New options for Oscar goers

Talk about all dressed up with no place to go: Oscar night is going to see a surplus of guests and a dearth of hosts.

The 14-week writers strike took a toll, both emotional and economic, on Hollywood, but some have used it as an excuse to make cuts — in deals, in holiday gifts and, apparently, in parties.

The Oscar-night party scene was getting to be pretty predictable, and this is the year that longtime traditions are taking a sabbatical. The net result is that with no Vanity Fair party and other cancelled events, and only about half of those at the Academy Awards invited to the Governors Ball, there will be quite the black-tie mob shuffling in their Jimmy Choo slingbacks seeking food and diversion.

In years past, the Governors Ball was the first stop on a serious round of party-hopping. But this year, there simply aren’t many places to hop.

Beyond Vanity Fair’s one-year hiatus, other party no-shows include People mag’s fiesta; Dani Janssen’s affair at her home, which has drawn the likes of Jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood; and the latenight affair hosted by Rick Yorn and Patrick Whitesell.

For the second year, the Elton John AIDS fund-raiser is a viewing dinner followed by a John performance with no after-party (though about 75 nominees and execs have received invites to attend the perf).

One contender to fill this black-tie social vacuum is the party Madonna, her manager Guy Oseary and Demi Moore have put together at the last minute.

Whether this affair becomes an annual event hasn’t been decided.

The party, to be held in a home in the Westside hills, will begin around 9 p.m. A few hundred people are invited, although this number will probably expand. One person who’s seen the guest list said, “Everybody’s on it. It gives the A-list Vanity Fair crowd someplace to go to. It will probably be pared down to where it’s 85% talent, not a lot of suits.”

But even if this party skims off some of the celebrity cream, the Governors Ball will still be the major draw. “It’s the biggest game in town,” said one exec. “This is going to put the glamour back into the ball.”

In the past quarter century, the Governors Ball sometimes hosted cameo appearances by stars who then headed elsewhere: For a decade, Irving “Swifty” Lazar’s affair was the hot ticket, followed by Vanity Fair’s event.

However, out of the roughly 3,300 attending the Oscars, only 1,500 go to the ball. Plus the Academy’s after-party has returned to the sitdown format after last year, when there was no assigned seating — making it more difficult to slip in a few more guests this time around.

Conventional wisdom among studio event planners is that the impromptu parties at the hotels are going to fill the gap.

“The Four Seasons, L’Ermitage, the Chateau Marmont — these are the natural locales,” said one studio event planner. “The Oscar winners go to the ball and maybe there’s something later at their hotel. The losers go home.”

In years past, stars and others have quietly taken over restaurants for their own private affairs. Two years ago, George Clooney famously took over Dan Tana’s. (He won’t this year.)

Event planners and publicists are coy about these private parties. There’s an “I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you” aspect to the discussion.

“It’s going to be a low-key, private year with a lot of viewing parties,” said one publicist. “But remember the context. This isn’t the most exciting Oscars in years. A lot of wind was taken out of the sails by the strike, not to talk about the depressing movies that are being honored.”

One studio event planner pointed out that since most of the nominees are pics from specialty labels, there isn’t as much demand for the kind of large party that would be de rigueur for a major.

“If it’s a major, you’d have all these creative execs to worry about,” said the planner. “Plus the nominated films don’t have huge casts. I think the demand is covered by the ball.”

For those wanting to socialize on Oscar weekend, the solution may be to go out before Sunday.

Tonight is when the agents shine: CAA’s Bryan Lourd hosts a well-attended party at his home, and Endeavor has a cocktail reception at a West Hollywood restaurant (this will be much smaller than the party that topper Ari Emanuel has thrown at his home in years past).

Women in Film is having a reception at Peter Guber’s house for the female nominees. Warners and Fox Searchlight will be having dinners for their respective contenders. AMPAS hosts a reception for the foreign-language nominees at the Academy. BAFTA/LA has an afternoon reception for U.K. nominees at the British consul general’s residence. And the Night Before the Night Before party is held.

Saturday daytime’s big event is the Independent Spirit Awards, with the IFC throwing an after-party at Shutters. The sound editors present their Golden Reel awards downtown at the Wilshire Grand Hotel. The Intl. Documentary Assn. hosts its annual DocuDay screenings at the WGA. Both Miramax and Focus/Universal will be having dinner parties for their nominees. And Academy governor Charles Bernstein chairs the Society of Composers & Lyricists annual reception at a member’s BevHills home for the music nominees.

The major event on Oscar eve will be the Night Before party, co-sponsored by Variety, at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

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