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Oscars 2002 Thursday, 15 March, 2001, 10:52 GMT
My night with Oscar
Steven Spielberg and Sam Mendes
Mentor and pupil: Steven Spielberg and Sam Mendes
Tickets to the Oscars are horrendously difficult to come by so BBC News Online's Darren Waters clearly remembers what it was like to rub shoulders with Hollywood's beautiful people for the first time in 2000.

It is virtually impossible to exaggerate the unrestrained hysteria that surrounds the Oscars in America, especially at the epicentre of the hype in Los Angeles.

The long, measured build up to the ceremony has all the traditions of Wimbledon week, with the added fervour of an FA Cup Final and the endless analysis, speculation and punditry of a general election campaign.

The Oscars permeate the air like the morning smog over LA and every network, cable and local TV station is filled with endless chatter about who will win/lose/cry/ on the night.

On Oscar day Los Angeles becomes one giant Scalextric track of limousines.

Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman
Calm before the storm: Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman
Stretch limos are brought in from San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego and Las Vegas to meet demand.

What the TV cameras don't show are the huge numbers of demonstrators that clog the roads on the way to the venue. In 2000, it was still the Shrine Auditorium but this year the event will be held at the new Kodak Theatre.

Mainly evangelical Christians, the demonstrators wield their placards like weapons and are not afraid to bang on the darkened windows of the passing limousines.

Most of them blame Hollywood for most, if not all, of the seven deadly sins.

After hopping out of a limo and being herded towards security, my search for stars began.

Frisked

James Coburn was behind me as I was frisked entering the red-carpeted arena of screaming fans and shouting reporters .

Crucially, I got to be "on the carpet", mingling with the stars as they entered the Auditorium.

My senses were sent reeling as thousands of fans yelled in my direction.

It was some time before I realised I was standing next to Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.

Billy Crystal
Billy Crystal: He danced, sang and quipped all night
Cruise was not as short as I thought but his grin was more dazzling than the flash bulbs of the paparazzi while the regal Nicole Kidman seemed to have been carved out of marble.

In front of the cameras there was no sign of the turmoil that would later threaten their marriage.

Inside, proceedings were run with startling efficiency.

The most striking thing - and something that did not translate on TV - was the sincerity of all those who received awards.

Hollywood may be a circus of dubious intent but the performers had the highest regard for the industry.

Tears

The tears were genuine and the joy sincere.

Kevin Spacey thanked his mother, Angelina Jolie thanked her brother, while Michael Caine thanked all the other best supporting actor nominees.

It was a night of heartfelt thankyous without the floods of tears that marked Gwyneth Paltrow's speech the year before.

Everybody was most relieved when she arrived to present an award and did not break down again.

The running jokes of the night were the missing Oscar statuettes and Annette Bening's pregnancy.

Angelina Jolie
Brotherly love: Angelina Jolie and her Oscar
"Something they produced together may be released tonight," Billy Crystal joked about the baby Bening and Warren Beatty were expecting.

At more than four hours long, the ceremony was one of the longest in Oscar history, but the live TV and stageshow extravaganza was seamless.

Camp

The show's high point was Robin Williams' camp rendition of Blame Canada from the film South Park. The whole audience held its breath to see if he would use the much-talked about f-word in the song.

He did not.

Michael Caine
Michael Caine thanked his fellow best supporting actors
The night belonged to American Beauty, and to young British director Sam Mendes who was handed the award by Steven Spielberg.

In a touching moment Spielberg wrapped his arm around the younger man as they left the stage together.

After the awards have been handed out the parties begin and traditionally the first party of the night is the exclusive Governors Ball.

Most stars make an appearance before heading off into the night to Vanity Fair or their own studios' celebrations.

Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Ethan Hawke, Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie and Heather Graham all stood around avoiding the lavish food on the tables, and sipped their champagne.

Mendes and Jolie were letting people hold their precious Oscars.

At around 11pm the stars disappeared into the night - I'm not sure if they attend the Governor's Ball out of courtesy or to simply avoid the post-ceremony traffic jams - and for most of us that signalled the end of the Oscars.

And once the stars had gone home the lustre on the evening started to fade - but I stayed, to enjoy the, er, champagne and cocktails they shunned.

The Oscars ceremony will be broadcast live on BBC Two on Monday 25 March from 0045-0600 GMT and reported live on BBC News Online.

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07 Feb 02 | Oscars 2002
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