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Posted at 3:30 PM ET, 03/ 8/2010

Oscars 2010: Getting to know the Oscar red carpet

By Jen Chaney

Mo'Nique and co., keeping it real on the red carpet. (AP)

This year was my first time at the Oscars, and on the red carpet. And as much as I tried to imagine what it would be like beforehand, I couldn't, quite, until it was all actually happening.

When I went to the Spirit Awards Friday night, Mo'Nique told me that "every award is the Big Dance."

While I totally appreciate the sentiment behind what she was saying, I think she's wrong. When you're on the red carpet at the Oscars, it feels like the biggest dance in the history of prommy proms, the cotillion to end all cotillions, the awards show that makes even other, important awards shows seem like National Honor Society inductions at small suburban high schools.

Of course, for a long time on the red carpet, nothing happens. I got there early yesterday afternoon and found the spot marked "Washington Post" behind a meticulously trimmed green hedge. (Which, by the way, was alongside a fantastically awesome group of journalists: Whitney Pastorek from Entertainment Weekly, Melena Ryzik from the New York Times and Marc Malkin from E!) Then I stood there.

And nothing happened. More nothing happened. Oh, wait, Mary Hart and a posse of make-up artists showed up, and the bleacher-creature crowd went nuts. And then nothing happened, followed by still more nothing.

Around 5 p.m. East Coast time, 2 p.m. Pacific, publicists started approaching and asking if I and my colleagues would be willing to talk to some of the early arrivers, earnest, deserving and lovely filmmakers who were nominated for documentaries or short films. I said yes to some, and no to others and felt terrible about the ones I said no to.

Later in the day, I found myself saying no even more frequently, and to people I normally would be perfectly pleased to speak with. ("James Taylor? Sorry, no time to chat. Matt Damon is a few yards away and I can't take the risk.")

The red carpet conveyor belt started chugging along at a decent clip around 4-ish on the West Coast. And then not long after, someone hit the maximum-overdrive switch and the conveyor belt of celebrities started to feel like the one in that "I Love Lucy" episode that keeps speedily spitting out chocolates until (Lucy, Lucy, Lucy!) you can't fit anymore in your mouth.

Zac Efron was a few feet away but I couldn't even try to speak with him because Vera Farmiga (or was it Mo'Nique?) was in front of me. Whoever it was, she was nominated, so I needed to talk to her. I met a Beastie Boy (Adam Yauch, now head of Oscilloscope Pictures) and I spotted a childhood idol, Molly Ringwald, zipping by, a woman who once dated another Beastie Boy (Adam Horowitz) in the '80s.

I have conversations with so many people that I can't even process them until much later. Five hours after the fact, I suddenly have a flashback: "I met Lenny Kravitz tonight, didn't I? I totally had a poster of him on my college dorm-room wall and tonight I actually talked to him about what a hot male nurse he was in 'Precious.'"

Tina Fey, Steve Carell and Jason Bateman spun by and were practically in arm's reach but couldn't be touched. Besides, in two seconds, they were replaced by a Maggie Gyllenhaal or a Peter Sarsgaard or a Colin Firth or a Quentin Tarantino, who was already losing his voice early in the evening but still sounding as manic as ever.

Here's another thing about the Oscar red carpet: No one looks bad. No. One. When Anna Kendrick visited in that pale pink chiffon number, I was stunned by her petiteness and that flawless skin. If I were watching on TV, I might have thought Farmiga's dress was a little busy. In person, it looked like it belonged in the Hirshhorn.

Everybody seemed extra-shiny, from Sandra Bullock to Kate Winslet. But the woman who blew my glamor mind by how striking she is? Sarah Jessica Parker, who was so radiantly high-definition (even her eyelids sparkled with silver shadow) that I almost went into Carrie-Bradshaw convulsions.

Of course, it was nearly impossible to process anything completely because I spent 85 percent of my time with my head buried in my mobile device, either Tweeting my star spottings or filing copy to my colleague, Amy Argetsinger, who was wrapping all of this into a cohesive story upstairs in the press room so we could meet East Coast print deadlines. Jeff Bridges briefly said hi to us and I didn't have the spare time to raise my head for The Dude.

It was madness. And during times of madness, there were moments when I went a little mad.

Specifically, when George Clooney showed up. I started screaming, "George! Washington Post!" (And yes, Giuliana Rancic, I totally get your Clooney-squawking now.) My fellow journalists joined me: "George Clooney! The Washington Post is over here! The New York Times!" Desperate, I blurted: "Important newspaper area!"

Eventually we hit the ultimate red-carpet jackpot and Clooney sauntered over, answering all of our questions with his usual, occasionally sarcastic aplomb. (Pastorek asked if charm was underrated in our society. His response: "I think niceness is underrated in our society.")

After he jokingly mentioned he was working on a Sarah Palin musical, I told him that comment would definitely go in The Washington Post. "That was a gift," I said. And he smiled that mischievous, crinkly-eyed grin, the one Farmiga would later pay homage to during the Oscar telecast.

And even though my feet felt like they were on fire, and I still had at least seven hours of work ahead of me, and I thought my brain might leak out of my skull because so much Hollywood insanity was unfolding around me, I thought: My God. What a sweet, sweet gig this is.

By Jen Chaney  | March 8, 2010; 3:30 PM ET
Categories:  Awards Season  
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Next: Oscars 2010: The report from the Governor's Ball


Jen, thank you for your first person report from the Red Carpet Circle Jerk.

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | March 8, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Great post; just like I was there. Spot on, Jen!

Posted by: Lizka | March 8, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse

"a Sarah Palin musical"

Well, there's already a Jerry Springer opera, so why not?

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | March 8, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

George Clooney is cooler than the other side of the pillow.

With a few notable exceptions (e.g., Mo'Nique, Penelope Cruz) I was disappointed at the lack of vibrant color on the RC. Too much cream, nude, gold and silver.

Posted by: Californian11 | March 8, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like a blast! Glad you had fun and thanks for the great article!

Posted by: MrsKirby | March 8, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the article! It's great fun to see what being at an event like that actually feels like.

I, for one, would like to see Mr. Clooney- or maybe Andy Samberg- remake a musical show, to star Sarah Palin and our former vice-president. It would be titled "Cheney Get Your Gun". The climactic set piece would involve Ms. Palin and Mr. Cheney enacting "Anything You Can Do" from dueling podiums at the 2012 Republican National Convention.

Posted by: Bawlmer51 | March 8, 2010 7:21 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: titkonlyyou | March 8, 2010 9:51 PM | Report abuse

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