NEW! Oscar 2007 Coverage

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The 78th Annual Academy Awards.







George Clooney
George Clooney accepting his award for best supporting actor.

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Oscar 2006: The Last Word - by Diane Clehane

Thank God for George Clooney. At least someone at the Kodak Theatre looked like a movie star last night.

What does it say about the fashion industry’s most expensive infomercial when the newly anointed King of Hollywood outshines every actress on the red carpet? Well, for starters, for those designers and fashion companies who descended on LA with their overwrought publicists and blank checks in tow, the question has to be where did all the money go?

After last year’s fashion snooze fest, the buzz around Beverly Hills leading up to this year’s equally mind numbingly boring red carpet was that exclusivity – dressing one important actress (or maybe two) versus a slew of starlets - would help restore the glamour factor. Even swag was part of a new class system. Suites at Soho House were by invitation only. “I’ve represented some of these companies in the past and I can’t even get in to see what’s going on,” sniffed one flack. Still, a head spinning list of events all over town brought out a curious mix of celebs (Note to Nicolette Sheridan: you’re not the Desperate Housewife that Oscar tapped for this year’s party!) and C-listers looking for swag – and there was plenty – had to satisfy themselves with the decidedly less fabulous Beverly Hilton, where vendors were still willing to partake in the spaghetti at the wall school of publicity in hopes of basking in some of Oscar’s reflected glory. Still, houses like Valentino kept out the riffraff by keeping things small and for insiders only. All of this was done in hopes of restoring some of the luster, which had been lost in recent years by the existence of too many Oscar wannabees and also-rans.

The Academy must have received the same memo, as the official theme of the evening was “A Return To Glamour”, which I found promising because at least the powers that be acknowledged that it had been woefully absent from the show in recent years. The result: a much improved telecast ably hosted by Jon Stewart who used the perfect mix of self-deprecating wit and his trademark wry social observations to win over the less then enthusiastic and jaded star-studded audience.

Unfortunately, there were no such fixes in evidence on the red carpet. With the exception of the effortlessly dapper Clooney in Armani, who constantly broke away from the pack to chat with fans hanging over the bleachers as well as to sign autographs, the stars that were herded through the crush of bodies by tense publicists who were trying to look bored.


Keira Knightley wearing Vera Wang.





Jennifer Aniston wearing Rochas.

Some actresses seemed game but ultimately didn’t deliver anything special. At first glance, Keira Knightley, who by most accounts was this year’s Fashion “It Girl”, stood out as a winner in her ‘Barbie in the Spotlight’ Vera Wang gown and Bulgari jewels. (Loved the necklace, but what was up with the silly little bow in her hair?) Wang scored a second hit with Michelle Williams who has proven to be a savvy fashion student. However, though the two actresses looked lovely, by the next day their images had faded from memory.

Early bird Amy Adams arrived eager to work the red carpet for all it’s worth. Unfortunately, she chose a brown Carolina Herrera ballgown whose bodice appeared to have been adorned with a sleep mask that the Best Supporting Actress nominee must have picked up on the plane to LA.

Versace won the Oscar derby by the numbers, dressing a number of A-listers with uneven results. Only an incredibly skinny Hilary Swank turned heads for a minute with her siren-y strapless black dress. Uma Thurman’s pale pink gown was a marked improvement over her Bavarian beermaid disaster that shocked us last year. Jessica Alba, a beautiful girl who opted for a very matronly hairstyle, sauntered about in a gold dress that was, on closer inspection, just too busy. Salma Hayek’s overly voluminous aqua showgirl number made the divinely beautiful actress appear – gasp – a bit chunky.

The eagerly awaited entrance of Jennifer Aniston (sans boyfriend Vince Vaughan) was met with a big yawn. Her Rochas was pretty, but looked too much like every other dress the actress wore during her days as Mrs. Brad Pitt. She obviously didn’t read the woman scorned manual – she needs a friend to tell her it’s time for a new hairstyle. Even an incredibly youthful looking Nicole Kidman channeling her inner bride (perhaps a wedding to Keith Urban is on her mind), wearing a perfectly pretty but hardly dazzling Balenciaga, failed to ignite any real excitement.






Nicole Kidman
Nicole Kidman on the red carpet wearing a Balenciaga ivory strapless column dress.


Reese Witherspoon
Reese Witherspoon wearing vintage Christian Dior.

The evening’s worst dressed honors go to poor Naomi Watts. Her ill-fated choice of that hideous nude Givenchy ballgown made her look as if King Kong had pawed her in hopes of stopping her from leaving home in the tulle travesty.

But the biggest disappointment came courtesy of Reese Witherspoon in a "1955 vintage Christian Dior that I own. It’s mine”, proclaimed the actress backstage in the pressroom. I understand her desire to do something unique after being burned by Chanel at the Golden Globes, but this prom queen confection “looked heavy”, as one fellow journalist indelicately put it as she questioned the actress after her win. It overpowered her petite beauty and, ironically, was too similar in color to the Chanel dress that sent her fleeing the usual designer route. Too bad. In fairness though, the longer she spoke from the podium to reporters who peppered her with more questions about her dress than her award winning role, the prettier she looked. I just wish she had really gone with something beautiful as the divine black lace Valentino creation she wore for her first trip to the Oscars as a presenter. No doubt she’ll have her pick of the litter next year when she returns to present the best actor award.

This year’s big winner is the menswear industry. Wake-up people – opportunity is knocking! With Clooney leading the pack as the evening’s best dressed star, fledgling style star Eric Bana (in Calvin Klein) and the perennially underrated Matt Dillon (in Prada), a new era of red carpet style was officially ushered in by this thrilling trio. Mark my words: the seismic shift of finally paying some real attention to men on the carpet has begun. I predict there will be more menswear companies getting into the Oscar fray next year, and not a moment too soon. But please, someone, get the incredibly talented Philip Seymour Hoffman in a decent suit for next year’s show! However there are limits. Publicists take note, don’t try to sell me on the importance of bling for guys. You’ve tried and it doesn’t work. Note to Jamie Foxx, lose those earrings. They’re cheesy. And to the rappers of Three 6 Mafia who won for Best Song,“It’s Hard Out There for a Pimp”, you might want to consider something other than white sneakers next time.








Jessica Alba wearing a gold Versace halter gown.

So what happened with the women?

As one overly optimistic publicist told me a few days before the show: “This year it’s going to be a battle between the old guard – Uma, Nicole and Jennifer Lopez (?!?) and the younger girls. It will be interesting to see who shows who how to really shine.”

It would have been interesting if there had been any actress that delivered a ‘wow’ moment. Considering the studios can pay upwards of $25,000 for their golden girls to have the best stylists money can buy, this is truly a head-scratcher. Last year, I opened my editorial by asking the question why is it that the more cash fashion, jewelry and beauty companies throw at the Oscars the more lackluster the stars look? Today my question is, now that we’ve seen that the color of money isn’t flattering to anyone (exhibit A: Charlize Theron whose contract with Dior to shill for their fragrance seems to have stymied her once flawless fashion sense), when are stars finally going to forsake greed for good taste, or at least personal style?

Most disgruntled publicists from both fashion and jewelry houses say the genie is out of the bottle and there’s no going back. “It’s nauseating,” says one veteran flack. “There are a lot of actresses out there who aren’t above taking money for wearing a dress because they’re thinking I might not be working for a while so... ‘why not?’ It’s a calculated business decision. It’s sickening.” Another more diplomatic rep says, “There are a lot of different ways to be paid to wear a dress, girls get airfare and hotels... free wardrobes. It’s no longer enough to keep the dress. That’s a given. So when picking an Oscar dress there is a mentality out here that is just about getting as much as you can when you can. Striking while the iron is hot. It’s not going to change any time soon.”

Rachel Weisz
Rachel Weisz in a black silk embroidered empire gown and heels by Narciso Rodriguez.

By now it’s been widely reported (by yours truly and a host of others) that stars like Hilary Swank and Charlize Theron (whose image appeared in a story in The Los Angeles Times last year emblazoned with the words ‘This Space For Rent’ across her couture clad back) were allegedly paid by Chopard to wear their jewels. There were denials all around, but the story stuck. Susan Ashbrook, founder of Film Fashion, who works with the jeweler during awards season, has repeatedly told me she knows nothing of such deals. A rival bling broker snipes, “The other thing they do is write checks to a stars’ charity. If they’re so interested in philanthropy why don’t they just send the check? It’s disgusting.”

No matter what the truth is, it’s clear that regardless of who is paying who, no one is getting their money’s worth. It wasn’t too long ago that a photo in People or InStyle could be a career changing occurrence. If your objective is to score an editorial mention in Us Weekly, In Touch or Star then mission accomplished. But what does that really mean? The Star reader isn’t exactly the couture customer. These days the fashion reporting in these magazines is gobbled up by readers like candy and digested just as quickly. Today, with the plethora of virtually indistinguishable tabloids coupled with their weekly Brangelina and TomKat bump watches (another indication that culturally we’re going to hell in a handbasket), it’s hard to believe anyone remembers anything once she’s closed the magazine and left it behind at the nail salon. I’m exhausted just thinking about the requisite hyperbolic Oscar covers we’re bound to see later in the week (The Gowns! The Jewels! The Glamour!). The whole thing feels like it’s over before it’s even begun.




Charlize Theron
Charlize Theron wearing a gown by Christian Dior.

Some reps admit that the magazine coverage often takes second place to “great television coverage” that they bank on getting. Okay, let’s review those options:

E!’s preshow starts at 12:30 p.m. and prattles on for five hours with “style experts” like Bobbie Thomas who actually smelled Tyson Beckford’s shirt after he took it off “live right here on E!” to help promote the charitable organization Clothes Off Our Back. The charity’s executive director later told the audience – with a straight face – that winners of the online auctions have requested that the celebrity pre-owned clothes they purchase not be dry-cleaned so that the proud new owners can enjoy “the essence of the celebrity.” Bobbie, start bidding now. Yuck.

The network’s pre-show host, the ubiquitous Ryan Seacrest, was inexplicably covering the festivities from a suite across the street. Who were all those people milling about behind him in the studio anyway? E! interns should dress better if they’re going to serve as extras during the network’s Oscar countdown. Seacrest, who gamely tried his hand at fashion commentary by describing Michelle Williams’ dress as “Dijon Gold,” moaned that he couldn’t score a ticket to the show. Guest Us Weekly editor Ken Baker crowed that he had “All Access” and showed his ticket to the clearly awed E! host. A true Oscar neophyte, Seacrest soldiered on and tried to dish with Baker about Nick Lachey (!?) Hello, this is the Oscars!








Uma Thurman wears a pale pink Versace gown..








Naomi Watts wearing her nude Givenchy ballgown

Finally, at 5:30, Isaac Mizrahi took to the red carpet. The Target pitchman was barely able to contain himself from his spot behind the small shubbery the academy insists on putting up to make journalists as uncomfortable as possible. Those designers hoping to have Mizrahi (who I’m happy to report was able to abstain from asking anyone about the condition of their bikini wax this go-round) inquire about their dresses were sadly disappointed. But this wasn’t his fault. Since E! and all the other networks are banned from covering the last half-hour of the arrivals when most of the A-listers enter, the network’s fashion guru snagged only few stars like Jessica Alba who was spotted applying Dior lip gloss (score one for the beauty company!) and Keira Knightley. An interesting aside: Mizrahi seemed prescient in his fawning over Clooney, Bana and Dillon.

And forget about the nightly entertainment shows. Those talking heads are too busy promoting themselves to bother offering any interesting reporting about Oscar’s fashion follies. During the week leading up to and including the Oscars, Entertainment Tonight and The Insider (one show they insist is really two) ran the most self-congratulatory commercial I’ve ever seen. All the hosts, including Mary Hart, Pat O’Brien, Lara Spencer (I know -- who?) and that shrinking violet Cojo, were shown milling about in front of white seamless in their Oscar finery over the strains of “Time of Your Life.” Shockingly, this was shown multiple times every night. With the amount of companies hosting swag at suites and events all over town it was absolutely amazing they wasted so much screen time on this exercise in navel gazing. Let’s be real. People, you are not the stars – you are hired to talk to them.

I did find a few of the night’s moments interesting. The acceptance speeches from Clooney, Hoffman and Witherspoon (hers was particularly winning) were wonderful. The opening montage worked (George again!). The clip packages started out entertaining but then became too much. Even Stewart acknowledged the excess by saying, “Holy crap, we’re out of clips! We are literally out of film clips. If you have clips, send them please.” The best and most unexpected moment came in the last seconds of the broadcast when “Crash” upset “Brokeback" to take Best Picture honors. But, I do have one beef with the Academy: I hated the annoying music played over the winners the second they took the stage. (Only Lifetime Achievement Winner Robert Altman was spared.) What was the point of that? To drown people out if they got boring? Remind winners that they had 30 seconds before the hook is unfurled? At least producers did away with handing out the awards from the cheap seats like they did last year, but come on! If this is truly the once in a lifetime moment it’s billed to be, why can’t you give these people they’re due. When it first happened to our man George as he received the first statue of the night, he gamely ignored it. That’s what stars do.

Come to think of it maybe a brass band might have come in handy on the red carpet.

 

- Diane Clehane is Lookonline’s entertainment editor. She is the author of two New York Times best sellers and is currently at work at her first novel. Visit her website at DianeClehane.com or email her at DClehane@aol.com


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