This piece originally appeared in Avenue Magazine and is being republished with its editors permission.
This was the year absolutely no one could predict Best Picture for the 86th Academy Awards: not even me, the Oscar witch. This made directors Steve McQueen, Alfonso Cuaron and David O. Russell very crazy. After months of screenings, press conferences, lunches, and parties, publicists and bloggers had to look these three wise men in the eye and say, "We don't have a clue."
Then came the slogan, "It's time." That was Fox Searchlight's last suggestion on 12 Years a Slave advertisements that subliminally registered in the hearts and minds of voters in the closing days of the studio's low-key campaign.
"It's time." So simple. Says it all. Just like the mantra "Find your voice" that marketing honcho Harvey Weinstein came up with three years ago, which drove The King's Speech to a win.
This is how you win an Oscar. You pinpoint and connect an exact emotion on the screen to an exact emotion that moves 6,000 voters who are mostly very smart white middle-aged guys.
On Oscar night, host Ellen DeGeneres joked to 43 million viewers, "Possibility number one: 12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture. Possibility number two: You're all racists," answering the question three hours before the win was announced. DeGeneres then gifted sponsor Samsung with the world's most famous selfie and tipped a pizza delivery guy $1,000.
The gripping 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture, putting Steve McQueen in the history books as the first black director, who is also British, to win an Oscar.
It took the star power of white heartthrob Brad Pitt to get the film financed. Taking
the small but heroic role as the slave's savior, Brad then took a backseat by shooting WWII film, Fury in England, leaving the promotion to others.
Steve McQueen's muse Michael Fassbender, who portrayed a sadistic plantation owner, announced he would not campaign. McQueen, Chiwetel Ejiofor and an unknown supporting actress, Lupita Nyong'o, were left with the herculean task of selling a film about slavery that was guaranteed to embarrass every American. This is why their win was so poignant.
Warner Bros.' wildly popular Gravity had skyrocketed to $1 billion globally at the box office. This technical game changer propelled Sandra Bullock into outer space with $70 million of backend profits tucked into her space panties. The beloved thriller landed triumphantly with seven Oscars. Alfonso Cuarón, who slaved for four years to create his masterpiece, won two statues for directing and editing and became the first Latino director to win. Although Gravity's producer David Heyman did not strike gold, this film was one hell of a second act after producing all those Harry Potter films.
In the past four years, David O. Russell has been a serious contender with 25 total nominations for his last three films. Hilarious and astute American Hustle garnered 10 nominations, but no wins this year.
The four acting categories were easy to predict. Cate Blanchett wowed the minute Blue Jasmine was released in July. This instantaneous phenomenon is known as the "Colin-Firth-Daniel-Day-Lewis slam dunk."
In November, beautiful darling Jared Leto stole everybody's hearts dressed as a woman in Dallas Buyers Club. His long hair, penchant for '90s grunge, and rock band 30 Seconds to Mars, made him another instant winner.
Matthew McConaughey's career renaissance became "McConaissance." Mud, Dallas Buyer's Club, Wolf of Wall Street, and finally HBO's True Detective collectively earned him Best Actor by December.
The actress who really stole the show on the campaign circuit was eloquent ingénue Lupita Nyong'o, who morphed into a fashion goddess. No one will forget her Best Supporting Actress acceptance speech when she said, "It doesn't escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else's."
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 25
I flew to L.A. with some indefinable eye infection that made Olympics reporter Bob Costas' reaction to Botox look attractive. My medical calamity possibly caused by Latisse, which promotes eyelash growth, caused my eyelids to resemble red golf balls and necessitated the wearing of dark glasses. No, I did not look as cool as Anna Wintour. I managed to grope my way through Oscar week in couture Ralph Rucci gowns and furs and pretend temporary blindness was "just a new look."
On this, my 30th trip to The Beverly Hills Hotel, the famous Polo Lounge had finally been renovated to look exactly like it did 30 years ago so as not to upset the regulars. Each pool cabana now had giant flat screens installed for watching CNN in the sun. Cate Blanchett and Oprah Winfrey were the hot Oscar week guests.
I headed over to the Vanity Fair Social Club, with its media-friendly "WeWork Hollywood" pop-up lounge. Vanity Fair publisher Ed Menicheschi, who perfected the Midas touch for masterminding Oscar week sponsorship, greeted me. I participated in a panel discussion of Oscar prognosticators about who would win, hosted by Michael Hogan of VF.com with Anne Thompson of IndieWire, Sasha Stone of Awards Daily, Pete Hammond of Deadline, Dave Karger of Fandango, Krista Smith of Vanity Fair, and Kyle Buchanan of Vulture. If you had put fire to our feet we could not tell you who was winning Best Picture. Like a bunch of nerds all trying to impress each other, we did predict every other category correctly.
The town was crawling with stars. So it wasn't shocking to find the most famous sitting in the middle of a public restaurant drinking and singing oldies by the Eagles and Neil Diamond. That was the scene at Nobu in L.A. where Bono and U2, here to perform Mandela's theme "Ordinary Love" at the Oscars, sat drinking sake and George Clooney's Casamigos Tequila with Clooney himself, and Cindy Crawford and Rande Gerber as they all belted out songs.
George left town soon after, was rumored to stop in London to see his new girlfriend, Oxford-educated British barrister Amal Alamuddin, and they headed to an exotic, secluded island for a much-deserved vacation. After winning the Oscar last year for producing Argo, George had a supporting role in Gravity; co-produced August: Osage County; and starred in Tomorrowland, which Disney will release in 2015. He also produced, wrote, directed, and acted in The Monuments Men. Clooney marched to Berlin, Milan, London, and Paris, successfully opening that film.
With his Oscar night absence, not only did he make sure Sandra Bullock got all the credit she deserved, but my hunch is that he was also quietly proud of his good friend Brad Pitt, who produced 12 Years a Slave, Gravity's biggest competition.
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 26
Action central was now in the lobby of Chateau Marmont where Vanity Fair, Graydon Carter, and Benedikt Taschen honored world-class photographer Annie Leibovitz for the launch of her new sumo-sized book, Annie Leibovitz.
André Balazs confided that Annie pulled an all-nighter in her pajamas hanging her work. Balazs gave her free reign to install her huge iconic portraits throughout the hallways and first floor suites that were open during the party.
Photographers Mario Testino and Terry Richardson browsed as Annie walked Quincy Jones on a tour of her larger-than-life exhibition. Sylvester Stallone gazed at his own portrait taken 20 years ago, his Dorian Gray Rocky face now frozen -- as in Botox -- not the blockbuster animated Disney winner.
Paramount CEO Brad Grey's wife Cassandra, Carole Bayer Sager and Lorraine Schwartz gave a private dinner at Cassandra's Violet Grey store on Melrose. Jack Nicholson, seated with model Erin Wasson and Eva Mendes, held court as superstar Pharrell Williams (in his Vivienne Westwood "Mountain" hat) and Anjelica Huston chatted up Chinatown producer Robert Evans. Dom Perignon sent the champagne, proving that even behind private dinners, one can now spot a sponsor.
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 27
Oprah Winfrey slipped into Essence's "Black Women in Hollywood" lunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel where Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first black female president of the Academy, was honored with a Trailblazer Award.
President Bill Clinton, in town for the first United4Humanity gala at Sony Studios that night, had lunch at Larry Gagosian's magnificent modern home in Holmby Hills.It was designed by architect A. Quincy Jones, the mentor of Frank Gehry--not to be confused with music legend Quincy Jones, the mentor of Michael Jackson. On this night, there were 10 parties. English society decorator and Olympic party animal Nicky Haslam flew in from England for the Vanity Fair dinner Sunday night and was my escort for this evening. We made it to five parties.
Vanity Fair and Sony's "Toast to American Hustle" at Ago on Melrose was our first stop, to pay homage to David O. Russell. Inquiring minds, including hotshot producer Megan Ellison, Amy Adams, Sony CEO Michael Lynton and co-chairman Amy Pascal, debated who was winning Best Picture. We still didn't know.
CAA's Josh Lieberman was on his way to ICM's John Burnham's Santa Monica home. Al Pacino and David Mamet were huddled on a couch as Spike Lee and Meredith Vieira sat nearby listening.
At Warner Bros.' fancy private dinner for its nominees at the Bel Air Hotel, Nicky and I were greeted by David Heyman. Executives Sue Kroll and Juli Goodwin brought us over to Sandra Bullock and CEO Kevin Tsujihara. Again, everyone whispered, "Who is winning Best Picture?" Gravity's technical wizardry, revered in L.A., was now thought to have the edge.
Spike Jones arrived and was too superstitious to discuss his chances for Best Original Screenplay for Her. He won. Don't worry about Blue Jasmine fellow nominee Woody Allen; he was tap dancing with Susan Stroman on Broadway, rehearsing Bullets Over Broadway. As a man who doesn't believe in campaigning for awards, he just might show up to collect a few Tonys.
An exhausted Alfonso Cuarón was the last to appear, with girlfriend Sheherazade Goldsmith. He was fighting a cold and couldn't wait to get back to real, not reel, life.
Brad Grey's party for Paramount's nominees was in full swing at Spago Beverly Hills. The Wolf of Wall Street's Marty Scorsese was huddled in a booth with Brad, marketing maven Megan Colligan, producer Irwin Winkler, and the ageless Don Rickles. Jonah Hill's buddy Leonardo DiCaprio had just left, as he was getting a cold too, but he later showed up at the Bel Air, where Marty was staying, to have drinks with Scorsese and Cuarón in the bar.
Nebraska talent Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, cinematographer Phedon Papamichael and screenwriter Bob Nelson relaxed since their grueling nine-month campaign, which had begun at Cannes, was finally over.
Ron Meyer, vice chairman of Universal, had his annual private party at his Malibu home in honor of Graydon Carter. Barbra Streisand, Jim Brolin, John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Diane Lane, Robert Downey Jr., and Paul Rudd mingled under a tent with interior designer Sandy Gallin and his new husband Bryan Fox. Ron's daughter, jewelry designer Jennifer Meyer, came alone. It was nanny's night off, so her husband Tobey Maguire stayed home with the kids.
Larry Gagosian gave his 17th annual art opening and dinner, which is always a hot ticket for the rich and hip. This year, art photographer Taryn Simon mounted a show titled "Birds of the West Indies" after the seminal taxonomy by ornithologist James Bond. The exhibition also chronicled the women, weapons, and cars depicted in the Bond films, in addition to the birds that appear in all 24 movies. Even MGM couldn't dream this up.
Dinner followed next door at Mr. Chow's, complete with Eva and Michael Chow. Simon's filmmaker husband Jake Paltrow brought his mother Blythe Danner and his sister Gwyneth.
Since the Spielbergs are close family friends with the Paltrows -- Kate Capshaw arrived with Theo and Sasha Spielberg. Jared Leto came with Terry Richardson. Adrien Brody, Elle Fanning, Cameron Diaz, John Waters, and Robbie Robertson chowed down. Power collectors Eli and Edythe Broad and Bill and Maria Bell split chopsticks.
After dinner, we migrated to Gagosian's home. It was raining, it was windy, and it was cold. Teetotaler Robbie Robertson slipped on wet stone outside the house. He was taken to the hospital that night and endured a two-hour operation on three broken ankle bones.
Simultaneously, Nicky Haslam slipped onto a glass table and crashed to the floor. Nicky was fine; the table was a goner -- so much excitement for one night.
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 28
Woke up this morning and the eye problem had reached epic proportions as my left eye was now shut. Found an eye doctor to lance the infected eyelid. He gave me enough drugs to get me to the Publicist Guild lunch at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Jerry Lewis was receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from Carol Burnett. Thankfully, I only needed one eye to take all that in.
At her uncle's Rodeo Drive store, Roberta Armani toasted fellow Italians Marty Scorsese and Paolo Sorrentino. The suits Leo wore in The Wolf of Wall Street were designed for him by Armani himself.
Paolo Sorrentino was the overwhelming favorite to win Best Foreign Film for his Fellini-inspired The Great Beauty, and indeed he won.
Armani's talent turnout was very impressive. Cate Blanchett, who has signed with the designer as the face of his perfume, was there with Glenn Close, Robert DeNiro, and Samuel L. Jackson. All were bedecked in Armani.
Wanda McDaniel, the marketing guru for Armani, was the very first to dress actresses on the red carpet. Jodie Foster was her muse and that was 25 years ago.
Philomena producers Gaby Tana and Tracey Seaward invited me to Steve Coogan's home where music man Alexandre Desplat and Jon Hamm were having beers. Coogan captivated me with conversation of how he and the real Philomena Lee, who was a red carpet regular, took their "full disclosure" adoption campaign to the Vatican, meeting The Pope. Only Harvey Weinstein could have pulled off that jaw-dropping marketing miracle.
Traditionally, there are three private agency parties on Friday night--WME, CAA, and UTA. They were hosted by Ari Emanuel, Kevin Huvane, and Jim Berkus and were press free, leaving the stars uninhibited and happy. Justin Theroux, about to explode in HBO's miniseries The Leftovers, canoodled with Jennifer Aniston. Past and present Oscar nominees and winners including Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Oprah Winfrey, Charlize Theron, Sean Penn, Bradley Cooper, Jonah Hill, Alexander Payne, Steve McQueen, and Alfonso Cuarón were among the evening's migrating tribe.
SATURDAY, MARCH 1
Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg canceled their annual, highly anticipated outdoor lunch for Graydon Carter at their Coldwater Canyon home atop a steep hill because of impending torrential rain that never came. Three hundred power hungry showbiz executives were sent into a tailspin for an alternative activity.
Luckily, Sony Pictures Classics' and industry icons Tom Bernard, and Michael Barker took pity on me and invited me to their table at the Independent Spirit Awards under a wobbly tent that billowed with the wind in Santa Monica.
Bob Balaban and I headed to the 6th annual Chanel-sponsored dinner hosted by the debonair Charles Finch at Madeo. Girls donning $20k Chanel dresses included Anne Hathaway, Sienna Miller (with baby daddy Tom Sturridge), Lily Collins, Greta Gerwig and Poppy Delevingne. Jessica de Rothschild and her director husband Sacha Gervasi were in attendance as well as Adrien Brody, David O. Russell, Oliver Stone, Danny Huston, Jean Pigozzi, Ben Silverman, Peter Morton, and Elon Musk.
Harvey and Bob Weinstein along with Chopard honored their nominees, including the singers in RADiUS-TWC's Best Documentary winner 20 Feet from Stardom, with a seated dinner at the Montage Hotel in the "Marchesa Ballroom." (The dining room was rechristened for the evening in honor of Harvey's wife Georgina Chapman's dress label.) After dinner, guests were wowed by a performance from Weinstein's upcoming Broadway musical, Finding Neverland, based on their Oscar-nominated film about Peter Pan creator J. M. Barrie. Celebrities Bono, U2, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Oprah Winfrey, Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudeikis, Christoph Waltz, and Taylor Swift gave Neverland's stars, Jason Alexander and Gary Barlow, a standing ovation.
SUNDAY, MARCH 2
My Oscar date this year was GMA's glamorous Lara Spencer. I arrived, as usual, two hours early at the Dolby Theater in order to plant myself on the mother of all red carpets. Only this year, I was incognito with the dark glasses. I greeted each of Lara's interviewees as if they were coming to my house for dinner. I never tire of the overwhelming excitement, throngs of eager press, and screaming fans. Everything boils down to this moment of mass hysteria. It's always humbling to stand among the entertainment giants, wish them luck and have them nervously smile back. It's the bittersweet finale when all of the campaigning is over and you think you won't see them until their next movie. It's like the last day of camp.
I was now dateless and alone as Lara Spencer went home suffering from a sore throat.
Those in the know always hang out at the downstairs bar during the broadcast where the sound is turned up on the flat screens. This year, Cate Blanchett's husband theater impresario Andrew Upton bought me free drinks. I hung out with Cate, her CAA agent Hylda Queally, the adorable skinny Sally Hawkins in a heavily beaded Valentino gown, Julia Roberts, and Tom Bernard and Michael Barker who have 140 career nominations and 32 wins.
After reassuring Blanchett that her stupendous pale beaded Armani Privé gown was the best of the other girls' pale dresses and that her Oscar would pop against it, she went on stage to win.
While I was at the Oscar broadcast, 160 VIPs at Graydon Carter's annual Oscar viewing dinner were getting ready for the rush of a thousand more party guests. Five hundred limos were on the way. Those who watched the awards from the beige, circular dining room were Graydon's friends including: Sofia Vergara, Tom Ford, Carolina Herrera, Bruce Weber, Allen Grubman, Bob Colacello, Judd Apatow, Jeff Klein and John Goldwyn, Rupert Murdoch, Steve Newhouse, Les Moonves, and Jimmy Buffet.
I ran through the Governor's Ball and found Bryan Lourd and Fox's beloved leader Jim Gianopulos, ushered by Fox Searchlight's Michelle Hooper, sitting at Brad Pitt's empty table because everyone else was still in the press room doing interviews.
I arrived at the Vanity Fair party at its new location, 8680 Sunset Boulevard, a parking lot that was transformed into an airy glass dome. I stood in a corner, ravenously inhaling my In-n-Out burger with ketchup dripping down my chin and of course, Graydon--the adored maestro of the week--came up and so sweetly wanted to know how I was doing. It's a little difficult to respond with a mouthful of food behind dark glasses.
The stars were huddled together in groups, air kissing and congratulating each other. Bill Murray, Lupita Nyong'o, Jennifer Lawrence, Naomi Watts, Idina Menzel, Sarah Paulson, Bette Midler and Lady Gaga owned the dance floor; Jared Leto passed his Oscar around so much he dropped it and it now sports a little dent in the head; pregnant Kerry Washington ate for two; and the Janes -- Fonda and Buffet -- huddled on a couch, while The Great Gatsby's production and costume designer, and wife of director Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin and I posed with her two Oscars. (Including the two she won for Moulin Rouge, she now has four).
Even Madonna has sponsors now. The material girl -- blinding in 1,000 carats of Neil Lane's diamonds -- hosted her seventh annual awards bash at her manager Guy Oseary's home with Gucci. Originally super secret, the party is now a headline on Page Six. Madonna made her best effort to cream off the stars from Graydon's party.
In attendance were Paul McCartney, Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen, newly engaged Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, Serena Williams, Prince, and Pink. Madonna closed out her own party by breakdancing with her kids and Miley Cyrus, and spinning records until 7 a.m. for Matthew McConaughey.
Madge, short for majesty, would rather die than entertain press, let alone an adorable publicist like moi. Last year, ever so curious, I was brought as a guest of a guest only to be frogmarched to the door by Oseary, the furious host himself. Dear readers, I did this for you. It has taken me a year to admit -- I was too socially traumatized to report my investigative failure. I now realize that I was just a pawn for Oseary's A-list purity for the night. His own rock status had been boosted by signing Bono and U2. Thank God my social stock is still otherwise intact. The week before the Oscars, the real Oscar -- de la Renta -- had invited me to his beachfront paradise in the Dominican Republic with Lord and Lady Astor. In June, the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough are expecting me at Blenheim Palace. So much for not making the cut at Madonna's.
Once again, I scored a ride home on a friend's plane where my dark glasses fit right in. Passengers received an email that morning requesting "no jeans." I thought this was a bizarre fashion edict, only to find out the indigo dye in denim bleeds onto the jet's white leather chairs.
As a closing to my 10th annual Oscar diary, I can sum up this year's race as one of intense emotions and euphoric pride for our love of what Americans do best: making the most wonderful and culturally enlightening movies that entertain the world. On to Cannes!