This piece originally appeared in Avenue Magazine and is being republished with its editors permission.
Having worked on Oscar campaigns for 35 years, I found going to the 87th Academy Awards ceremony a serious revelation of the American zeitgeist. On the other hand, celebrating “Oscar Weekend” was just a hell of a lot of fun.
I am always asked, “What exactly do you do, how do you do it, and who will win the Oscar?”
The studios usually start the Oscar race presenting contenders in Cannes, where Foxcatcher‘s Bennett Miller won Best Director. The parade then migrates to Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York by the end of September.
Boyhood, however, stunned audiences in January 2014 at Sundance, where Whiplash won both the Grand Jury and Audience Awards. Both independent films remained the critics’ darling through January 2015, when Entertainment Weekly gave Ellar Coltrane a triptych cover complete with an Oscar declaring “Oscar Front-Runner!”
There was a flurry of films released at Christmas that suffered from getting into the race too late, as outstanding as they were. Selma, directed by Ava DuVernay and starring David Oyelowo, and American Sniper were further burdened by the press with red and blue political shackles.
Every year, the voters are inundated with screenings and conversations about degrees of merit, as they develop a communal wisdom. Only those who speak to voters can figure out what’s going on. Sometimes voters reposition winners, like in a chess game, and can reduce even the experienced soothsayers to “Who’s on first base?”
The end of the 2015 race was a dead heat tie between IFC’s Boyhood, directed by Richard Linklater, and Fox Searchlight’s Birdman, directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, with a possible split of gold between picture and director. An American Sniper/Bradley Cooper upset was Warner Bros.’ wishful thinking because it became the American public’s most popular film.
Few actors have the endurance and charm to campaign, even if they are a “slam-dunk” winner the minute their performance is seen. This year, three of the four winning actors — Julianne Moore, Patricia Arquette and J.K. Simmons — fell into the “slam-dunk” category and still worked their asses off campaigning to win. The Best Actor category was a different horse race between Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne to the end.
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 18
I went directly to Diane von Furstenberg‘s sprawling glass and stone house for her second annual lunch to honor this year’s female nominees, co-hosted by Hilary Swank and Anne Sweeney. Meryl Streep, Reese Witherspoon, Rosamund Pike, Patricia Arquette, and Laura Dern, along with Cheryl Boone Isaacs, President of the Academy, nibbled on salads while listening to Diane’s inspirational speech quoted from her book The Woman I Wanted to Be.
I then checked into a bright corner suite at Jeff Klein‘s Sunset Tower Hotel and fortified myself with a vitamin B-12 shot from the house doctor. Emma Stone, Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Lena Dunham and Eddie Redmayne were arriving and would be found hanging out at the terrace pool all weekend.
Hildy Gottlieb and Walter Hill hosted a party in their Spanish-style mansion in Beverly Hills for ICM nominees. Google’s Eric Schmidt wasn’t sure why he was there as CBS’ Les Moonves schmoozed him. Michael Keaton, dapper in his signature three-piece gray shadow plaid suit, was the biggest “get.”
Keaton went to the Sunset Tower Hotel for a late dinner, where he bumped into fellow former Batman George Clooney with Amal double-dating with Sacha Baron Cohen and a very pregnant Isla Fisher. I arrived moments after the Clooneys had left and was beside myself with grief for missing a chance to chat up George about his NYC spring shoot, Money Monster.
With 96 hours to go before “the envelope please,” Fox Searchlight had permeated the gossip around town that the technical intricacies and showbiz razzle-dazzle of Birdman were more worthy of gold than the test of time for Boyhood. A Birdman sweep had taken flight.
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 19
Larry Gagosian hosted a gallery opening for John Currin.His paintings reflected Oscar Weekend’s bacchanal. Luscious nudes, depicting Old Master portraits, were juxtaposed with pin-ups and B-movies that delighted the artistic sensibilities of Leonardo DiCaprio, Steve Martin, Elton John, Ed Ruscha and Fifty Shades of Grey pop-porn director Sam Taylor-Johnson with young husband Aaron. Also, perusing Gagosian as inspiration for a new script was visionary Wes Anderson, whose The Grand Budapest Hotel later won four Oscars.
Derek Blasberg escorted Dasha Zhukova and current Vogue cover girl Karlie Kloss to tables adjoining Currin’s wife Rachel Feinstein, John McEnroe, Jeff Bezos, Brett Ratner, Jean Pigozzi and collectors Bill Bell and Nicolas Berggruen.
Larry and girlfriend Chrissie Erpf later hosted a caviar-pizza party in his modernist Holmby Hills house. Whiplash writer/director Damien Chazelle had been at CAA agent Maha Dakhil‘s house for a quiet dinner with Lena Dunham and Reese Witherspoon, knowing he was expected at Larry’s. Lost, late, driving like a maniac, the 30-year-old Harvard graduate and boy wonder, finally showed up to be flabbergasted as Robbie Robertson and Mick Jagger cornered him and passionately explained how much his film meant to them. Gossip headlines screamed the next day, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Royalty Endorses Whiplash.”
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 20
As Bob and Harvey Weinstein and Netflix’s CCO Ted Sarandos was honored at the Publicists Awards lunch at the Beverly Hilton, I slipped away to documentarian Rory Kennedy‘s lunch celebrating her nominated Last Days in Vietnam. Her cousin Maria Shriver and hotelier André Balazs co-hosted at Chateau Marmont. Since Citzenfour was the sure bet, competitive Kennedy, 11th child of RFK, encouraged Minnie Driver, Laura Bickford, Peter Fonda, Cheryl Hines and Nicky Hilton, to drink up the three vintages of Dom Pérignon.
I moved on from documentaries to dresses, war movies to wardrobes, and Vietnam to velvet to Tom Ford‘s fashion show, with more stars in attendance than the Oscars, Tonys, and Grammys combined.
Why, you might ask, was Tom Ford staging a command performance during Oscar Weekend, instead of participating in London Fashion Week? He drew a lousy slot and was assigned to show his fall collection at 9:00 a.m. in London on the Monday after the Oscars. Media savvy Tom knew every inch of press coverage would be lavished on Hollywood’s red carpet looks.
So, the oh-so-adored Tom cleverly seized this golden moment of unclaimed party time, 7:00 p.m. on Friday, which just happened to be the hour before Kevin Huvane‘s CAA hottest agency party in town — making his show the night’s sizzling starter course.
In the front row sat Anna Wintour, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ford’s husband Richard Buckley, golden girl Julianne Moore and Reese Witherspoon.
Across from Anna was Josh Duhamel and Fergie, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, John Legend, Jennifer Lopez, Rita Ora, Neil Patrick Harris, Armie Hammer, Naomi Campbell, Miley Cyrus and her beau Patrick Schwarzenegger.
Also applauding was Jared Leto, James Corden, Anjelica Huston, and Brad Grey. Sixty movie stars stormed backstage after the show. CAA client Tom Ford could be asked to produce the Oscars next year.
PR mavens Cindi Berger and Marian Koltai hosted a few tables in the back of Craig’s on Melrose for those students of society, like myself, who needed a hot meal with reporters to digest the day and predict the future, before slipping into the CAA party.
If and when invited to the CAA party, the 10 commandments are: #1 Thou shall never tell you got invited (oops), #2 Thou shall never tell where it is, #3 Thou shall never ask for an earlier arrival time, #4 Thou shall never complain about the shuttle if you were not important enough to get a limo pass, #5 Thou shall never overdress, #6 Thou shall never bring an extra person, #7 Thou shall never “work” the room a.k.a. “fawn over the famous,” #8 Thou shall never talk on your phone or take a selfie, #9 Thou shall never be boring but never gossip, and #10 Thou shall never expect to be invited back. If you can deal with the greatest dealmakers in town, you are good to go and will see everyone you just saw at Tom Ford’s fashion show.
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 21
Saturday was Oscar Weekend’s busiest day. Here are brief highlights.
10:00 a.m. Foreign Language Film Symposium moderated by professorial Academy Board Member Mark Johnson. Another Oscar winner was Ida, about a Polish nun.
11:30 a.m. Maria Shriver’s annual Gold Meets Golden event hosted by Nicole Kidman at the Equinox Sports Club supporting the 2015 Special Olympics. As I spoke to Katie Holmes about her upcoming film Woman in Gold, a teenage special needs athlete named Lucy Meyer charmingly invited us to her swim competition as she handed us her card. This profoundly moving moment reduced Katie and me to tears.
12:30 p.m. Barry Diller and Diane Von Furstenberg’s power lunch for gold standard king of Oscar Weekend, Graydon Carter, at their Coldwater Canyon house. Diane’s children Tatiana, Alex and Alexandra von Furstenberg and granddaughter Talita welcomed Prince Pavlos and Princess Marie Chantal of Greece, Rupert Murdoch, Paul Allen, Robert Kraft, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Gayle King, Ron Howard, Anna Wintour, Christian Louboutin, Zac Posen, Lynn Wyatt,and 600 other stylish, slim, and successful social swimmers. Whiplash producer Jason Blum and I dashed off to the Spirit Awards in Santa Monica in his sliver vintage Rolls-Royce, inherited from his grandfather.
3:00 p.m. The Film Independent Spirit Awards a.k.a. the “dress rehearsal” to the Oscars was in the midst of celebrating their super-cool 30th anniversary. All nominated films were produced for $20 million or less, which is why the Oscars and the Spirit Awards are now synonymous. Sony Pictures Classics’ Michael Barker and Tom Bernard, with 18 Oscar nominations this year, invited me to sit with them. Birdman‘s Spirit win forecasted its Oscar win. I emailed Birdman producer John Lesher, “You just won the Oscar.” He emailed back, “Are you sure?”
6:00 p.m. Focus Features’ Peter Schlessel hosted a cocktail party in honor of The Theory of Everything at the Chateau for Universal’s Ron Meyer and Donna Langley, producers Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan, director James Marsh, Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne. Eddie had just landed from London, where he is filming Tom Hooper‘s The Danish Girl.
7:30 p.m. Charles Finch and Chanel hosted their seventh pre-Oscar dinner at Madeo, complete with a mariachi band. This gathering of the international chic has evolved into the coveted ticket for a proper sit-down meal. Everyone actually knows and likes each other. This evening is a throwback to Swifty Lazar’s original Oscar viewing party for social swans that Vanity Fair took over years ago.
Here, Julianne Moore joined pregnant Keira Knightley whose The Imitation Game was also an Oscar favorite, Kristen Stewart, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Jessica Chastain and Gian Luca Passi de Preposulo, January Jones, Dree Hemingway, Poppy Delevingne, Stavros Niarchos and Suki Waterhouse (Bradley Cooper’s girlfriend, who was solo as Bradley gave his last Broadway performance of The Elephant Man.)
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 22 – OSCAR NIGHT
Breakfast was with Eddie and Hannah Redmayne on the terrace of the Sunset Tower Hotel. Eddie was cool as a cucumber, I was nauseous. As we devoured omelets, my most encouraging line to him was, “Eddie, if they don’t call your name tonight, you will always have The Danish Girl next year. In a week, iconic and heroic Helen Keller will know who The Danish Girl is.” Eddie whispered, “Who is Helen Keller?” Hannah fell off her chair. I then proceeded to reenact the scene from the Broadway play The Miracle Worker, where Anne Bancroft was pumping water onto Patty Duke’s hand as she miraculously uttered, “Water.” Eddie replied, “I’m going upstairs.”
Oscar date Lisa Taback and I arrived at 3:30 p.m. I planted myself next to Lara Spencer‘s GMA stage, securing a clean shot of myself with every A-list nominee. This audacious move is nothing short of brilliant. My chutzpah enables me to read countless emails from friends the minute I sit down in the Dolby Theatre: “OMG, we just saw you on TV.”
Noteworthy was the juxtaposition of two tributes during the broadcast that exemplified the schism in American culture. John Legend and Common sang “Glory,” a cry for racial equality. Then Lady Gaga came out belting “the hills are alive with the sound of music.” The tragedy of Selma and the schmaltz of The Sound of Music both entered our hearts and minds in the same year, 50 years ago.
As I arrived on the Vanity Fair party red carpet, there was virtually no interest for my picture except from a handful of New York paparazzi we hire regularly. I found Graydon and Anna Carter but before I could gush, Anna told me I was a big hit with her friend Lord March after organizing his photo exhibition in New York. Anna and I agreed to visit him at Goodwood, March’s ancestral British estate that makes Downton Abbey look like McDonald’s. Graydon was surrounded by his cronies Mitch Glazer, Richard Plepler, Bob Colacello and Jonathan Becker, and had been playing host since 5 p.m. Loyal Vanity Fair staffers Jane Sarkin, Matt Ullian and Beth Kseniak were never far behind.
Movie stars spilled into the Annenberg tent, wolfing down In-N-Out burgers and taking selfies with every Oscar (gold or Lego yellow) they could get their hands on. People had sat next to each other for the past three hours in the Dolby Theatre were now frantically hugging and kissing each other, whether they won or not.
Earlier in the evening, Graydon had a viewing dinner in the wood-paneled circular dining room with eight 65″ flat screens. Guests chatted through the show finding each other more interesting. High-powered guests included Jane Fonda, Natalie Portman, Don Rickles, Conan O’Brien, Star Trek director J.J. Abrams, designer Francisco Costa, and high society doyennes Betsy Bloomingdale and Denise Hale.
Every single nominee, presenter and A-lister was at this party. Notable New Yorkers included Jason Weinberg, Patricia Clarkson, Chloë Grace Moretz, Emily Mortimer, Edward Norton, Mark Ruffalo, Marisa Tomei, Naomi Watts, Alexander Gilkes, Leonard Lauder, Stephen and son Teddy Schwarzman, Fran Lebowitz, Zoë Kravitz, Matt Lauer, Jimmy Buffett, Idina Menzel, Questlove, IFC’s Jonathan Sehring and Marjorie Gubelmann and Larry Gagosian.
Bryan Lourd and Bruce Bozzi threw a super private after-party at Bruce’s Palm Restaurant Beverly Hills. Meryl Streep and Don Gummer, Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka, Cate Blanchett, Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos, and Scarlett Johansson and Romain Dauriac were all jammed into one cozy leather booth, and sipped stiff drinks as Bozzi instagrammed.
Lastly, Jason Blum and Ethan Hawke had another super private after-after-party at the Warwick on Sunset Blvd. The gang at the Palm Restaurant slipped in for bacon and eggs, as no one wanted the night to end.
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 23
I flew to the Dominican Republic to vacation for a week with Graydon’s friends Emilia and Pepe Fanjul at Casa de Campo. Bob Colacello, Jonathan Becker, Deborah Norville and I regaled King Juan Carlos of Spain, Lord and Lady Astor, Lord and Lady Charles Churchill, Dixon Boardman and Paul Wilmot with embellished tales of our showbiz shenanigans. Stocked with an endless supply of DVDs, every guest happily retired to their bungalows late at night to watch this year’s greatest films.