Early Oscar bashes set stage for gold

A golden weekend of Oscar pre-fetes

If the Academy Awards are indeed “the Super Bowl for women,” then there’s a certain irony to having pigskin bodice-ripper Justin Timberlake headline Oscar weekend’s first big event.

However, at Thursday’s Vanity Fair Amped party on the Sunset Strip Hyatt’s roof, the repentant breast exposer appeared a bit testy when facing a crowd more interested in schmoozing than singing along to “Cry Me a River.”

When a superstar begins a set by saying: “No talking — let’s get this show on the road,” like an exasperated homeroom teacher leading students on a museum tour, it’s not an auspicious sign.

Timberlake’s perf, which benefited his charitable foundation, was heard by about 300 guests, including Kevin Costner and Djimon Hounsou. Ellen DeGeneres did the intro.

Meanwhile, at the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills, there was an infusion of culturally minded New Yorkers who came west for the opening of the Helmut Newton and Andy Warhol exhibit.

The gallery’s first floor was devoted to Warhol, while the second was given over to Newton’s 9-foot-tall, B&W photos of statuesque naked women in stiletto heels, which at least one guest found “a bit too Weimar Republic.” Gallery owner Larry Gagosian said he always schedules a high-profile show during Oscar week because “this is the real Christmas in L.A.” As his contribution to the seasonal joy, he invited guests Elton John, Dennis Hopper, Brett Ratner, Sofia Coppola and Kirsten Dunst to a post-show dinner at Mr. Chow’s.

At Bliss, Donald Trump took a break from the harsh reality of the boardroom and his NBC unscripted hit “The Apprentice” for one of the strangest Oscar-week tie-in bashes, courtesy of L.A. Confidential.

On Friday Lions Gate took over the Skybar and packed it with a young and beautiful crowd. This was a classic over-the-top Oscar party in a visually stunning, only-in-L.A. location that fit perfectly with the week’s social excess.

“If we wanted to be subtle,” production prexy Michael Paseornek said, “we’d live in London.”

Over in Hollywood at the Concorde, emerging auteurs were honored with the presentation of TriggerStreet.com’s Budweiser Filmmaker Discovery Award. The reception was hosted by Kevin Spacey.

Perhaps the happiest reception of the week occurs just before Saturday’s Independent Spirit Awards. Who knew serving champagne at noon would put guests in such a good mood?

“The great thing about the Spirit Awards is you can get drunk and they just think you’re indie and edgy,” Jennifer Tilly explained. “If you get drunk at the Oscars, they say, ‘Uh-oh, she might have a substance abuse problem.’ ”

Milling in the crowd was Patty Hearst, who came with John Waters and said the show’s emcee “is the best date.” Waters added: “We’re each other’s beards.”

While the indies were honoring each other, the Society of Composers & Lyricists hosted a reception for the Academy’s music nominees at a member’s Beverly Hills home. “We might not be the biggest party of the season,” said AMPAS music branch governor Charles Bernstein, “but we’ve got the best rhythm and a roomful of people who can read music.”

Oscar eve, revelers had the choice of three major bashes — the Night Before party co-sponsored by Variety, Miramax’s annual Max awards and a swank soiree at the art-filled home of New Line topper Bob Shaye and wife Eva. All three had a no-press policy, though members of the media hit all three as guests, under strict instructions to keep conversations interview- and stress-free.

Many revelers found their way to more than one of the three, with the Miramax awards finishing in plenty of time for partygoers to trek elsewhere. At Shaye’s house in the hills, the festive mood spoke for itself.

(Kathy Lyford contributed to this report.)

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