It was the end of the strangest Oscar week in history.
On Sunday night the stars filed into the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. Some of them didn’t want to be there. A lot of them didn’t show. Nicole Kidman told me she understood.
"I felt so guilty being here," Kidman told me at the Governor’s Ball following the ceremony. She was seated between her parents, her daughter Isabella having gone to bed right after Kidman’s big win for best actress in The Hours.
"What did I say in my speech?" she asked me over bites of Wolfgang Puck’s magnificent dinner. "I wanted to say how life had changed after September 11."
"I was crying," Nicole’s mother interjected. "But you musn’t keep telling people you need my approval. I love you, dear. You have my approval!"
"Oh mother!" Nicole whispered.
It was that kind of night for Kidman, whom I also talked to in the Kodak just as we took our seats before the show. She did not think she would win — really. With fellow nominees Julianne Moore and Renee Zellweger within earshot she said, "It’s going to be Renee, you’ll see. But it’s fine and I’m very happy for her."
She was wrong. of course. Kidman’s reference to Sept. 11 during her speech was one of several that alluded to current events or addressed them straight on. Best actor Adrien Brody literally stopped the orchestra to add on a bit about peace and about a friend of his in the Marines.
Earlier in the evening, at the swirling party in the large bar area outside the awards, Brody had to scramble to find a sandwich and a drink. His mother, famed photographer Sylvia Plachy, was at his side. After the show, when he was finally able to get some dinner, Brody and his parents sat quietly at the Governor's Ball just trying to adjust to what happened.
"I didn’t plan the extra speech," he told me, "it just happened." Plachy, like Kidman’s mom, was still wiping away the tears.
Of course, Brody’s biggest moment in the show was not the speech but the huge surprise (and deep) kiss he gave presenter Halle Berry when he arrived at the microphone. Berry was clearly shocked, although it was such an unbridled, honest moment she couldn’t object too much.
"What did she say?" Adrien asked me at dinner.
This is what Halle told me: "I just went for it. I knew that feeling of being out of your head."
Her husband, singer Eric Benet, looked kind of stunned when she was talking to me about this. Benet seemed much different than he did one year ago. His long hair is cut short and he had kind of a dazed look in his eye. He just nodded and smiled when Berry was describing the kiss. Tabloid stories about him over the last year would suggest that he’s not in a position to complain.
Of course, the win by Michael Moore for Bowling for Columbine was for many the most anticipated by the audience in the Kodak. There were about 300 people, including many celebrities, milling about just outside the orchestra area right before they called the nominees for best documentary.
Edward Norton spent a lot of time especially during the first half of the show in that area, where he fell into a long discussion with Adaptation director Spike Jonze. Salma Hayek was also out there, getting a drink, as was current heartthrob Colin Farrell, who managed to have a beer in each hand.
A pregnant Jennifer Connelly with husband Paul Bettany took up another area, as well as Lou Gossett Jr., screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, Frida director Julie Taymor and Oscar-winner and Frida composer Elliot Goldenthal. I ran into Anjelica Huston, who brought her 20-year-old nephew and aspiring actor Jack Huston (named for her father, John, and not Jack Nicholson).
By and large the group starting shushing each other, until the place was silent when they called the documentary category. When Moore won, there was a thunderous ovation throughout the Kodak, and, as you saw on TV, the crowd inside all rose to their feet. There was also booing.
Moore told me when he returned from the press room that Sean Penn had given him some advice. "He said I should say, 'Everyone who believes in the bombing should stand up,'" Moore recalled. Instead, he spoke to the other documentary nominees during the commercial break prior to their time. "I said, what do you think if no matter who wins we all go up there? Everyone agreed, it’s never been done before."
"What [the critics] don’t get is that I have the will of the people. The No. 1 bestselling book in this country for over 52 weeks is Stupid White People," Moore claimed, referring to his published rant against corporate America. "That’s not because they disagree with me, is it?"
Actually, his book has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 49 weeks. And it is currently No. 2.
And Moore’s happiness with his award was muted by not just the boos, but by the orchestra interrupting the end of his speech after he ran over his alloted time. When Brody was given the chance to stop the music to say what he wanted, Moore’s studio head, United Artists President Bingham Ray, cried foul.
"That’s [expletive]," he said, watching Brody. "They cut Michael off and wouldn’t let him finish."
Moore’s speech was similar to the one he gave the day before at the Independent Spirit Awards. The last line, if you missed it: "When you have the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, you’re not long for the White House."
Although last night was not much for big Oscar parties, there was a curious turn of events in the much-ballyhooed party world.
Every year, Vanity Fair throws its bash across the street from a similar one hosted by InStyle magazine and the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The two groups are rivals, and very competitive.
Early in the week, Vanity Fair called all the journalists who regularly cover their party and uninvited them. There was a lot of bad feeling and grumbling.
When In Style heard this, they had no choice but to follow suit. Editor Charla Lawhon was advised that if Vanity Fair was excluding the press, she had to do the same thing. Lawhon, who has been a friendly and popular figure, suddenly became a villain. The word spread and suddenly Elton John’s dinner was, for the first time, held in the same contempt as the contentious Vanity Fair.
But what! At the eleventh hour, Vanity Fair’s Beth Kseniak had her minions put out the call. Press was invited after all. The starved ink-stained wretches scurried from hither and yon to Mortons to see what, if anything, was happening. (Answer: not much.)
InStyle was left in the cold, with no coverage, bad advice and enough ill-will to last a decade. Not only that, but apparently Elton caught wind of what happened and had quite a row with InStyle.
Poor InStyle. They had to learn the hard way that Vanity Fair, as Michael Jackson might say, is "very very devilish."
More tomorrow, including the triumphant Chicago win.