Celebrating Good Times for a Great Cause at Sir Elton John’s Oscar Bash

Even a torrential downpour couldn’t dampen the spirits at the 23rd annual Elton John AIDS Foundation Academy Awards Viewing Party hosted by Sir Elton John and David Furnish. In spectacular fashion, the event raised nearly $6 million for AIDS research.

With all those funds raised for a good cause, the glitzy celebration marks the grand finale to awards season, beginning with cocktails before the Oscars followed by a festive five-course dinner, a rousing musical performance and then a rollicking afterparty that goes into the wee hours.

The crowd went crazy when Sir Elton joined Nile Rodgers and Chic for the end of their set that featured classic hits including “Le Freak,” “We Are Family,” “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsa, Yowsa, Yowsa),” “Everybody Dance,” and “Good Times.”

Held again at a specially designed tent set up at the City of West Hollywood Park across from the Pacific Design Center, guests watched the ceremony and later, the musical performance in a glamorous ballroom set with purple tablecloths and beautiful floral centerpieces.

For the third consecutive year, Chef Gordon Ramsay designed the menu, assisted by Chef Wayne Elias of Crumble Catering. It featured Hamachi crudo, curried cauliflower soup, pan seared sea bass or rosemary crusted filet and a mixed green salad of butter lettuce, radicchio and watercress, dressed with white balsamic vinaigrette. For dessert, a delicious concoction of meringue, lemon zest, strawberries and vanilla Chantilly.

Famous faces in the crowd ran the spectrum of entertainment, fashion and music and included Heidi Klum, Miley Cyrus, Alec Baldwin, Robert Duvall, Tim Allen, Aaron Paul, John Stamos, Chris Colfer, Beck, Lil’ Kim, Ryan Kwanten, Cloris Leachman, Judith Light, Rob Lowe, Moby, Lydia Hearst, Ozzy, Jack, Kelly and Sharon Osbourne, Petra Nemcova, Cody Simpson, Gigi Hadid, Dita VonTeese, Brittany Snow, Lisa Rinna and Harry Hamlin, Alessandra Ambrosio, Camilla Belle, Nina Dobrev, Sandra Lee, Jane Seymour, Sia, Russell Simmons, Bellamy Young, Sarah Hyland, The Band Perry, Julianne Hough, Maggie Grace, Peter Fonda, JC Chavez, Dermot Mulroney, Jonathan Groff, Chris Hardwick,Jared Harris, Eric McCormack, Giovani Ribisi, and Bryshere Y. Gray, among others.

The auction is always a big part of the event, which is cosponsored by Chopard, Neuro Drinks and Wells Fargo. This year sought after items included two tickets to the Vanity Fair Oscar Party later that night, the Alex Prager photograph Sheryl: 2009, the Jeurgen Teller photograph of Joan Didion for the Céline Campaign Spring Summer 2015, a Stephen Somerstein print of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking to marchers at the end of the famous trek from Montgomery to Selma, Alabama in 1965, a Greg Gorman photograph and portrait sitting, an all-inclusive, four-night stay for four people at the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort and a five-day stay for four people at Steven Tyler’s Hawaiian Retreat.

Throughout the evening, guests were able to make donations to the Elton John AIDS Foundation by using their cell phones and were urged to give as much as they could via video messages from long-time EJAF supporters Matt Lauer and 87th Annual Oscars host Neil Patrick Harris, as well as live messages from EJAF friends Alec Baldwin and Mike Myers.

Even though it’s considered one of the year’s most fun and freewheeling parties, the serious message of fundraising was underscored by Sir Elton.

“What we’re able to do in just one evening continues to amaze me,” he told the crowd.  “Because of your generosity last year, we helped nearly 70,000 people across the U.S. and the Caribbean to receive regular HIV testing services. Because you cared, an additional 15,000 people were able to stay in continuous medical care, and nearly 12,000 achieved complete viral suppression. That’s an amazing achievement. And this year, we’re poised to do even more.”

He ended on an extremely positive and hopeful note: “Together, we’re making real progress against this epidemic by helping one person, one community, at a time. And it is not at all unrealistic to think that together we can end AIDS in our lifetime.”

–Hillary Atkin





Cheers! Women in Film Celebrates Oscar Contenders with Champagne and Cocktails

There were countless champagne toasts all around as Women in Film feted the femmes—the 44 women nominated for the 87th annual Academy Awards out of a list of more than 200.


And since we’re talking numbers, it was the Eighth Annual Women In Film Pre-Oscar Cocktail Party presented by MaxMara, BMW, Tiffany & Co., M·A·C Cosmetics and Perrier-Jouët– and about 30 of those female contenders came to the party, along with a couple of hundred other VIP guests.


WIF president Cathy Schulman and Oscar-winning actress and recording artist  Jennifer Hudson were the hostesses with the mostest for the soirée, which was held at the lovely new Hyde Sunset Kitchen + Cocktails in Los Angeles on Friday night before the Academy Awards.


“I feel very inspired,” Hudson told the exuberant crowd when she took the stage with Schulman. “So many of these ladies have inspired my life and my career. I come from a very powerful background of women, and this is an extension of that.”


Even in the well-behaved crowd, things got a bit chaotic as Meryl Streep entered the room. Well-wishers and photographers crowded around the woman known as the queen of modern acting. Streep’s nomination for her role in “Into the Woods” was her 19th nod, and she is the most-nominated actor in Academy Awards history. She has three Oscars.

Other acting nominees schmoozing the room included Laura Dern and Rosamond Pike, who talked about their roles in “Wild” and “Gone Girl.” Pike, with a newborn son, talked about the dichotomy of wearing comfortable clothes at home and getting completely glammed up for the series of awards season events culminating in the Oscars

It was a festive night for WIF Board of Director and actress Lake Bell who celebrated the evening with Michelle Monaghan and Kate Flannery.

Other Oscar nominees in attendance included Aneta Kopacz (Documentary – Short Subject, Joanna), Anna Pinnock (Production Design, The Grand Budapest Hotel & Into the Woods), Anna B. Sheppard (Costume Design, Maleficent), Becky Sullivan (Sound Editing, Unbroken), Bonnie Arnold (Animated Feature Film, How to Train Your Dragon 2), Cathleen Sutherland (Best Picture, Boyhood), Charlotte Watts (Production Design, Mr. Turner), Daisy Jacobs (Short Film – Animated, The Bigger Picture), Dana Perry (Documentary – Short Subject, Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1), Danielle Brisebois (Music – Original Song, Begin Again), David Lancaster (Best Picture, Whiplash), Diane Warren (Music – Original Song, Beyond the Lights), Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou (Makeup and Hairstyling, Guardians of the Galaxy), Ellen Gossenberg Kent (Documentary – Short Subject, Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1), Frances Hannon (Makeup and Hairstyling, The Grand Budapest Hotel), Helen Estabrook (Best Picture, Whiplash), Ido Ostrowsky (Best Picture, The Imitation Game), Joanna Natasegara (Documentary Feature, Virunga), Kristina Reed (Short Film – Animated, Feast), Laura Dern (Supporting Actress, Wild), Laura Poitras (Documentary Feature, Citizenfour), Lisa Bruce (Best Picture, The Theory of Everything), Mathilde Bonnefoy (Documentary Feature, Citizenfour), Meryl Streep (Supporting Actress, Into the Woods), Mihal Brezis (Short Film – Live Action, Aya), Nora Grossman (Best Picture, The Imitation Game), Oded Binnun (Short Film – Live Action, Aya), Rory Kennedy (Documentary Feature, Last Days in Vietnam), Rosamund Pike (Leading Actress, Gone Girl), Talkhon Hamzavi (Short Film – Live Action, Parvaneh), and Tatiana Macdonald (Production Design, The Imitation Game).

Others spotted in the crowd included Patty LuPone, Peter Fonda and Elle Fanning.

As a parting gift, guests received a M·A·C Cosmetics box with products curated by Oscar-nominated makeup artists Frances Hannon (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”) and Lizzie Yianni-Georgiou (“Guardians of the Galaxy”).




Couture and Beauty at Roger Neal Style Hollywood Awards Suite

For coming up on 20 years now, Roger and Lynn Neal kick Oscar Week into high gear with a three-day extravaganza, their 19th Annual Style Hollywood Beauty and Couture Academy Award Suite.

Set up in the penthouse of the Luxe Hotel on Rodeo Drive, the place is buzzing with the latest in fashion, jewelry, beauty products, shoes and handbags. There’s even a private cabana for tanning, massages, hairstyling and manicures for invited guests.

Even as the pampering and product showcasing goes on, guests enjoy libations from Lorimar Winery, Starfire Water and Long Shot Coffee and catering by Chef Ken Ehrlich and Jeanette’s Edelweiss restaurant, with beautiful confections by Mary’s Cake Shop.

And there are always good causes that benefit, which this year were the Andy Transplant Foundation and Hollygrove, the orphanage where Marilyn Monroe lived in the 1940s, which now provides counseling and crisis services to at-risk children in their homes, at schools and on the Hollygrove campus in Hollywood.

A slew of nominees for the 87th annual Academy Awards attended including Alexander Dinelaris and Nicolas Giacobone, who went on to win the Oscar for co-writing “Birdman,” Laura Dern, Diane Warren, E. Max Frye, Danielle Brisebois. Stephane Ceritti, Helen Estabrook and Julien Féret, who was up for his short live-action film called “Butter Lamp.”

Other guests making the rounds included Paul Sorvino, Renée Taylor, Erin Murphy, Carol Connors, Lois Aldrin, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Lea Thompson, well-known and loved for her role in “Back to the Future.”

“The exclusive suite is where stars and media can enjoy a much-needed relaxing and comfortable atmosphere and be pampered with some of the most expensive treatments available today,” said Roger Neal, who noted that the event seems to become a good luck charm as some of the attendees go on to win Oscars.

Designer Rhonda Shear unveiled her Shear Couture Oscar Collection to rave reviews. Her one-of-a-kind evening gowns and cocktail dresses are designed to mark the arrival of bold new era in event dressing.

Other designers showcasing their wares were Maricela David, Timmy Woods and Madeline Beth.

And there was much more to delight the senses including products from Skin Research/NeuLash, Nubra, Fur Frenzy, GT Nutrition, Grounded Beauty and Jenetiqa. Beverly Hills orthodontist Dr. Bruce MacFarlane showcased his new teeth whitener and Dr. Sandra Moldovan provided a gift certificate for periodontist services, while Nadia Khalil Bradley signed copies of her new book, “Origins of Truth.”

–Hillary Atkin

GBK’s Sleek and Stylish Oscar Luxury Gift Lounge Wins Raves

GBK is known for its award-worthy gifting suites and its Oscar event once again was a hot spot for celebs and VIPs to delve in and enjoy the grand finale of awards season while being pampered with products and services, treats and sweets.

The two-day event set up shop at Beverly Hills’ vaunted L’Ermitage Hotel, the perfect spot near the epicenter of many of the events in the days leading into the Academy Awards.

Guests were indulged with luxury gifts, gourmet food and an opportunity to support Each Mind Matters: California’s Mental Health Movement, a charity raising awareness about mental health and sponsored by Philosophy’s hope & grace initiative, which contributes a portion of its product sales to the cause.

Among those attending: Alexander Dinelaris, who went on to win the Oscar for co-writing best picture winner “Birdman,” Oscar-nominated songwriter Diane Warren, Lorraine Bracco, Martin Landau, Christina Milian, Machine Gun Kelly, Andy Dick, Bruce Davison, Daniel Baldwin, Mekhi Phifer, Robert Morse and Oscar-nominated directors Richard Linklater and Morton Tyldum.

Music, provided by GoodBoy, filled the air and created a celebratory soundtrack for the event, which took over a secluded patio at the hotel, adjoining suites and a private area upstairs. That was a fun gathering place, where we spotted a number of guests at the bar imbibing in Fancy Pants Wines, serving its refreshing Pinot Grigio and its special Red Blend.

The featured sponsor, STOP-ATTACK.com, attracted a lot of attention with demonstrations of its auto response cell phone app that provides personal protection in the event of an assault or attack

Those that are into health and beauty products were thrilled by the array of them presented at the lounge. They included cosmetic dentist Dr. Jamie Sands, who was gifting a comprehensive dental exam and an in-office professional teeth whitening; Beauty Kitchen by Heather Marianna, one of our favorites, who provided skin polish, hand cut soap bars and natural spa products; DermaSet 3D Anti-Aging Renewal Treatment, an all-in-one anti-aging cream; exclusively developed new Basicare beauty kits, featuring eyeshadows, mascaras, eyeliners and grooming tools in portable, compact kits; a full range of hair products from Jonathan Hair Care; three personal training sessions with Celebrity Trainer Lalo Fuentes; and L.A. Star Greens – Perfect 10, the world’s first certified organic blend of the top 10 superfoods.

On the fashion and jewelry side, guests got to sample products from Blaze Clothiers – USA; Shatra Designs, providing Bohemian-inspired luxury jewelry; handmade bracelets made out of donated military uniforms to support many military non-profit organizations from Bands for Arms; men’s jeans company Haala Denim– who promised a women’s line is coming out soon; and gorgeous, handcrafted bracelets featuring gemstones with meaning and a corresponding hashtag that matches the intention and style of the stones from Hazel and Harmony.

Other sponsors of the GBK Oscars lounge included Energy Upgrade California,  a state initiative to help Californians take action to save energy and conserve natural resources, help reduce demand on the electricity grid, and make informed energy management choices at home and at work; Alila Hotels and Resorts, providing gift certificates for guests to stay at Alila properties in India, Oman, Bali and more; Still With You, a company that creates heart-warming memorial statues to comfort the bereaved in their darkest hours; and services from Jim Hjort, LCSW a Psychotherapist and Right Life™ Coach.




EcoLuxe Oscar Event Brings a ‘Green’ Touch to Awards Season

The day before the Oscars is always festive and guests at the Debbie Durkin EcoLuxe Lounge were in an especially celebratory mood at the daylong event, which culminated in a lovely cocktail party.

Set up in the Stardust ballroom of the Beverly Hilton, with a beautiful penthouse patio that offers sweeping views of Los Angeles, the event showcased sustainable and ecological products and services, along with delectable food and libations in honor of the Academy Awards and its honorees.

The rooftop setting was designed by Under Canvas, Elan Event Rentals, LBPS Events and Frances Lynn Creative Florals and produced by Durkin, LA’s leading producer of sustainable product placement for film and television.

Among those stopping by were people from nominated films including American Sniper, The Theory of Everything, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Hobbit and Whiplash.

There were special items for all of the invited VIP guests – and some designed especially for their four-legged friends.

Among the attendees: Ben Wilkins (Oscar Winner Whiplash: Best Sound Mixing:), Elise Robertson (Oscar Nominee American Sniper Best Picture), Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou (Oscar Nominee Guardians of the Galaxy: Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling), Jason Canovas (Oscar Nominee The Hobbit: Sound Editing), Lisa Bruce (Producer, The Theory of Everything: Best Picture), Kevin Sorbo (Hercules), Vine star Zane Hijazi), Jason Davis (Celebrity Rehab), Frank Stallone (Rocky) Nia Peeples (Pretty Little Liars), Amanda Adrienne (Avenged), Andrea Bogart (General Hospital), Nancy Davis (Race To Erase MS) and Carolyn Hennesy (Revenge).

Beauty junkies were in for a treat with access to a styling bar, organic spray tans, along with makeup touchups from by OC Hair & Makeup. Those who have resisted going camping because of the lack of running water had their attitude adjusted with glamping vacations to Glacier Park, Yellowstone and The Moab Desert from Under Canvas.

Guests also received a Choices Recovery beauty gift bag, celebrity #DogPower items from CanaDog Supply, handcrafted creations from BluBond, KD Pet Protector charms, and a Café Press gift bag filled with O.P.I., Go Go Squeez, Modern Oats, a HAI MP3 flatiron, fragrance from Loree Rodkin and John Paul Pet shampoo and conditioner.

Refreshments were served up at a Repurpose Compostable champagne and coffee bar and there were hors d’oeuvres from Chef Alex Fioroni of Healing With Food,  good times were memorialized in photo booth fun from Party Life Photo Booth, as DJ Dime spun the tunes.

The evening cocktail party was called “Salute To The Oscars” and presented by Choices Recovery. The guest list included Gretchen Christine Rossi (Real Housewives Of Orange County), Chris Booker (AMP Radio), Slade Smiley (Real Housewives of Orange County), Joyce Giraud & Michael Ohoven (Real Housewives of Beverly Hills), Kennedy Summers (Playboy Playmate of the Year 2015), Kristen Renton (Sons of Anarchy), Michael Lennox (Oscar Nominee: BOOGALOO AND GRAHAM: Best Live Action Short Film), Drake Bell (Drake & Josh), Travis Aaron Wade (Super Natural), producer Marc Anthony Nicholas (CBS “The Talk”/”On Your Marc”) and Adina Porter (True Blood).


It’s All Over But The Hangovers–A Look at Oscar’s Hits and Misses

All pizza party stunts and star-studded selfies aside, the 86th Annual Academy Awards will go down in the record books as the first time that a black director helmed the winner of the year’s best picture. And literally jumped for joy.

“12 Years a Slave” was certainly not a lock to win, as host Ellen DeGeneres noted succinctly at the very top of the telecast, but vaulted over the popular blockbuster “Gravity” with a savvy last-minute campaign with the admonition “it’s time.” (Post-Oscars, for the full-page ads, it’s now become “…for all time.”)

That could be interpreted several ways – that it was time to actually watch the film, which many Academy members had put off doing for fear that it would be too upsetting, or that it was time to recognize a film that brought to life the darkest chapter in American history.

Although there have been many other acclaimed films about slavery, the last being Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” “12 Years” was unique in that it was based upon a book written by a free Northerner who was kidnapped and enslaved in the South. Solomon Northup’s book had long since fallen into obscurity before it was apparently rediscovered by British director Steve McQueen’s wife. Now, the book is guaranteed bestseller status.

But back to the show, which featured a number of uplifting moments that almost erased the rancid memories of last year’s Seth McFarlane-sanctioned “We Saw Your Boobs.”

Here are some of our favorites:

  • Lupita Nyong’o, crowned, as expected, with the best supporting actress award, gave a moving speech in which she acknowledged that portraying another person’s deep pain became the source of great joy for her. “No matter where you’re from,” the Kenyan-born Nyong’o said, “your dreams are valid.”
  • Jared Leto, as well the anticipated winner of best supporting actor, also continued on the high road he’s taken during the entire season with a heartfelt and dignified acknowledgment of his mother, coupled with a shout-out to the people of Venezuela and Ukraine and also recognizing millions of those who have suffered and died from HIV/AIDS.
  • U2’s toned-down, acoustic performance of “Ordinary Love,’ which was our favorite to win over the original song from “Frozen.” But poor Idina Menzel, with her name butchered by John Travolta. It isn’t that hard.
  • A resplendent Cate Blanchett, who achieved the perfect note in thanking the controversy-plagued Woody Allen for casting her in “Blue Jasmine” while making the point that films about women are not niche, but mainstream – and most importantly to Hollywood, make money.
  • Outside of the original song categories, the performances by Bette Midler and Pink– although we do wish it would have been Liza Minnelli performing “Over the Rainbow,’ she must’ve turned down the opportunity that was part of the “Wizard of Oz” tribute.
  • Alfonso Cuarón, charming with both of his acceptance speeches for best editing of “Gravity” and best director, becoming the first Latino to achieve that honor. Because he himself makes fun of how he speaks English. we can say that we kept hearing his version of “wise guys,” referencing the people he worked with at Warner Bros. as “white guys.” Then we heard him change it to, um, “white people.” Even more endearingly, we heard secondhand that he left his Oscars in the car for one of the after parties and was asked to pose with someone else’s– and hesitated because he thought it was unethical because it didn’t belong to him. Team Alfonso!
  • “20 Feet From Stardom’s” win as best documentary–and not only because we personally know some of the key players. Darlene Love, one of the back-up singers chronicled in the film whose career has re-surged because if it,  firmly took center stage when she began to sing “His Eye On The Sparrow” mid-speech.

Not so favorite moments:

  • The aforementioned Travolta botching of the not-that-hard name to pronounce, Idina Menzel.
  • The “In Memoriam” section for which we thought Midler should have sang over, instead of after, but more importantly for the omission of names including Jonathan Winters, Dennis Farina and Ed Lauter, to name a few. We had a feeling that the list would culminate with Philip Seymour Hoffman. It was almost a cliché and for those especially affected by the way that he died, left a bittersweet taste.
  • Matthew McConaughey’s acceptance speech, true to his past form in accepting a slew of awards, was rambling – and repetitive. We didn’t quite get the concept of continually being your own hero, but as yourself 10 years into the future. Perhaps for him, that’s aspirational, or inspirational. But compared to the other truly inspirational speeches given by fellow actors it fell short – unless you count the all right, all right, all right part.

–Hillary Atkin




Like a Candle in the Wind: Sir Elton’s Fabulous Oscar Party

The Elton John AIDS Foundation Oscar party is always a fabulous affair but this year’s edition, the 22nd annual, was truly spectacular. It raised more than $5 million for AIDS research.

One particularly magic moment came about an hour after the viewing party ended, when Sir Elton took the stage with the night’s special performer, Ed Shearan, for a duet of Elton’s classic song, “Candle in the Wind.”

“Ed did a wonderful version of this song so we’re going to duet for the first time since the Grammys,” Elton said, referring to the 2013 Grammys, before they launched into the performance, which awed the capacity crowd. After an ovation, Sheeran continued a lengthy set that kept the audience on its feet for the duration.

The gala, which for the second year was set up in a tent at West Hollywood Park across from the Pacific Design Center was cosponsored by Chopard, Neuro Drinks and Wells Fargo.

One skilled Oscar prognosticator who got the most answers right on the Oscar ballot handed out to all the banquet guests was awarded a $30,000 Chopard watch– and given a big hug and a kiss by Elton himself.

It was an affair filled with stars from the worlds of music, screen and stage. Spotted on the white carpet and in the crowd were Alex Pettyfer, Ann & Nancy Wilson, Anna Paquin & Stephen Moyer, Bernie Taupin, Britney Spears, Carmen Electra, Chace Crawford, Cheryl Burke, Cheyenne Jackson, Chris Colfer, Christina Hendricks, David Burtka & Neil Patrick Harris, Donatella Versace, Dwight Yoakam, Ellen Pompeo, Eric McCormack, Gordon Ramsay, Heidi Klum, Jane Fonda, Jane Seymour, Joe Jonas, John Waters, Johnny Weir, Jonathan Groff, Josh Groban, Karina Smirnoff, Karolina Kurkova, Kellan Lutz, Kelly Osbourne, Kelly Rowland, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, Khloé Kardashian, Kim Kardashian, Kourtney Kardashian, Kris Jenner, Kristin Cavallari, Lady Gaga, Lance Bass,  Mel B, Nikki Reed, Ozzy & Sharon Osbourne, Paz Vega, Paulina Rubio, Petra Nemcova, Quincy Jones, Robert De Niro & Grace Hightower, Sam Trammell, Sheryl Crow, Steven Tyler, Tara Lipinski, Taylor Swift, Tim & Jane Allen, Tommy & Dee Hilfiger, Tony Goldwyn, Vanessa Hudgens and Whoopi Goldberg,

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay prepared the exquisite five course meal that was served while chef Wayne Elias created the passed hors d’oeuvres and late-night comfort food served at the afterparty, which raged– as usual – late into the night. The bar was drank dry of Veuve Clicquot, but there was more than enough Patron to go around, and the coffee flavored version of the premier tequila was a major hit.

The auction is always a big part of the event and this year the sought-after items included tickets to the Broadway performance of “Hedwig and the Angry Itch,” with a backstage tour and drinks with the show’s star Neil Patrick Harris, a 1974 print of Elton John and John Lennon and signed by the photographer Bob Gruen, a portrait sitting with renowned photographer Catherine Opie, five days at Steven Tyler’s Hawaiian retreat and tickets to the 2014 Vanity Fair Oscar Party. The piece de resistance: a piano signed by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

New this year was an audience participation feature that enabled guests to make donations to the Foundation through their cell phones. Throughout the evening ,video messages from long-time EJAF supporters Ellen DeGeneres and Anderson Cooper, as well as live messages from EJAF friends Heidi Klum and Eric McCormack encouraged people to text in pledges in support of the Foundation’s urgent mission.

Even though it’s considered one of the year’s most fun and exclusive parties, the serious message of fundraising was underscored by Sir Elton.

“This is the kind of generosity that will help us change the course of this epidemic,” he said. “We begin to end AIDS when we get homeless teens off the streets and into shelters and job training and healthcare.  We begin to end AIDS when we offer addicts a clean needle and a helping hand into drug rehabilitation.  We begin to end AIDS when we help HIV-positive ex-prisoners find housing and jobs and a way to stay on their medications.  We begin to end AIDS when we make sure EVERY person living with HIV has a ride to the doctor and access to healthcare and treatment.”

–Hillary Atkin




Oscar Countdown: Best Actor, McCon vs. Conman

Could this year have been any better for Matthew McConaughey? His on screen transformation from stoner dude and rom-com hottie dude to serious actor became a fait accompli with his role in “Dallas Buyers Club.”

Just yesterday, McConaughey racked up yet another trophy for his gritty portrayal of Ron Woodruff at the Independent Spirit awards – adding to his treasure chest from the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild, the Critics Choice Awards and other honors that add up to a long list that is almost unprecedented in its unanimity of honoring a singular performance.

So if McConaughey does not win the Oscar– and by the way, it is his first nomination – it will be huge upset.

In the unlikely event of that scenario, who would be next in line for the 8 1/2 pound gold man but Leonardo DiCaprio, who had two showy roles this past year but was lauded much more for his vivid portrayal of Jordan Belfort in Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” than for his role in “The Great Gatsby.”

Oscar historians and fans alike still find it hard to believe that it was only with 2006’s “The Departed,” in which DiCaprio also starred, that Scorsese won his first Academy Award as a director, although he had numerous nominations. It’s the same story with Leo – many nominations, but not a win.

No matter what happens, it all kind of comes together filmically in the scene that DiCaprio shares with McConaughey in “Wolf,” at an alcohol and cocaine fueled lunch with a lot of chest thumping.

TAR’s Take: It’ll be alright, alright, alright for McConaughey tonight.

–Hillary Atkin



Oscar Countdown: Best Actress is Cate’s to Lose (Not Gonna Happen)

It’s hard to remember a year when the winner of the best actress category felt so pre-ordained. But then Woody Allen’s stepdaughter stepped up with renewed allegations of child molestation against the noted director. Whether this influenced Oscar voters one way or another regarding Cate Blanchett’s riveting turn in “Blue Jasmine, we will find out Sunday night.

The actress herself made one brief comment about the controversy, in Woody’s support naturally, and then went on record saying she wouldn’t discuss it further. Nor should she – it has nothing to do with her performance, which is widely guarded as one of the best of her stellar career.

The rest of the field is a who’s who of Hollywood leading ladies and amongst them is Oscar record-holder Meryl Streep, up for “August: Osage County,” which is not considered one of her finer roles. Streep’s Oscar history goes back to 1979 for “The Deer Hunter.” The following year, Streep took home the first of her three Academy Awards, for “Kramer vs. Kramer.” Her other statuettes are for “Sophie’s Choice” and “The Iron Lady.”

Judi Dench is another powerful force with a resonant depiction of the real-life Philomena Lee, who was forced by the Catholic Church to give up her out of wedlock toddler. Her search for the boy decades later – with the journalist fascinated by her story – is the staff of heartbreak, inspiration artbreak and internal fortitude. It hasn’t hurt that the real Philomena has been out on the campaign trail bestowing her blessings upon the film and the woman who plays her.

And then there is the beautiful and talented Sandra Bullock, whose career path reached the stratosphere when she won the Oscar for “The Blind Side.” Think back, and you’ll remember she publicly thanked the husband who later dumped her for another woman. Bullock had always been considered America’s sweetheart but the public humiliation and later adoption of a little boy made her even more relatable as an Everywoman. As an astronaut fighting for survival, “Gravity” underscores her resilience.

Amy Adams– and her 70s cleavage– have been everywhere promoting “American Hustle,” another David O. Russell film in which heretofore unrevealed elements of her character and talent take center stage. The first time with him was her memorable role

Oscar Countdown: The Trophy for Best Director Goes To…

If you could cast the nominees for best director as character types, Alfonso Cuarón could be the charming foreigner who laughs at his less-than-perfect command of the English language, Steve McQueen would be the erudite Brit who revels in tough subject matter, Alexander Payne would be the indie type whose films have achieved mainstream success, David O. Russell would be the charismatic auteur who is on a huge roll and Martin Scorsese would be, well, the legendary director Martin Scorsese.

The question is whether Oscar voters will follow the lead of the Directors Guild of America– and the Critics’ Choice and Golden Globes– and anoint Cuarón for his “Gravity,” which would certainly be a popular choice. In addition to directing the Sandra Bullock-starrer, Cuarón was the producer, editor and co-writer of the space saga, with his son—and has two other Oscar nods for best picture and editing of the film, making up three of his total six Oscar nominations since 2003.

In three of the past four years, Russell has been Oscar-nominated as best director, for 2011’s “The Fighter” and last year’s “Silver Linings Playbook.” The best tribute to his directing style this year for “American Hustle” may be that all four of his leading and supporting actors are nominated for Oscars—an accomplishment that is now two years running–with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence repeating that feat from last year’s playbook.

Steve McQueen didn’t hit the campaign trail as hard as Russell, but his work is much admired going back to “Shame” (2011) and “Hunger” (2008). Much like Cooper, Lawrence and Christian Bale are to Russell, Michael Fassbender is McQueen’s muse—and Lupita Nyong’o may be his new one after all the acclaim she’s receiving for “12 Years a Slave.” McQueen reportedly auditioned 1,000 actresses for the role of Patsey before giving the career making gig to her. McQueen would be the first black director ever to win the Academy Award.

Payne is also a critics’ darling, but somehow has never been an Oscar favorite in the directing category, although he has two statuettes, both for writing or cowriting the adapted screenplays for “The Descendants” and “Sideways.” His first Oscar nomination came in 2000, also for writing the indie hit “Election.” Interesting that he did not write “Nebraska,” but that its scribe, Bob Nelson, is up for an Oscar.

Scorsese, hard as though it is to believe, has only won one Oscar, for directing 2006’s “The Departed.” His first directing nod came in 1981 for “Raging Bull.” Yet since “Gangs of New York,” four of his last five films have received Best Picture nominations, including this year’s “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Scorsese doesn’t “need” an Oscar to boost his already legendary status as one of the world’s most respected directors, it’s just hard to fathom why he doesn’t have more on his mantel.

TAR’s Take: If Cuarón doesn’t take the trophy, it will be a huge upset. We are actually rooting for Scorsese, because we got on board the “Wolf” train very early and enjoyed the wild ride with him at the helm.

–Hillary Atkin