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On the Red Carpet at the 79th Annual Academy Awards

As I settled in to position on the red carpet at the 79th Annual Academy Awards for what seemed to be my umpteenth time reporting on Hollywood’s ultimate horserace, I wondered if I was on the brink of becoming jaded. Then I found a tall, pale, impossibly beautiful creature standing before me.

[IMG:L] Nicole Kidman, ravishing in red Balenciaga, told us that as a presenter, and not a nominee, she would not be going overboard on the after parties. “I’m not celebrating—just playing – with my husband,” she said, confirming that Keith Urban was someone nearby. Nicole’s best gal pal Naomi Watts, in soft yellow Escada, was being ultra-coy about whether she and Liev Schreiber were or were not on the parent-track. She had lost track of her BFF Nicole but knew they’d reunite on the Oscar party trail. “We’ve lost each other here, but we’ll find each other again!” Naomi told Hollywood.com

Kate Winslet looked utterly serene as she passed by, telling Hollywood.com in her pale green Valentino that pre-Oscar nerves had not gotten to her yet: “I actually feel very relaxed now, which is fine with me.” The secret behind her dress? “I loved the color,” she revealed. “My daughter picked it out.”

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[IMG:R] Gwyneth Paltrow made up for her Brunhilda-esque Oscar disaster a few years back by looking perfect in Posen—Zac Posen. “I just saw it and I fell in love with it,” she revealed.

Adriana Barraza was far less centered, despite outward appearances, when we asked how she had stayed so calm at Oscar time, “No – I’m NOT calm! No, no, no!” she proclaimed, then gave us a tidbit of bio on her bling. “My necklace is Damiani,” she explained. “The first time someone wore this, it was Sophia Loren, and the second time it’s Adriana Barraza!”

Why did Queen Latifah encase herself in corseted Carmen Marc Valvo? “Because I feel like a natural WHOA-man in it,” she exclaimed.

[IMG:L]While Penelope Cruz told a Spanish speaking reporter in Spanish that she would soon be starring in a music video for her brother, an up-and-coming a musician, I asked Mark Wahlberg whether he was more nervous for himself or for The Departed director Martin Scorsese? “Marty!” was Mark’s definitive reply.

Jada Pinkett Smith explained that she had her hands full in the morning wrangling both Will and Jaden Christopher Smith. Meanwhile, her thoughts wandered to her golden gown as her hubby worked the red carpet: “I l love that it’s sexy, I love that it’s elegant, and I love that it’s Carolina Herrera.”

[IMG:R]So what was the allure of a Valentino Couture and Cartier earrings for A-lister Cameron Diaz? “It was sort of glamorous, Hollywood and couture classic, and that’s what I wanted,” said George Clooney as basked in the attention again

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Who was John Travolta rooting for? “Forest Whitaker– he’s my man!” exclaimed the Pulp Fiction as his leopard print-clad wife Kelly Preston talked up her outfit: “My husband bought it for me for Christmas, and I was waiting for something special to wear it to. I thought not too many people wear leopard to the Oscars.” She definitely was letting her inner animal out: “I feel wild—Grrowwll!”

[IMG:L] Catherine Deneuve told Hollywood.com that she was thrilled by this year’s theme of diversity among the nominees, but that the best part of the ceremony was “to be there—to be there at the party!”

The Queen’s Michael Sheen who played Tony Blair to Helen Mirren’s Queen Elizabeth, was feeling the pressure for his co-star. “I’ve seen Helen more this week than I did when we made the film, which is lovely,” he explained. “Everybody says she’s a lock for it. It’s difficult. I think everyone else is going, ‘Don’t worry about it, you’re fine.’ But she’s kind of a bit nervous, actually.”

[IMG:R]A parade of fashionable starlets sauntered by, including Anne Hathaway in—wait for it–Valentino, Isla Fisher in emerald green Escada and Jessica Biel in a bright fuschia number that showed off her fit form, even though she had other reasons for picking it. “The color!” she beamed. “How could you not love this color?”

I promised Jackie Earle Haley—in gun metal Hugo Boss complete with ‘80s-esque skinny tie—that he wouldn’t have to drive me home from the Oscars as he had the Golden Globes, and he breathed easier, focusing on the bigness of the Oscar ceremony. The comeback kid said it was all he imagined and “ten times more. The red carpet was like wow! I didn’t know that you could block off an entire street and throw a red carpet down on it. I didn’t know that they did that. This is wild.”

The man in charge of shutting down the streets was Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaragosa, who a) ticked off his choices: “I’m rooting for Forest Whitaker. I’m rooting for The Departed, I’m rooting for Helen Mirren and I’m rooting for Alejandro [Gonzalez Inarritu]”; and b) insinuated that if his favorites didn’t win he’d shut the whole ceremony down. “That’s what we can do!” said the city’s top official.

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Previous Oscar-winner Paul Haggis, last year’s champ for writing and directing Crash said he was surprised that he had become something of a fixture at the awards. “If I got a ticket to the Oscars once in my life I would’ve been thrilled, but to have been nominated three years in a row? I couldn’t have possibly imagined that.”

[IMG:L] Leonardo DiCaprio blew past most of the photographers and press but stopped in his tracks when a young boy and his father asked him for an autograph. Leo happily signed the boy’s pad and shook his hand before continuing into the Kodak Theater – the boy and his dad did high fives as soon as Leo was out of sight.

As she tried to shout the name of her client’s designer to reporters, Reese Witherspoon’s publicist stepped on the train of the Marcessa gown. Reese was stopped dead in her tracks and nearly walked out of the dress, but giggled after she realized what happened.

Clint Eastwood (in sunglasses) sneaked up on Quincy Jones (on the arm of his daughter Rashida—Karen on The Office) to give him a great big hug. Forest Whitaker would have missed Quincy if it wasn’t for his wife, who caught sight of Quincy’s date and made sure her hubby didn’t slip past without taking a moment to chat up the music legend.

[IMG:R]Just a few moments later, Martin Scorsese found himself face-to-face with his “competition,” The Queen’s Stephen Frears. “Ah, Stephen!” he exclaimed with excitement and a bit of relief to see a friendly face—they clasped hands and talked warmly, eventually embracing and whispering into each other’s ears.

Random observations: Star Trek actor George Takei walked the red carpet in traditional Japanese garb. So did Ken Watanabe’s wife.

And as Abigail Breslin’s mother zipped by toting her daughter’s lucky Curious George doll, I realized that for every Abigail and Jaden Smith on their first-ever Oscars red carpet, there were just as many regulars like me—not to mention the war-weary veterans of Hollywood who still showed up for one more round, like Mickey Rooney and Jane Russell. Still, no matter if it was your first or your 50th, one thing was certain: there’s never a dull moment on the red carpet.

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