Gaddafi is hunkering down in Tripoli, giving press interviews, denying that rebels are taking over Eastern Libya. Oil prices are shooting up over $100 a barrel. These are not the top-secret opening lines of Aaron Sorkin's new script, but the global headlines of a world spinning out of control as I head to Los Angeles like an overdressed lemming to attend the 83rd Academy Awards and attempt to make sense of artists thrust into combat.
For the second year, more than 6,000 Academy members have nominated 10 films, and the battle seems to be pared down to 2. The beloved instant classic, The King's Speech, marches into the arena as the frontrunner, but passionate supporters of the edgier (critics' darling) The Social Network have not conceded. The ballots are counted, the party invites are out and still the feelings are raw. Nominees are exhausted from campaigning.
Woody Allen and George Lucas tell me they are no longer members of the Academy because pitting artists against each other to determine the quality of their work is insane. They are right. My event and publicity company is considered Switzerland by the studios, as we help every filmmaker to present his work. However, this year, against my better judgment, I am somewhat emotionally sucked in.
In 2005, I met the unknown 32-year-old English director Tom Hooper on his first film for HBO, Elizabeth I starring Helen Mirren. Helen later wins an Oscar for portraying Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen. Queen Elizabeth is the daughter of King George VI, portrayed by Oscar-winner Colin Firth in The King's Speech directed by Hooper. No degrees of separation.
At the Telluride Film Festival, Tom Hooper bathed in the glory of a hysterical standing ovation alongside Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush at the very first public screening of that film. Two weeks later at the Toronto Film Festival, Harvey Weinstein stood with his filmmakers witnessing the same reaction. The film won The Audience Prize. Their strategy was to say nothing, do nothing. They have a possible Oscar winner--four out of five most recent Best Pictures have premiered in Toronto.
Cut to New York City at the end of September. It's opening night of the New York Film Festival at The Film Society of Lincoln Center. One of America's most important and
prolific producers, Scott Rudin, along with Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Aaron Sorkin, are in a brightly lit box waving down to their equally hysterical audience who have just seen The Social Network. The film opens the next week to rave reviews and endless publicity. David Fincher is off making The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Aaron Sorkin becomes the face of the film and an immediate shoo-in for the adapted screenplay Oscar.
The Hamptons International Film Festival in October suddenly becomes a launching pad for 127 Hours, where star-cum-Yale/NYU student James Franco appears. More Oscar buzz. Producer/director Danny Boyle (Oscar-winner for Slumdog Millionaire) stays in London all fall directing the play Frankenstein. Black Swan also unspools at the festival in a tiny theater as Madonna, Alec Baldwin and Harvey Weinstein slip in the back. Darren Aronofsky is hailed a genius. Natalie Portman is instantly the hot nominee for best actress. Both films are sensations, but it's The King's Speech that wins The Audience Award.
Mid-November: David O. Russell and Mark Wahlberg sneak The Fighter in Manhattan. As their audience erupts in cheers, I tell producer/actor Wahlberg, "Clint Eastwood is going to kill himself for not directing this." He says, "You're wrong. He turned it down because he's done it. He's seen it and he loves it." David O. Russell becomes my new Clint Eastwood. Christian Bale and Melissa Leo are hailed the supporting actors to beat.
True Grit, directed by the Coen Brothers and also produced by Scott Rudin, finally throws its cowboy hat in the ring in mid-December at the Ziegfeld as the last serious Oscar contender for best picture. It gallops off to box office gold.
The Social Network now cements its battle cry with one word: relevance. Mark Zuckerberg lands on the cover of Time Magazine as "Person of the Year." A smart and extensive ad campaign positions the film in the lead. Critics and pundits proclaim the race is over. Everyone goes on holiday.
This is one of the few times in Harvey Weinstein's life that he's caught off guard. He quickly mobilizes an inner team of 15 and conducts strategy meetings 7 days a week, including Christmas. They're like a Chinese restaurant: always open. He sends screenwriter David Seidler and Tom Hooper to every corner of the country doing Q&As until they are both blue in the face from "finding their voice." SAG voters begin seeing the film two and three times.
At the Golden Globes in January, about 88 foreign journalists give awards to The Social Network for best drama, director and screenplay. The film is still perceived as the Oscar winner and nobody can stop the steamroller. Only Academy voters disregard these awards.
The King's Speech wins the PGA in L.A. Everyone is totally surprised when Tom Hooper goes on to win the DGA. After a tremendous amount of hard work by team Weinstein, the actors win for the SAG Ensemble. The BAFTAs reinforce their lead; the film is now the frontrunner. It takes the media a few weeks to catch on.
I am face to face with Harrison Ford and stupidly tell him I love him in Morning Glory. He's looking at me in utter disbelief, but I will not shut up. A gorgeous guy is inches away in a hat and glasses. I whisper to Harrison, "That looks just like Johnny Depp." Harrison rolls his eyes and reluctantly introduces me to his friend . . . Johnny Depp. I babble a bit about his great work then run for cover in a corner next to my buddy, Jerry Bruckheimer.
I head over to the CAA/Bryan Lourd's "Friday Night Party." Torrential rains and horrific winds cause a traffic jam that makes it impossible to get near the house. The world's most famous faces cower under black umbrellas and make a run for it. Bryan Lourd and Bruce Bozzi receive friends at the door all night.
Inside, Uma Thurman tells me she finally moved into a doorman building in New York after being terrorized by a stalker for years. Ben Walker talks about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which he is about to shoot, while his fiancée, Mamie Gummer, looks sexy shivering in a white satin gown. Producer Jon Kilik mentions he oversaw a new cut of Julian Schnabel's Miral, to be released in March. Bennett Miller, standing with Kristin Gore, says that Sony loves his new film, Moneyball, and Brad Pitt is terrific. (When is Brad Pitt not terrific?) Sandy Gallin tells me he has an actual job decorating Jeffrey Katzenberg's home. I congratulate Barry Levinson's son Sam, a director, for winning the writing award at Sundance for his first film, Another Happy Day.
Also seen floating around are Taylor Swift and Jake Gyllenhaal--but not together--Sean Penn, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Anderson Cooper, Hilary Swank, Kelly Ripa, Paul Haggis, Marisa Tomei, Kate Beckinsale, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, Kate Hudson, Gerard Butler, Renée Zellweger with Bradley Cooper, Biutiful director Alejandro González Iñárritu, Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, Ellen Barkin (who is headed to Broadway in The Normal Heart this spring) and CAA's Kevin Huvane, Richard Lovett and Hylda Queally. Sony Classics' Michael Barker tells me The Social Network will win.
Tired celebs try to go home, but limo lock is at a standstill. Cellphones don't work in the area. Two hundred swells become party prisoners and happily hang out till 5 a.m.
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 26
Out comes the sun and dries up all the rain. IAC chairmen Barry Diller (whose company owns Newsweek/The Daily Beast) and his wife Diane Von Furstenberg (with her kids Alex and Tatiana) host their 15th annual lunch for Graydon Carter in their Coldwater Canyon home. Barry introduces me to his star guest, Gov. Jerry Brown, just elected to his third (non-consecutive) term as California governor.
Like last year, enormous clear plastic tents are erected on the hill near the house. Long wooden picnic tables sit on oriental rugs covering the soggy ground. V.I.P.s wears winter clothes, comfy sweaters and sensible shoes. I arrive in a fur coat.
Everybody knows everybody, and it doesn't matter if you have a hit film or T.V. show this season. Oprah Winfrey kisses David Geffen, casually chats with former Disney C.E.O. Michael Eisner and current Sony Chief Sir Howard Stringer and Rob Weisenthal. Brett Ratner arrives with his houseguest Jean Pigozzi, who is allowed to take photographs. Graydon greets people with chic wife Anna by his side.
Ingrid Sischy and Sandy Brant, Rupert Murdoch, Ron Meyer, Francesco Clemente with his twin boys and Tom Ford chat each other up. People to watch include pregnant Victoria and David Beckham with Lynn Wyatt, Fran Lebowitz, Larry Gagosian and Shala Monroque, Ben Silverman, Debbie and Allen Grubman, Sotheby's' Tobias Meyer and Mark Fletcher and Stephen Gaghan and Minnie Mortimer wearing her oversized cat glasses.
Bruce Cohen has invited me to the Oscar broadcast rehearsal. Inside the Kodak Theatre's massive auditorium, I find a seat next to his proud parents. I watch Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem come out in white dinner jackets and flub their lines as they pretend to present best adapted screenplay and best original screenplay. Josh will later tell me that their acting methods are completely opposite: he's a quick study and is very creative and comfortable ad-libbing; Javier, whose mother tongue is Spanish, likes to have every syllable printed out to study with a dialect coach. Life-size photos on cardboard plaques are taped to each nominee's chair. I memorize their location so when I return Sunday I can quickly kiss them all.
Back at the Beverly Hills Hotel I slip into my black tulle Dennis Basso cocktail dress with tulle Dennis Basso cocktail dress with a plunging hotel. This is Jeffrey Katzenberg's 9th annual A-lister event benefiting the Motion Picture & Television Fund where they raise $6.5 million dollars in 1 night. I walk into Valentino, who gives me an approving once-over. I tell him and Giancarlo Giammetti that Woody Allen's new film, Midnight in Paris, is opening the Cannes Film Festival and they must bring the yacht.
Elton John and David Furnish join our conversation so of course we ask for intimate details about baby Zachary. I segue over to Amy Adams, who, like them, mentions she hates leaving her baby in the hotel room. Next stop is Kate Capshaw in a black bowler hat chatting with Steven Spielberg's god-daughter, Gwyneth Paltrow. I have known Steven for years (in 1982 I was a publicist on E.T.). I now tell him I'm going to the Lincoln Center opening of War Horse with Kathy Kennedy and Frank Marshall and cannot wait to see his movie version.
I meet sweet Jennifer Aniston, her new haircut and her perfect little body. Her date tells me her secret is a half-hour on the treadmill everyday--such an understatement. I tell Jesse Eisenberg I was on his plane home from the BAFTAS last week, but he was hiding under his hoodie. He says innocently, "You should have said 'hello.' I always cover my head because I think my curls make me look like a girl." The charity gives us a coupon booklet redeemable at various booths. Rich people run around like lunatics, collecting gifts for their housekeepers. Among the shoppers are Steven and Heather Mnuchin, Viacom's Philippe Dauman with wife Deborah, Tamara Mellon, Christine Taylor and Ben Stiller, Cate Blanchet, Susan and Robert Downey Jr. and Debra and Hugh Jackman.
Next stop is The Weinstein Company's party at the Soho House sponsored by Montblanc. Long gone are the funky Miramax Saturday night soirees where nominees spoofed their own films in homemade costumes and ad-libbed hilarious skits. No more grown men dressed as Anna Paquin playing the piano in hopes of winning a Max Award.
As I come in, a 400-pound gorilla refuses to let me on the elevator. Once on, I see Jennifer Lopez in the corner and remind her we met on Len Blavatnik's yacht in Cannes. She graciously pretends to remember me. Her manager, Benny Medina, is kicking me.
I slip into Colin Firth's booth to have a tête-à-tête with him and his wife Livia Giuggioli. Jokingly, I suggest he say "I'm speechless" when he wins. Colin patiently assures me many people, far more clever than I, have thought of this. He then says that others are waging bets on whether he might subcon- sciously stutter. I grill him about his wardrobe, assuming he will be wearing a new Tom Ford tuxedo. He tells me both he and Ford will be in older Ford models. I tell him I made rich-but-thrifty Charles Ferguson, director of Inside Job, spend $6,000 for a new Tom Ford tux.
In the back room, Jennifer Lopez is now seated with Weinstein's wife, Georgina Chapman. Helena Bonham Carter, her live-in-lover Tim Burton and her mother Elena circulate. Star power includes Adrien Brody, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Cameron Diaz, Camilla Belle, Chace Crawford, Claire Danes and Hugh Dancy, Darren Aronofsky, director John Wells, Kerry Washington, Piers Morgan, Rachel Zoe, Sean Parker, Zach Braff and Leonardo DiCaprio with Bar Refaeli. Speech filmmakers are functioning on high anxiety.
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 27
Producer Donna Gigliotti is my date to the awards. We are both so nervous we arrive at the Kodak Theatre at 3 p.m. and nobody is there. We are driven around for an hour. When we arrive back at the world's most famous red carpet, I guide Donna through security check-in to the extreme right to make sure we get on camera. I teach her the red carpet hustle: five steps forward, three steps back, one inch behind a couture-clad nominee. We greet Kevin Huvane as Sandra Bullock is talking to ABC-TV and a billion people see me wearing a black Marchesa gown. Five steps forward, three steps back, we next meet Gwyneth Paltrow and I hook up the back of her dress while another billion people see me correct the fashion malfunction. Five steps forward, three steps back, we're now posing behind Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban. Our BlackBerrys begin buzzing; the world has seen us.
James Franco and Anne Hathaway are hip hosts. This is the year of no surprises. But it isn't until Hilary Swank yells out Hooper's name for Best Director that Harvey's gang finally realizes they are getting the Oscar for Best Picture after all. Harvey is sitting in Spielberg's seat as Spielberg announces the win from the stage. Producers Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin leap up and kiss each other. Six months of grueling work have finally paid off. King George VI and Harvey Weinstein now share the journey of a single man who triumphs over adversity.
At the Governors Ball, held above the Kodak Theatre, the winners triumphantly sashay around the room holding their heavy eight-and-a-half-pound gold statues. An hour later there is a migration to the Vanity Fair party hosted by Graydon Carter at Jeff Klein's Sunset Tower Hotel. The invitation features a gold hologram that transmits a radio frequency of a photo and details about the guest to VF staff as they arrive. The next day "Page Six" will report that the backup private security firm is run by a former Israeli operative, when in fact they are Irish Catholics from Staten Island.
There's a hierarchy of arrival times. At 5 p.m. the inner circle of Graydon's 141 best friends attend a seated dinner. They include Barry Diller and Diane Von Furstenberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Jon Hamm and Jennifer Westfeldt, Betsy Bloomingdale, Tory Burch and Lyor Cohen, Carolina and Reinaldo Herrera, L'Wren Scott and Sir Mick Jagger, Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber, Wendy Stark, George Hamilton, Judd Apatow, Jackie and Joan Collins, Donna Karan and Steve Martin.
The best and the brightest talent in town arrive at 9 p.m.Every single winner shows up. Also there are Justin Bieber and his date Selena Gomez, Michelle Williams, Emma Stone, Steven Tyler and Liv Tyler, Andrew Garfield, Jude Law, Armie Hammer, Vera Farmiga, Kevin Spacey, Charlize Theron, Anne Hathaway, Winter's Bone star-of-tomorrow Jennifer Lawrence, Taylor Hackford and Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Isla Fisher and Sacha Baron Cohen, Tom Hanks, Sean Penn, Renée Zellweger and Bradley Cooper and Jane Fonda after her play, 33 Variations. I introduce Melania and Donald Trump to David O. Russell as The Trumpster gushes about The Fighter. David tells Donald he used to be a waiter/bar tender at many of Trump's parties. Donald smiles as if looking at yet another apprentice. He then offers me a ride home on his plane; he's leaving in 10 minutes. Too bad James Franco didn't know because he is presently sitting on a commercial flight back to school, skipping his own after-party. The rest of the guests' social standings are determined by half-hour increments. VF's Beth Kseniak, Matt Ullian and Jane Sarkin tell me the list is cut down to 800 this year.
At 11:30 p.m. there is another celebrity migration up the hill to Madonna manager Guy Oseary's house. Earlier in the evening, Madonna came down the hill to pose in a risqué see-thru outfit with daughter Lourdes. Madonna and co-host Demi Moore are able to lure the crème de la crème with the promise of dancing and no cameras.
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 28
A winner's work is never done. Colin Firth, Tom Hooper and David Seidler show up at 4:30 a.m. at the Four Seasons Hotel for a live broadcast on "The TODAY Show." Functioning on an adrenaline rush, they return to the Kodak Theatre with Geoffrey Rush to appear on Oprah's live broadcast.
By the end of this year's thrilling race between two great producers--Scott Rudin and Harvey Weinstein-- Facebook and Twitter are credited for aiding political justice from the streets of Cairo to Tripoli. But the British film with the most heart wins as one single human voice can still make a difference. The king has spoken.