Oscar goes out on the town

Winners, losers, and everyone in-between steps out

There’s an old line that carnival hustlers would say to greenhorns they’d relieved of money: “At least you got to hear the band play.” On Oscar night, the equivalent expression would be, “At least you got to go to the party.”

The foremost of those after-parties was the Governors Ball where the Academy celebrated Oscar’s last gig at the Shrine with a $1 million-plus affair in the Exposition Hall, which was redone in an elaborate Edwardian style.

“We wanted the ball to be cozy,” said ball chairman Sid Ganis — as cozy as you can get, at any rate, in a crowd of 2,000 who haven’t eaten in seven hours. “We wanted an environment where people could let their hair down and relax.”

Because of the size of the Governors Ball, the focus of the action was on the center of the room, where the big corporate tables were situated. In the rooms, or “suburbs,” the service was spotty and the schmoozing was as cold as the food.

Fire marshals got the party off to a difficult start, opening up several corridors of entry and then suddenly reversing themselves and shoving everyone back into the main hall.

The Leslie Paula Soul Band played a medley of Latin music on a revolving stage as guests dined on Wolfgang Puck’s four- course menu.

The creative team behind “Traffic” huddled round director Steven Soderbergh’s table. “It renews your faith in the Academy,” USA Films topper Russell Schwartz said of the helmer’s win.

At a nearby table, best actress nominee Laura Linney said, “I had no idea how much I would enjoy this. I have been really blessed in the last few months.”

At the Sony Pictures Classics table, co-chairman Michael Barker said, “As the first Asian movie to win the category of best foreign-language film, Ang Lee made history again.” (Actually, it’s the first Taiwanese film; three Japanese pics won the category in the 1950s.)

If there was a trend in evidence, perhaps it was the re-emergence of the Governors Ball as the key post-Oscar event. More and more of the top talent, as well as the suits, conspicuously stayed around for the ball rather than fleeing as in former years to the Vanity Fair party or other studio events.

The VF affair was at Morton’s, where a fabric wall on the east side of the dining room had been removed to reveal a walkway to a white, 7,500-square-foot tent decorated in a sleek, modern design where the Cuban band Alberto Alvarez y su Son alternated with DJ Fatboy Slim.

The VF party is trying to slip into the coveted social slot once held by Irving “Swifty” Lazar’s annual Spago bash.

Editor Graydon Carter said one reason for his affair’s success is, “We’re the neutral ground. There’s no real agenda; there’s no affiliation. That’s what’s helped us.”

But some industry insiders complain the Vanity Fair party is fast becoming merely a post-ceremony photo op. “A star rolls up in his limo, jumps out, does two TV interviews, steps into Morton’s for two minutes and then calls it a night,” said one invitee. “That’s not what makes a party.”

There is a sense the party is, as David Hockney said, “just like last year.” And the year before, for that matter.

When Oscar moves to its new Hollywood home, it will be interesting to see what happens to the VF affair if the other after-parties achieve a critical density by clustering near the telecast site.

Barry Diller said he thought the Oscar telecast was “one award short of being perfect.” (Guess whose company made “Traffic.”) Warren Beatty said he likes it “when the show goes long. I like it when it’s not like a TV show. I like it when it’s ad hoc.”

Wayne Gretzky was smoking a cigar (VF encourages smoking only slightly less enthusiastically than Philip Morris) and said he “didn’t see the show. I was watching a hockey game.”

In the midst of the packed crowd in the restaurant area (the tent was louder, but there was more space to move) Sean “Puffy” Combs was making his way through the throng when one woman commented: “He’s got more to celebrate than the Oscar winners.” Combs would say only that he was “blessed.”

Among those blessed and otherwise were Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Benicio Del Toro, Stella McCartney, Ben Affleck, Tom Cruise, Nicolas Cage, Steve Tisch, George Schlatter, Paul Reubens, Kevin Spacey, Cameron Crowe, Robert Evans, Bjork, David Hockney, Mark Canton, Joel Silver, Jeff Berg, Kevin Huvane and Marcia Gay Harden, who closed down the party at 3 a.m.

Meanwhile, just up Robertson at Moomba, the main event at the Elton John AIDS Foundation benefit was the duet performance by Elton John and Nelly Furtado.

The party, which raised more than $250,000 (underwriting came from watchmaker Chopard and InStyle magazine), began with dinner for 160, (guests included Bonnie Raitt, LeAnn Rimes, Elizabeth Hurley, Jenna Elfman and Taye Diggs), then 1,200 turned up for the after-party, including Russell Crowe, Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Judi Dench, Nicolas Cage, Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, Sting and Mena Suvari.

Across town in Beverly Hills, at the appropriately themed Asian restaurant Crustacean, Sony threw the only Oscar-night studio party to celebrate wins for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and arthouse pic “Pollock.”

With the success of “Crouching Tiger,” Sony’s Gareth Wigan, who’s in charge of the studio’s local-language productions, said the company would be increasing its efforts with an additional four Chinese-language films going into production this year.

Among those attending were Lee, Peter Pau, Ed Harris and James Schamus.

(Claude Brodesser contributed to this report.)

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