finally: fun. Too soon, over. Vincent Gallo is embracing Cheryl Tiegs. Actress Bai Ling is dancing on a mirror-topped table to house music, but most of the room has headed for the gift-bag window to collect their goodies and then head for the limo line. Where to? To the Vanity Fair fete.
* * *
Back at VF, wee hours now: We just plop ourselves on a low-slung ottoman for a spell, putting us at the level of everyone's knees. We like to do this, because it changes the scale, the celebs go back to being bigger, better than life, and we are nothing down here, nothing.
Gael Garcia Bernal and Natalie Portman stroll by (dating again? Or they always were?), happy and X-ray thin. Maggie Gyllenhaal whispers to Chloe Sevigny. Tony Blair, which is to say Michael Sheen, greets yet another gushing fan, who really wants to gush about Helen Mirren's win for "The Queen," which is okay, because he does, too. ("It really would have been apocalyptic if she'd lost," he says.)
Tammy Lynn Michaels, who is among other things Melissa Etheridge's wife, plops down on the seat next to ours, equally pooped, while Etheridge chats it up with British actor Alan Cumming and his new hubby, illustrator Grant Shaffer. Cumming grabs Etheridge's Oscar statuette -- she won for Best Original Song for "I Need to Wake Up" from "An Inconvenient Truth" -- and mugs around with it, wickedly, enviously. Shaffer congratulates Michaels on being part of gay performance art.
Yes, yes, she says: The Kiss. "We just treated it like the natural thing to do," Michaels says. (Backstage, after winning, Etheridge told reporters that she'd grown up watching people win Oscars on TV and immediately turn to kiss their spousal unit, so that's what she did too.) Voila -- our own little GLAAD benefit.
Ryan Gosling, Ryan Gosling, Ryan freakin' Gosling: He has the allure of the new. He's here with his mom. Everyone wonders where Rachel McAdams is. Ryan, come sit on our lap and tell us. (He does not get this telepathic message, and leaves hand-in-hand with mother.)
Quickly, feet take flight, and off to the glam-can, which must have begun the night as the most beautiful restroom in the world but now needs a tidy. But whoa. Willem Dafoe, cradling two flutes of champagne, lurks like a naughty schoolboy in front of the gals'. He shrugs his shoulders and says, "We, too, serve who wait." Huh?
Back in the meatpacking district of the main tent, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is out on school night with his teenage daughter in tow. We tell him it's great to see him representing. "Wouldn't miss this for the world," says hizzoner.
Passing on the left, Sean Penn, wearing the scent of Philip Morris. There's Dennis Hopper talking with Kid Rock talking with Harry Dean Stanton. You don't see that every day, not outside of rehab. Hopper is a serious painter and photographer and we tell him we admire his big canvases and caught his show last year, and you know something? Now he wants to talk.
Peter O'Toole perches on a settee. Watery blue eyes. Exhausted. Profound. He places a cigarette in his mouth. He is wearing a purple brocade jacket. All the weariness of the world. He stares. He is ancient now. Not that vigorous 74. Someday we are really going to miss Peter O'Toole.