Oscar weekend officially kicks off each year with the Uber-Agent parties on Friday night. There used to be three, but since the legendary Oscar party thrown by Ed Limato (for years of ICM, now of William Morris) has been wiped off the Friday itinerary (I think William Morris had no tradition of this kind of frivolity), there are now only two—Ari Emanuel’s Endeavor Agency party, and Bryan Lourd’s Creative Artists Agency—which simplifies the logistics for those who are invited to both.
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Tradition has it that Endeavor and CAA accommodate each other Oscar weekend in a way that they rarely, if ever, do otherwise, with Ari’s party starting around 8:30 p.m. and Bryan’s around 9:30-10. Both peak at around midnight, so it doesn’t matter which party you’re at when the witching hour comes – you’ll find yourself packed in, wall-to-wall, with Rolodex jockeys and movie stars. It's Camp Hollywood, Home Sweet Home. Don’t bring a date, at least not a civilian. It’s brutal.
So Friday night my date and I (my galpal Risa Shapiro, the gorgeous manager of Jennifer Connelly, among other top talent) made our plans. We had both given up on bringing real dates to these events due to the impossible simultaneous demands of subtle, intense work and air kissing mixed with the task of constantly introducing our non-industry dates to people who didn’t want to meet them. (Two years ago, said hapless civilian ‘date’ was my friend Atlantic editor Ben Schwarz). We piled into Risa’s SUV at 8:45 and headed to Ari’s in Brentwood, fearing we might be early. But no…
Ari’s immense house and new screening room were bursting at the seams with players. Larry David mingled, actually looking happy. Jack Black was there, as were Les Moonves of CBS, and Paramount studio head Brad Grey. Hundreds of gorgeous boys and girls and comics packed the A-plus crowd. I thought to myself, “My, Endeavor, you certainly have grown!” And there are rumors that Endeavor may be merging with William Morris, which would only make it all the more terrifyingly formidable. I say “terrifying” in the fun, mercurical, carnival high-flying sense, because I know Ari—I assume you know this is Rahm Emanuel’s brother and the model for Ari Gold on Entourage. (Disclosure: my brother is his partner at Endeavor, and is not remotely terrifying.)
When I last saw Ari at the party, he was surveying the vast gathering in search of his brother Zeke, the genius chair of the department of Bioethics at the NIH.
I was trying to tear myself away from this scene, which Risa was enjoying immensely, before it was even close to peaking. “Are you nuts?” she asked. “But it’s 11:00,” I pointed out. “But this is great!” she said. And she was right. This was even before the stellar client list of Endeavor’s top talent partner, Patrick Whitesell, had arrived—Kate Hudson, Jen and Ben Affleck, Hugh Jackman, the Damons, and others. This is how much I wanted to get to Bryan’s!!
As Risa and I tore ourselves from Ari’s, I stopped in my tracks. Coming down the brick staircase were the two beautiful brothers of Slumdog Millionaire, Dev Patel, and Madhur Mittal.
After blurting out some embarrassingly rapturous compliments on their performances—which (thank god) I meant, I asked them if they would be so kind as to hear out a theory I have about their movie. They graciously obliged.
“I think that the reason some people in Mumbai are upset about your movie is that they think that we think that they are all like the bad-guy game show host who's rooting for you to lose and calls you Slumdog—that we don’t see the fact that in the movie all of India—all the classes—are rooting for you.”
They jumped up and down. “Yes, Yes, Yes… That’s it exactly!” And you know, Indians actually love the movie. It’s just that the media looks for the newsy quote. We’ve made more in India than Titanic and Dark Knight. But, yes, there is that cultural fear.”
I went on, “And this Bollywood breakout hit was made by the British —by the colonials.”
“Yes, Yes, Of course. That’s it, too!” We were practically necking. “But you know, everyone who made that movie was Indian; every single crew member except for the writer and the director!”
“You will win, and we will cheer!” I said, smiling like a crazy person.
Well, now of course I could leave, having made my Best Picture prediction, and made intellectual love to its stars.
So why Slumdog and not Benjamin Button? David vs. Goliath has turned upside down. What had at first looked like a shoo-in victory for the corporately crafted Oscar bid Benjamin Button, had somehow devolved into a glum scene at the Golden Globes after-party, with Brangelina looking gloomy at a packed table of hangers-on as the tide began to turn.
The table reminded me of Hillary-ites after Iowa, stunned and affronted, as if losing to this upstart was beneath their dignity. But the analogy doesn’t end there. Warning: I’m perfectly capable of driving this analogy into the ground. Benjamin Button was a polished studio entry with all the right ingredients –David Fincher, a $160 million dollar budget, the Paramount pedigree. Movie stars! Special effects! Aging backwards! Romance! Famous writers!
Slumdog was a come-from-behind sleeper – a multi-culti half-breed built on a shoestring (and almost orphaned when Warner dropped it last spring), with a whole Yes, We Can element to its rise from behind within the Academy.
In his February 9 New Yorker piece, David Denby has gotten it completely wrong. Again! (What’s wrong with him these days? I think he’s just too "older male quadrant" as we say out here, totally out of touch with contemporary movies, and with the whole point of making movies.) In his utterly backwards take on the picture, he completely misses both the point and the appeal of the movie, dismissing it with his repulsive phrase, “a commercial for poverty.” It’s the opposite of that. The movie doesn’t objectify the poor in this movie; we are the poor in the movie. If Jamal can win and overcome these obstacles, then so can we. It represents the victory of hope against the most impossible of odds, and the most cynical of forces. In this it is an utterly Barack-era Zeitgeist movie. Those who don’t get it baffle me. There’s a kind of bah, humbug to their criticism: “Don’t put dance numbers at the end of movies,” they say. “It’s manipulative!” Oh, to hell with you!
The point of movies, —not films mind you, but movies, which are what we make—are to give people hope or joy. Something to hold on to and believe in. We are the feel-good, yes-we-can, get married, live to see another day, fall in love again, make another fortune, survive a death, scare yourself and escape, laugh again medium. That’s why we did so well in the Depression, and are doing so well at the box office now. As an old friend who works for Nielsen told me last night at Ari’s, Tyler Perry will pull in $40 mill this weekend. “Everything is totally over-performing,” he said. People need us. And happy endings are our middle name.