Hollywood throws out the script...

Strange days at the Oscars last week.

Strange days at the Oscars last week. The rowdiest, most celebrity-jammed parties were held on Saturday, the day before the ceremony, away from the media glare. Former Universal boss Barry Diller threw his annual luncheon at his Coldwater Canyon home then later brushed past intense anti-press security, clutching his Instamatic camera, to join DreamWorks mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg's benefit for the Motion Picture Fund at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Also in attendance were Ben Affleck and J-Lo, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart, Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw, Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, and Renée Zellweger and Harvey Weinstein.

On their way out they collected their swag: Reeboks and Crispy Cremes.

At the annual Saturday Miramax nominee celebration, when Michael Feinstein sang 'God Bless America', nobody joined in.

On Oscar night the Academy showed its true colours. Gorgeous actresses - Renée in red, Halle in champagne, Julianne in green and Queen Latifah swathed in $4million worth of diamonds - twirled on an abbreviated red carpet in front of only 14 cameras and no press.

During the ceremony the audience, not wanting to reveal anything offensive to their global fans, sat on their hands while Michael Moore berated President Bush. And then things got weird. A Japanese animated film beat the mighty Disney. A Spanish director won Best Original Screenplay. An exiled convicted felon won Best Director. An anarchist rabble-rouser won Best Documentary. An X-rated rap that was not performed on the telecast won Best Song. Meanwhile, the country was at war. 'I felt like we were back in the Sixties,' says Michael Barker of Sony Pictures Classics.

The Pianist almost won best film. With another week and a few more millions, it might have. In hindsight, it all made sense. The average age of the Academy is 60. They are always moved by stories of the Holocaust. Roman Polanski is still, even in absentia, a member of the club. The Pianist was the last movie to be seen by the membership, the most fresh in their minds, much like Monsters' Ball last year. And the Bafta wins for writer Ronald Harwood and Polanski conferred legitimacy. Adrien Brody was this year's Halle Berry, an actor playing the role of a lifetime, like Paul Scofield, Ernest Borgnine and F. Murray Abraham before him.

Jack Nicholson was rooting for The Pianist, directed by his old Chinatown chum, Polanski, and went out of his way to graciously support Brody ('I'm a big fan of his,' Jack told me.) At 29, Brody was the youngest Best Actor, and the only one to ever go up against four previous winners. 'The bigger factor was that he was riding the right pony,' says Variety Oscar analyst Pete Hammond.

Best Actor Favourite Daniel Day-Lewis looked stunned when Brody won - but Day-Lewis was in the wrong movie. 'They really didn't like Gangs,' says Hammond. 'It had one-fifth of the Academy, enough to win 10 nominations, but not nearly enough to win an Oscar.' Martin Scorsese might have fared better had he taken Polanski's high road and not campaigned at all. On Oscar night, Polanski and his wife were holed up at the Plaza Athenee in Paris, supping on caviar and champagne. Producer Robert Evans tracked him down the next morning. 'We cried on the phone together,' says Evans. 'The Academy gave him back his dignity.'

This year's annual Miramax spending spree did not yield total victory: Chicago won six awards, including Best Picture, but did not sweep, and Gangs of New York was 0 for 10. With two wins and far fewer ads, Frida fared better than Gangs and Paramount/Miramax's The Hours, whose only win was Nicole Kidman's Best Actress.

Now Miramax is eager to meet the Academy, broker some campaign reforms and maybe establish spending caps. The Weinsteins could save some serious money. The Miramax Oscar night party used to be the place to go at the end of the evening; all the stars would line up to kiss Weinstein's ring. This year, rather than gambol in front of reporters, most of the stars lingered through dessert at the Governor's Ball and then went to the Vanity Fair jam at Morton's, where a few last-minute press were allowed in. Among them was New York Post columnist Richard Johnson, who had written a terrifying story in the Murdoch tabloid advocating a Hollywood blacklist for anti-war protesters. ICM agent Ed Limato - who represents Richard Gere, Mel Gibson and Denzel Washington - walked up to Johnson and threw vodka into his face.

Pedro Almodóvar made a brief stop at Morton's before repairing to his villa at the Sunset Marquis, where he and his Spanish pals partied until dawn.

One party was so secret that no one knew the address. Thrown by Leo DiCaprio's manager Rick Yorn, DreamWorks executive Michael DeLuca and agent Patrick Whitesell, the party was hidden in the Hollywood Hills. Guests on the list got to collect the address at a church widely used for AA meetings.

No sooner were the parties over than next year's race was already shaping up. There will be Oscar campaigns for Anthony Minghella's Civil War epic Cold Mountain, Martin Scorsese's The Aviator, starring DiCaprio as Howard Hughes, Gary Ross's horse-racing drama Seabiscuit, and Peter Jackson's mighty Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. They'll have a shortened schedule because the Oscars are being moved forward to 29 February. This will probably increase the importance of the autumn film festivals in Toronto and New York, and the Baftas and Golden Globe awards will have even more impact. But most releases will simply move up a month. 'We'll see a lot more movies in November,' says Tom Bernard of Sony Pictures Classics.

Anne Thompson

The GuardianTramp

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