On Friday night, Feb. 20, in Los Angeles, Mark, a friendly expert in the art of mixology, tore up a few more bits of oregano at Cecconi’s, a sprawling Italian bistro that sits atop the hallowed Melrose Avenue dirt that was home to longtime industry staple Morton’s. The restaurant, which is owned by the folks who operate SoHo House in New York, was playing host to the Oscar crowd. Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman and Elton John were among the famous faces. The din of conversation overwhelmed whatever music was playing; everyone was having a gay old time. Mark, who had come over from Leicester on behalf of the good people at Grey Goose vodka, sprinkled the green bits into a silver goblet containing parsley, orange peels and dry ice.
“You see, we’re working with the five senses here to create a fully, well-rounded sensory experience,” he explained as he carried the smoldering concoction over to Laurence Fishburne. He made large circles in the air, enveloping the actor’s formidable head in a cloud of smoke. Then he quickly handed Mr. Fishburne a Cinemartini.
“It’s beautiful,” said Mr. Fishburne, who was flanked by NBC honcho Ben Silverman and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
“Ooooh, I want to try that,” said the mayor. Mr. Silverman smiled and nodded from under a frilly black scarf dotted with white skulls.
Mariah Carey and her husband, Nick Cannon, trotted into the back room, followed by Messrs. Fishburne, Silverman and Villaraigosa, who joined the newlyweds at a large table where British clothier Ozwald Boateng, known for slim $3,000 bespoke suits, was celebrating his birthday. One of the mayor’s bodyguards told me I was not welcome at the round table.
Mr. Silverman, who had on a boot on an ankle he injured skiing, later explained that Mayor Villaraigosa was not there to toast Mr. Boateng. “He’s just very interested in keeping jobs here,” he said. In the patio area, the musician Gavin Rossdale was sitting with his wife, Gwen Stefani. Leaning up against a heat lamp, looking desperately composed, i.e., not drunk or wearing a pink leather miniskirt embroidered with the word “slut” on it, was Kim Stewart, puffing on a cigarette.
“Everyone’s been talking about how there’s a sense of malaise in the air this year,” said a New York–based producer. She had just come from a party, which is normally a very good party. Earlier that week, a billionaire had told her things were looking grim. Earlier that night, a friend had boasted that Lionsgate had bought her script. “I wanted to tell her that Lionsgate was closing,” she moaned. “If I know, everyone must know.”
“We’re alive and well,” Lionsgate vice president Tracy McKnight told me the following afternoon at the Film Independent Spirit Awards after-party hosted by the IFC channel at the Shutters Hotel. “I think people are optimistic; I am, at least.” She was standing with Michael Bolton on the cusp of the ballroom. The room, which was festooned in neon confetti and flat screens featuring the letters “IFC” in lava-lamp mode, was beginning to fill up—but who were all these young people lining up to get freshly made mojitos, topped with a swirl of honey? That’s what Fred Willard wanted to know. He was sitting on a bench upstairs, looking out the plain-glass windows at the ashen sky.
“It’s much too crowded in there,” said Mr. Willard, who gave voice to Shelby Forthright in the movie Wall-E. “I had a mini–hot dog with relish, and that was good, but it’s awfully crowded and we’re going to have go over to another party put on by the wonderful people at Pixar that did Wall-E. There’s an awful lot of people in there; I can’t believe they all won awards and were nominated. I’m going to run down to the water for a quick dip in the ocean and then head out of here.”
Rainn Wilson, of The Office, was feeling optimistic in spite of his brown corduroy suit.
“One thing that’s great about the movies this year is that they were done on the cheap, with a lot of imagination and art,” he said. He was particularly excited to see Slumdog Millionaire and The Wrestler getting their due. “And it shows you that Hollywood doesn’t have to be about excess.”
Had he detected any malaise in the air?
“Yes, I think the malaise is really—oh, look, mini-cheeseburgers!” he said, helping himself to a tray of sliders. “I don’t know, man, I just feel like what we do in the entertainment business is so different than what people are going through who were really laid off from actual jobs, like my family that has a plumbing company in Seattle. People are going through really hard times, so anytime people in Hollywood start using the same words about the depression, it’s like, ‘Shut the fuck up.’”
The actor-turned-DJ Danny Masterson was on the turntables. He had just come back from a gig in Dubai, where he said lots of new buildings have stopped construction. But he said he generally plays upbeat stuff anyway—“unless I’m doing like an art opening.”
Larry Gagosian canceled his usual Oscar-timed art opening at his gallery in Beverly Hills. Alex Hitz, a Broadway producer, aspiring film producer and renowned bicoastal party-giver, had canceled his annual party, at his manse overlooking the Hollywood Hills. He normally spends three to four days planning and cooking for the likes of Joan Collins, Valentino and Vidal Sassoon.
“The idea of planning for that sort of thing didn’t seem quite right to me,” Mr. Hitz said over the phone on Monday. He’d been to Barry Diller’s lunch on Saturday. It was lovely as ever, only he was disturbed to see that Mr. Diller, too, served fried chicken. “When I started throwing my party five years ago, I was the only one who served fried chicken,” he said, adding that it wouldn’t be a bad thing if Hollywood took this fashionable restraint to heart. “Not to be Pollyanna, because nobody loves a good party like I do, but do we need the gardenias floating in the wine glasses?”
Of course, he said, Betsy Bloomingdale’s annual pre–Oscar night dinner on Saturday couldn’t get anymore tasteful. Bob Colacello agreed, noting that this year conversation among the gals—Nancy Reagan, Carolina Herrera, Wendy Stark, Jane Sarkin, Denise Hale—revolved around the awards. Joan Collins was adamantly pro–Benjamin Button; others wondered why Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino had been passed over. But all of Betsy’s orchids were blooming beautifully and the lamb stew was to die for.
Meanwhile, the annual HBO documentary party was about that speed. Guests munched cheese sandwiches. A dessert table in the back featured jellybeans and cotton candy. Danny Glover was there. Across town at the Beverly Hills Hotel Polo Lounge—normally a hotbed of activity following Jeffrey Katzenberg’s “Night Before” party—was already half-empty. Instead, James Caan and Bill Maher looked bored with their dates. Mr. Maher’s girl had a lip ring.