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‘I Thought Oppenheimer Was Mediocre’

I experience my first Academy Awards weekend in 4K, as a delightfully immersive and occasionally destabilizing multisensory experience. It starts on Friday, when I attend a pre-Oscars party at a mansion on a hilltop, hosted by Vanity Fair and Yves Saint Laurent to celebrate Oppenheimer, a film about that time the United States dropped two nuclear bombs on Japan. Every single person is wearing black and smoking, perhaps as some kind of light homage. They often ask each other if they are wearing YSL and mostly the answer is yes; nobody eats the cheeseburgers being passed around. I see Christopher Nolan and Cillian Murphy chatting with people, but then I see Josh Hartnett and decide I need to pay off a long-standing psychic debt to my 12-year-old self and speak to him first. He’s chatting with Alex Wolff, who pulls a small box out of his suit jacket to reveal two tiny mints, explaining that they are “from Japan” and “not drugs.” I eat one — I trust him, he was in Hereditary and knows why Ari Aster is like that about moms— and turn to Josh to say something about Pearl Harbor, realizing that he has actively participated in fictional World War II from multiple (2) angles. I also bring up The Faculty and he says, “Yeah, wow, that was in like, 1998.”

The interior of the hilltop mansion looks like a preserved Mad Men set, complete with actual Jon Hamm walking around with a wife, except Hailey Bieber is also there, which sort of cancels out the period-perfect effect. I head for a bathroom attached to one of the bedrooms, which is empty save for Sharon Stone sitting casually on a bed with a friend, wearing glasses, looking absolutely amazing. She compliments my shoes, which are dirty, and we discuss how hard it is to wear heels for more than a few minutes. Keegan Michael Key walks in and remarks on the floors (they are good) and leaves. Other party attendees include Zoe Kravitz and Channing Tatum and dozens of women I vaguely recognize from Instagram, who wander around flammably near heat lamps and fire pits. Dominique Sessa of The Holdovers talks to Billie Eilish’s brother. I see Lottie from Yellowjackets and feel relieved to see a friend but then have to keep reminding myself I don’t actually know her. Back in Sharon Stone’s adopted bedroom, I volunteer to take photos for a woman I soon learn is Cillian Murphy’s wife and her friends, who are having more fun than anyone else here.

On Saturday I run around to various expensive hotels across Los Angeles to pick up the tickets necessary for me to attend the Academy Awards, including a wristband that allows me to leave my floor at the Oscars to visit other, more famous floors. When I’m done, I meet a luxury artisan at my hotel pool and we end up in her hotel room perusing her wares, which run upwards of $200,000, and then I somehow end up buying her oat milk at Erehwon. Soon thereafter I am standing completely naked with my arms bent downward like a broken marionette getting a last minute $250 spray tan in Beverly Hills. The Oscars will do things like this to you and you must accept it, there is no point in resistance.

Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

On the day of the awards, Hazel and Wendy, the housekeeping staff at the Short Stories Hotel, agree to zip me into my dress. I carry my bricklike mobile charger necessary to power my crucial observations in my hand because it doesn’t fit in my purse. To physically get into Hollywood’s Dolby Theater, where the Oscars are held every year, is a Zelda-esque vision quest; my Uber driver and I fail over and over at deciphering the riddle-like directions for cars approaching the event and I end up staggering many city blocks by foot in already painful heels. Several people on the way pump me for ceremony tickets and many L.A. private and public security officers compliment my outfit as I hobble. I arrive at 2:30 p.m., the same time as Dwayne Wade and Gabrielle Union, but am unable to pause and look at them due to a giant hedge eventually separating my red carpet (for normies) from their red carpet (the real one).

Once inside the Dolby, I wander down endless red carpeted halls like I am Danny in The Shining. Everyone is trying to take the same selfie with a giant Oscar statue and the same group selfie at the bottom of some red stairs. I hide behind a large column at the top of those stairs and clock the celebs who are an hour-plus early to the event: Nicolas Cage, Matt Bomer, Zone of Interest director Jonathan Glazer, who sneaks by most people unnoticed, as does my good friend Josh Hartnett (in sunglasses) and his wife Tamsin Egerton; we don’t speak because we have said all we needed to say. Another reporter tells me that I don’t actually need to be in my assigned seat inside the theater by 3:30 (even though the Academy told me that I did) and also that everyone is now getting micro facelifts. Diana Nyad and Bonnie Stoll stop to chat with a group of fans. Diana is raving about Bradley Cooper and stressing about the camera angle that might hit her if she’s sitting in the balcony. Ke Huy Quan and Colman Domingo hold each other’s hands intensely and tell each other they look stunning.

Once I am finally in my balcony seat one minute before the ceremony begins, the actor and comedian David Alan Grier warms up the crowd and calls himself a “zaddy.” “Don’t fuck this up,” he warns the nominees, vaguely. Ariana Grande floofs into the audience below me in Barbie pink; her dress fills her entire seat and its surrounding area like a gay emergency parachute. She is one of the only famous people I can see from my perch. I will report on her reactions to stuff when possible — for example, she really liked ceremony host Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue joke about the heavy themes in German movies, and she nodded heavily at his remark about members of the Screen Actors Guild not wanting to be replaced by AI. She, Cynthia Erivo, and Lena Waithe chat excitedly at commercial breaks in between looking intently at their phones.

Back in the hallway, at a bar that will prove very popular as the night drags on, is Annette Bening. “Can we take the drinks in?” she asks the bartender, gesturing to the theater. She can. “I don’t know if I can do gin and tonic on an empty stomach,” she adds, and orders a white wine. Florence Pugh asks for two olives in a cup and eats one, then hands the cup back. “I can’t finish that one,” she says apologetically, and orders a Chardonnay before running back to chat intently with Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons. I nervously rub my tourist wristband, which allows me access to this bar to mill among the celebrities but with a gigantic visual reminder that I am not one of them.

Commercial breaks induce madness. By the second one, Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo race out of the theater to pee and Emma gets caught up in a convo with Kirsten Dunst, who’s still haunting the area in a very chic way. In the process, Emma misses a Poor Things win for production design: “Oh my god!” She watches the speech, visibly emotional, on the monitors near the bar. Florence, now drinking a vodka soda, hugs her. They poke at each other’s dresses. “We’re missing Cena naked,” observes Florence when she returns to the monitors. “What is happening?” asks a nearby Eva Longoria. “John Cena is naked,” reiterates Emma. Poor Things continues to win and Emma screams. Florence rubs her back, “Oh, babe,” she says as her friend tears up. “Where’s Mark? Where the fuck is Mark?” asks Emma.

Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Greta Gerwig suddenly appears and orders a drink while her husband Noah Baumbach goes to the bathroom with a child (his own?); they reconvene at the bar as a family. “I feel like I fucked it up,” says Greta, about something mysterious. “I just feel like I’m not doing the Oscars well,” she jokes a few minutes later. I see a woman carrying what appears to be Ariana Grande’s dress like a corpse into the elevators. Ava DuVernay walks by in a pin calling for ceasefire, one of the only people I see wearing one. Florence reappears. She realizes she is missing I’m Just Ken; this girl can’t catch a break. I end up watching Ryan Gosling’s Best Song performance standing next to her by the monitors. “Are you Best Dressed?” someone on her team asks her, showing her a cell phone where someone has ostensibly named her as such. She giggles and everyone says congratulations.

The bar cheers raucously as the cowboy Kens flood the lobby after the song. A “Ken!” chant spontaneously begins. Emma returns to the bar again and this time gets ensnared in a convo with Grace Gummer; a publicist reminds Emma to re-enter the ceremony lest she miss her movie’s category again. A trickle of blood leaves my shoe as I notice Danielle Brooks has changed into sparkly sneakers. The room is increasingly filling with people “from TikTok.” On the monitors, I watch my personal friend (Cillian Murphy’s wife) kiss him sensually as he wins Best Actor and feel thrilled for her. “I thought Oppenheimer was mediocre,” says a man behind me. It goes on to win Best Picture.

The celebrities pour out after the Best Picture acceptance speech — The Rock first, JLaw tanly clutching her art husband’s hand. Several people hug the hot lawyer from Anatomy of a Fall. Ryan Gosling and Greta Gerwig stand and receive admirers at the end of the ramp to the theater’s bar and lobby. Lily Gladstone stands away from the hullabaloo near the door of the theater, in bright yellow star sunglasses, looking a little bummed after her Best Actress loss but gorgeous. Greta Gerwig yells at her parents on the phone to meet her at the elevators, where they all ascend to the Governor’s Ball. The lobby empties, but Messi the dog wanders in. It’s his time now.

More on the Oscars

  • ‘I Thought Oppenheimer Was Mediocre’
  • The Highs, Lows, and Whoas of the 2024 Oscars
  • With Barbie Win, Billie Eilish Is Youngest Person With Two Oscars

Rachel Handler , 2024-03-11 05:00:34

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