From the pages of

And The Award For Best Party Goes To...
by Martin Lewis
(First published March 24, 2001)

What is the most important event in Hollywood this weekend? If you answered "The Oscars" - you obviously don't live or work here. The Oscars is not the main event. It's just the excuse for the main event. Which is to party. If you don't believe me - just answer this simple pop quiz: Who won Best Actress last year? Who won Best Supporting Actor? Best Adapted Script? The answer: No one knows. Or cares. Except, of course, for the winners, their agents, and the various deities who were profusely thanked for bestowing greatness on them.

The brutal truth is that the Oscar is a glittering prize which supplies succor and nourishment all the way to Monday morning. And then it's back to "What have you done lately?" Of course the tag is with you forever but no one in this Short Attention-Span town remembers your resume. They remember that you gave great "headers." "Headers" are the snappy soundbites by which you cement your relationships (I use the word loosely) in a crowded party.

As usual, the Academy Awards weekend is chock-a-block with social gatherings - the more exclusive the bash, the hipper it is. Pretty much anyone, including gate crashers, can get in to the official Governors' Ball. Saying that you are going there is like boasting to folks attending a rock concert that you have all-access passes to the parking lot. Unless you're a winner - milling around the Governors' Ball is a rather sad admission that you didn't get invited to any of the really tony parties. In fact, jaded insiders who encounter one another at this bash usually roll their eyes as if to say "I HAVE to do this . . ." and then immediately enquire "Where are you going?" This is not usually because you wish to actually see the person later, and it's certainly not a philosophical question. It's simply a way of gauging the other person's status.

So which are the hottest parties to be? This year more and more studios are following the trend set by Miramax Films - which is to hold a killer bash the day before the Oscars. It certainly doesn't preclude a post-Oscar party - but partying before the awards has the advantage of avoiding all those insincere, glazed smiles and auto-gush about "It was an honor just to be nominated...."

Some will start off their Saturday at the Independent Spirit Awards - though this event is starting to lose some steam. Its problem is the overwhelming success of its key protagonists. Like musicians who dub themselves "alternative" - it's hard to be truly independent these days. Those pesky big corporations keep distributing the most promising films. Eleven years ago Steven Soderbergh was a young hopeful touting his breakthrough "sex, lies and videotape." Now he has two films in competition for Best Picture. It's not that he's sold out. Far from it. It's that the studios have become savvier.

Furthermore, the Awards have a kind of hipper-than-thou ambiance. A disdain for the big system. While this is no bad thing in itself - the tone is often that of a convention of prissy elitists. The name of an obscure Polish animator is always on the lips - waiting to be played as a cultural trump card. "I'll raise you an Angolan documentary-maker..." "I'll see your Indonesian cinematographer - and top it with my surprising taste for the subtext of the 'Ernest' movies..."

Those who claim some British ancestry will be making their way to the "BAFTA-LA" event on Saturday afternoon. Despite sounding like a Greek pastry, this is actually an acronym for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts - Los Angeles and is the British equivalent of AMPAS (American Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.) The L.A. chapter consists of members of the British film industry in self-imposed exile on the West Coast. (Some wags posit that the British contingent in Hollywood is the British film industry in its entirety.)

This annual bash is held in the style of an English tea party and was initially devised 8 years ago to toast the inevitable strong showing each year of British actors. It is a rare year when the "Masterpiece Theatre" effect doesn't reel in a slew of acting nods for British thespians. And those costume design and sound editing categories that give us so much grief in winning the office Oscar pool are usually littered with British technicians.

In the first year it was held the British faced a slight problem. Several of that year's prominent Oscar nominees - such as Jim Sheridan, Neil Jordan and Liam Neeson were actually Irish. To celebrate both the British and Irish would have sounded inelegant and was rife with political danger. The diplomatic skills of the British Consul-General in L.A. saved the day. He suggested referring to the nominees of "The British Isles" (a quaint geographic nomenclature which includes Ireland by way of topography without mentioning the vexed issue of sovereignty over Ireland.)

After snacking on cucumber sandwiches, petit fours, and cups of tea (remember to crook your little finger) the lucky will head off to the annual Miramax pre-party. This has now gained the stature of the must-attend party of the weekend. Apart from the usual schmoozing, the event boasts a unique feature. Like a high school Christmas party, entertainment is provided in the form of skits spoofing the year's top films. Actors such as Kevin Spacey, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Jude Law regularly show up and don cheesy wigs and Wal-Mart dresses to perform mini-sketches. There are usually a slew of inside references to the Weinstein brothers who created and run Miramax. Last year I observed Michael Eisner (Chairman of Miramax parent company Disney) watching the proceedings with all the intensity of an attendee at the Oberammergau passion play. This is not Mickey Mouse stuff....

Sunday's parties are split in to two categories. Screening parties and post-award show bashes. Not everyone can attend the actual Awards and unless you are nominated there is little point. So the smart folks go to one of the premier viewing parties. One of the hottest events is a charity party thrown by Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation and Norby Walters. This foundation benefits film preservation which is a celebrated cause in LA. The event also benefits film ACTOR preservation - since many of the attendees are former Oscar winners who have no place at the Academy Awards - unless it's an Oscar anniversary with a media-friendly number (such as the 70th or 75th) at which point old winners are usually paraded on stage like postcard-perfect war heroes.

In what is that rarest of occurrences - a Hollywood under-statement - the party is named the Night of 100 Stars - but it actually lists some 200 intended attendees. Ranging (alphabetically) from Danny Aiello to Burt Young. (Moon-Unit Zappa was apparently unavailable.)

No other party offers Peter Fonda and Richard Dreyfuss alongside Anna Nicole Smith and Vivica Fox. And the specter of Pat Morita chowing down with Shelly Winters. Or Robert Goulet serenading Darva Conger.

After the viewing parties the post-parties are limited. Most of the studios are eschewing holding the big open-call parties - focusing instead on intimate gatherings for their select few. The most desirable traditional parties are the one hosted by Vanity Fair Magazine; a separate one hosted by Los Angeles Magazine and one bash which is a fund-raiser for a much-respected charity, the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Vanity Fair is the toughest party to get invited to. The List is managed by the Status Police - who seem to employ a system that is about Vanity and very little to do with Fair. Those who do make it inside - are sometimes left wondering what the fuss was all about. But what was once a figment (of then-editor) Tina Brown's imagination has now become the ultimate litmus test of one's Hollywood clout.

The classier event is the now traditional Elton John party. This started in the same year as the last of the Oscar parties thrown by the legendary agent Swifty Lazar. Few entertainment industry figures are as at home in the worlds of music and movies as Elton John - and this party has effectively taken over the role formerly fulfilled by the Lazar bash. While stars want to go to the Vanity Fair party because its the place to be seen - celebrities seek even harder to attend this bash because it's the most fun. This results in a slew of limos criss-crossing town - dropping off their famous charges at different parties - yet aiming to finish off the evening with Elton.

Making his party even more desirable as a destination is the fact that it raises substantial funds for AIDS prevention and treatment - with over $22 million awarded in direct grants in just 9 years. With that sort of result - attendees can feel good. It makes it about partying with a purpose.

The amiable ghost of super-agent Swifty Lazar will be beaming down behind his over-size glasses as Los Angeles magazine hosts its benefit event in aid of the charity "Children Uniting Nations" That is because the party is being held at the famous Hollywood Spago - where Swifty ruled supreme on Oscar night for so many years. Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck is closing this branch of his restaurant empire to focus on the newer Beverly Hills branch. And this bash will be the last major event to be held there.

Celebrities already lined up include an eclectic mix ranging from Jeff Bridges, Rob Reiner, Halle Berry and Jennifer Jason Leigh - to Jon Voight, Priscilla Presley, Forrest Whitaker, Martin Landau and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Throw in such disparate names as pop group Hanson and George W. Bush's Ambassador in Hollywood - Bo Derek - and you have an eclectic mix of celebrities to turn most heads. And with all those people to network with - that's why very few people in Hollywood will remember who won the Oscars by Monday morning...

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