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Academy Awards

Inside Vanity Fair's Oscar party: Where the stars watch the stars

Shinan Govani's take on Destination No. 1 of the Oscars party scene

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio holds his award for Best Actor in the The Revenant as he arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Feb. 28, 2016.

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio holds his award for Best Actor in the The Revenant as he arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Feb. 28, 2016.

DANNY MOLOSHOK/REUTERS

Like salmon swimming upstream, the denizens of celebrityville regrouped, as they always do, at Vanity Fair's Oscar party. And with the hour limping past the onset of a leap day, Alicia Vikander was seen, statuette in hand, seizing a day that only comes every four years – for her possibly just once.

The warble that made 2016's best supporting actress move: "We're up all night to get lucky," courtesy of Daft Punk.

Alicia Vikander.

Alicia Vikander.

DANNY MOLOSHOK/REUTERS

Her beau, Michael Fassbender – who'd arrived with a nomination but left without hardware – looked on with a dopey smile, I noticed.

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The jig was up – for the 88th Academy Awards, that is, and as always Graydon Carter's civilized blow-up was destination uno for people from the arts, tech, fashion, sports, business and, of course, those who pretend to be other people for a living. Meal tickets and live-wires, well-harnessed legends and arrivistes – the gang was all out. The name of the game: stars watching other stars, a subnarrative of this annual party that Anjelica Huston once explained by musing, "Nobody likes a celebrity more than a celebrity. They're fascinated by the genre."

Certainly, nobody had the centripetal force of fascination quite like the fifth-time's-a-charm Leonardo DiCaprio, who only made it as far as the very first banquette of the hangar-sized aerie that housed the party, part of a custom-designed space that connects the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts with Beverly Hills City Hall. People came to him. Everyone from Ben Affleck to Sean Combs to L.A. uber-socialite Barbara Davis to Netflix honcho Ted Sarandos, all zipping by to offer their congratulations. Even Elton John came over to shore up a pic with Mr. Revenant.

All the while, Leo's mom stood by, beaming, and BFF Tobey Maguire hovered patiently too, theirs being a relationship that stretches back more than two decades.

Time stamp 1:45 a.m.: Amazingly, Chris Rock, seated near Leo, is still wearing that white dinner jacket he had on during the Oscars, and it is absolutely, stunningly white-oh-white pristine. How does he do it? I consider asking him if the jacket is reversible. I refrain.

Chris Rock with Megalyn Echikunwoke and his mother, Rosalie Rock.

Chris Rock with Megalyn Echikunwoke and his mother, Rosalie Rock.

DANNY MOLOSHOK/REUTERS

"I haven't checked my voicemail since 2014," said a voice behind me. I turned around, looking for the body connected to the mesmerizing revelation. I couldn't place it. But I did see – no way! – Bernie Sanders. No, wait, it was Larry David.

Did I mention both Monica Lewinsky and Caitlyn Jenner came to the soirée, too?

Monica Lewinsky.

Monica Lewinsky.

PASCAL LE SEGRETAIN/GETTY IMAGES

Caitlyn Jenner.

Caitlyn Jenner.

ADRIAN SANCHEZ-GONZALEZ/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Z is for zeitgeist, B is for blur – that's for sure. Serena Williams and Roger Federer all gussied up and off the court, in a hubbub when crossing paths. Rebel Wilson in a conversational orbit standing next to Salman Rushdie, in an orbit of his own. Jon Hamm taking a languorously Draperesque drag from a cigarette in the vast al fresco area. Rooney Mara daintily eating one French fry at a time. Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall revelling in their seismic engagement. Ryan Seacrest and Harvey Weinstein bumping heads. Bill Maher holding forth. Henry Cavill being eye-grazed by everyone in sight. Charlize Theron looking professionally sublime, as is her wont.

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Charlize Theron.

Charlize Theron.

ADRIAN SANCHEZ-GONZALEZ/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

At one point, I spotted the enduring wit Fran Leibowitz sitting by herself, arms crossed, in her signature blazer, as Whitney Houston's I Want to Dance With Somebody rained down from the speakers. It was fabulous.

"I miss your sister," I told Joan Collins, noting that she and Jackie, the writer of bonkbusters, always came to this party together. The impossibly glamorous Jackie passed away last year, and it's perhaps a testament to Vanity Fair that the party, now so entrenched, is measured as much by those who are no longer in the room as by those who are.

Joan Collins.

Joan Collins.

PASCAL LE SEGRETAIN/GETTY IMAGES

The single best way to get into the party? Arriving with an Oscar. At one point in the evening, while sidling up to a bar where a buoyant man stood with a gold man of his own, I discovered it was one of the visual effects guys who had won in that category for Ex Machina.

"We beat Max Fury. We beat Star Wars," he started to tell me. "I don't know what I'm doing here."

The unrealness was all too real and brightened up a room drunk on its glamour.

The event, by the way, started off as a smaller dinner, helmed by Thomas Keller of the French Laundry restaurant. The architect of the party is Graydon's go-to guy, Basil Walter. And for the third year in a row, Mark Seliger took portraits of guests that rolled exclusively on Instagram.

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And the rest of the boldface? It ran the gamut from Jeff Bezos to Naomi Campbell to Larry Gagosian to Taylor Swift. Notably, it did not include the most notorious man in America right now, Donald Whatshisname.


MORE OSCARS COVERAGE

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Celebrities address #OscarsSoWhite on the red carpet

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