This time, it's ladies' night

Times Staff Writers

Poor Meryl Streep. Her blond hair apparently untouched by the blow dryer, she nervously patted her unwaiflike figure to make sure it was really still in her crystal-beaded jacket. She seemed flustered, a bit out of breath. But, having just won best supporting actress for her turn as New Yorker writer Susan Orlean in "Adaptation," she needn't have hyperventilated. The backstage media at the Golden Globes aren't the White House press corps. One of the first questions lobbed: "Meryl, you have such a reputation for such exquisite perfection. Can you tell me when are you not perfect?"

"Oh, about five minutes ago," said Streep, laughing. "Glamour is not my forte."

Later, she played the unglamorous card again, pleading jet lag and warning: "Don't get near me. I smell like a camel."

Still, Streep, perhaps the most lauded woman in mod-ern film history, was refreshingly eager for her award from the 90-member Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. The motley crew of journalists from Cairo to Calgary has, since the 60-year-old award show was picked up by NBC in 1996, assumed a disproportionate level of importance in the Hollywood awards race.

Streep led the way for what turned out to be ladies' night at the Beverly Hilton, where the female-driven "Chicago" and "The Hours" picked up best picture awards for comedy and drama. Indeed, not since the '70s (when Streep was first nominated for "The Deer Hunter") has there been such a strong year for female performers.

Inside the hall, the ritual plumage, which provides most of the excitement for the folks at home, appeared to place special prominence on the ultimate female accessory: the breast. Plunging necklines and barely sheathed nipples (a la "West Wing's" Allison Janney) graced anyone young and lithe enough to carry it off.

This being Hollywood, of course, the female winners seemed unduly grateful just to have something meaty to play. Noted Kidman (best actress in a drama), flush-faced in a pale lilac sheath and huge, Egyptian-style earrings: "I say to the writers, please keep writing for us, because we're very interesting."

Proving that some things never change, in the anteroom, reporters continued to ask the hard questions. Someone wanted to know how Kim Cattrall got in the mood for her famous masturbation scene from "Sex and the City." (The actress replied, "I wasn't thinking about God, that's for sure.")

It was all enough to make a philosopher out of nominee Goldie Hawn. "There are good years for women and some not-so-good years. You can't prove any theory. It's like quantum physics -- there's no definitive answer. Sometimes it just comes up three cherries."

Outside the powder room, where a squad of makeup technicians from L'Oreal was available for touch-ups, the female bonding was thick and heartfelt.

Hawn and Streep, friends from 1992's "Death Becomes Her," disappeared together for a long time. Then, when they reappeared in the ballroom, they paused to sit down on some steps for a moment before going back to their seats. But the tightness of Hawn's white lace-up dress appeared to make it impossible for her to sit down.

Backstage, Renee Zellweger, in a vintage Valentino she dug out of a storage closet in Rome, embraced Kidman. "You clean up nice, girl!" she chortled, referring to the last time she saw Kidman on the set of their upcoming film, "Cold Mountain." "You should see her in mud!"

Most of the losers, at least those who appeared on camera, struggled for graciousness. When she lost best actress in a musical, Catherine Zeta-Jones vigorously and determinedly hugged co-star and winner Zellweger.

"My Big Fat Greek Wedding's" writer-star, Nia Vardalos, resplendent in black, said afterward, "It didn't bother anyone at the table that they didn't win. I was afraid if I won I would throw up on myself."

Off-camera players were a little more candid. As "Far From Heaven" producer Christine Vachon left the ballroom empty-handed, she uttered a curt and grouchy response.

As the evening wore on, many of the stars migrated from the main ballroom to the smoking balcony overlooking the pool, evidence that the anti-tobacco lobby has been more successful cutting smoking on screen than off. Spotted on the balcony in joy and defeat were Ed Harris, Chris Cooper, Queen Latifah, Sam Rockwell and Vanessa Redgrave.

Aside from the women, the evening's other big winner was Harvey Weinstein, the only attendee with two seats, as he huddled with his "Chicago" cast during the comedy portion of the awards and switched to his "Gangs of New York" team for drama, allowing him to crush everyone from Zellweger to Martin Scorsese (the night's choice for best director) in his televised embrace as they stood up to collect their prizes. His studio also co-produced "The Hours." Indeed, at least one winner, Richard Gere, made a point of defending the much maligned Weinstein in his acceptance speech, giving a raspberry to the New Yorker for its recent profile of the Miramax honcho.

After last year's award purgatory, the indie behemoth was again so ubiquitous that Bob Shaye, head of New Line (who picked up two awards for "About Schmidt"), was overheard telling Adam Sandler, "I can't wait till you get up there and say thank you.... But you'll probably thank Harvey Weinstein."

Back in the press room, the journalists tried to extract one more insight from one of the night's victorious women. One asked Edie Falco (best actress in a dramatic TV series) if it was more challenging "playing a mom or playing nude."

To which she replied: "Oh, geez, playing the mom, nude."

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