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Finding an appropriate location to watch the Academy Awards ever year in Los Angeles is akin to making sure you get invited to the right New Year's Eve party. Chances are it's going to be crowded, there won't be enough alcohol, you wonder how you never get invited to the Elton John fete and you quickly realize not going to get to hear most of the countdown, er, telecast very well. And for those of us who cover Hollywood's biggest night, trying to find a party where you can either live-blog or work is incredibly difficult. Such troubles, eh? This year, I jumped at the chance to watch the show from the vantage point of The Weinstein Company's shindig at the Mondrian Hotel on the Sunset Strip. And considering the mini-major was expected to dominate the evening's honors with "The Artist" it seemed like a safe bet.
The only member of the press (or so I was told) at the viewing party before the much larger, expanded post-show party (confusing I know), I had the opportunity to experience the highs and lows of the telecast with many of the hardworking TWC staff and a very large contingent of French-speaking crew, investors, friends and family for "The Artist." Unfortunately, things got off to a dramatic start as "Hugo" stunned winning both cinematography ("Tree of Life" or "The Artist" were the favorites) and art direction (also seen as possibly going "The Artist's" way). Was the room concerned? A little, but the night was young right and this was supposed to be an Oscars of zero upsets (or so we mistakenly predicted).
Cheers finally irrupted as Mark Bridges wins the costume honor for "The Artist." Still, he's American so there isn't the same passion from the French side of the room (truth hurts). More cheers when "The Iron Lady" takes makeup although we're figuring many viewers at home couldn't understand why sweet little "Harry Potter" didn't win (because as Warner Bros. found out, the Academy really didn't respect the "Harry Potter" franchise). Tension rises when a key honor - editing - goes to…"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" (Really Academy? You'll give the pedestrian "Tattoo" an Oscar for editing, but won't give "Transformers" a visual effects or sound honor? Really?). The concern, of course, is that a best picture winner usually also wins best film editing. The only solace for TWC gang was "Hugo" didn't win either. Things get more scary though as "Hugo" lands both sound mixing and sound editing. "The Artist" wasn't up for either, obviously, but it's clear everyone would have been much happier if "War Horse" swept the field (talk about a movie the Academy didn't like).
Two of the biggest surprises of the night were still to come though. Many pundits, including myself, couldn't believe the Academy members who sit through all the documentary finalists would vote for TWC's "Undefeated." It's a fine doc, but anyone who watches Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel or ESPN for the past 20 years has seen this sort of story 30 times over. Of course, the "little old ladies" who have time to watch all the docs don't fall into that category and bypass the more impressive "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory" and "Hell and Back Again." That made for a very happy audience at The Weinstein Party (not to mention the shocked filmmakers who accepted the honor). It was like the '90s when Weinsteins' Miramax was dominating the show.
Back at the French table, things were getting much scarier after "Hugo" stunned in the best visual effects category beating the presumed favorite "Rise of the Apes" (although for those playing at home, this was not as big as "Golden Compass" beating "Transformers" in 2008, but it's damn close). That give "Hugo" five Oscars when it easily could have had zero in an alternate reality. Uh-oh.
Whew. Good news came when Ludovic Bource wins for his gorgeous "Artist" score and cheers of "Ludo!" (not "Hugo") can be heard throughout the first floor of the hotel. Things get even better when Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash win best adapted screenplay for "The Descendants" (yay). That means "Hugo's" John Logan (a fine and deserving screenwriter for his body of work) didn't win. Of course, "The Artist" lost original screenplay to Woody Allen's tome for "Midnight in Paris," but that was expected. At this point, it's a wash.
Finally, a major honor, best director, and when Michel Hazanavicious's name was called you could feel all the tension lift out of the room. Yes, the predictions were going to come to pass. It would be "The Artist's" night.
When Jean Dujardin was named as best actor - fending off a possible late charge from George Clooney - the French table got so loud I couldn't even hear the Weinstein people cheering on the other side of me. What would happen with picture? Would everyone within 10 feet of the party lose hearing in one ear? Before I could ponder that, best actress was up. This was long expected to be Viola Davis' night, but many (including this writer) held out hope that Meryl Streep would finally end her long run of 12 straight nominations without a win. Streep hadn't won in 30 years and the idea that she hadn't been inducted into the three-time Academy Award winner club was bordering on the absurd. So, when Colin Firth simply said "Meryl Streep" not only did the entire Weinstein staff go nuts, so did I! You would have thought the Clippers got to the NBA Finals. In fact, I am still euphoric Streep finally has her third, because it's also deserved and, damn, she's one of the greatest cinema icons ever (Davis would have been a fine winner too, but she'll have other chances in the future).
And then, it was time for best picture. Everyone in the party was converging on the French table (it was a long table mind you) and I had my camera ready for their reaction (see the shaky photo above). When "The Artist" was announced the group went ca-razy and started dancing on the table. That quickly became a bad idea when someone realized they were actually a bunch of tables pushed together and one quickly broke (whoopsie). Thankfully there were no injuries and the champagne kept popping and the party really started. (For some shaky video of "The Artist" win click here.)
Granted, TWC co-founder Harvey Weinstein was at the Oscars along with most of the talent and didn't arrive till much later, but I have to say, it was pretty fun to watch from the pov from the winner's perspective. It's never easy whomever you root for, but being enveloped by euphoria isn't a bad way to end awards season. And somewhere, the "Artist" family is still partying the night away.
For year round entertainment commentary and awards season news follow @HitFixGregory.