Newsletter: What’s going to the Oscars really like?

Renée Zellweger at the Oscars
The view from backstage at the Oscars.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, Feb. 10, and I’m writing from the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

How much does Oscars fervor permeate the city of Los Angeles at large?

Take Johnny Morales, who immediately knew where I was heading when he saw me in a floor-length dress on the L.A. subway early Sunday afternoon.

Morales, who was on his way from South L.A. to North Hollywood, said he hadn’t seen any of this year’s movies. But he still sounded like a film pundit as he speculated on “1917’s” chances, and how “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” being a movie about, well, Hollywood, might help it. All of which is to say that for many Angelenos, the Oscar hype is near impossible to avoid, even if your knowledge seems to be acquired from near-osmosis.

On the walk from the Hollywood and Vine Metro station to the Dolby Theatre, I stopped to chat with Carlos Gomez and his wife Sandra Perez, who were selling sliced fruit and bacon-wrapped hot dogs on the Walk of Fame. The rain meant there were far fewer tourists crowding the sidewalk than I would have expected, and Gomez said that with the street closed, business was actually slower than a normal day. We could see limos starting to pull up through the barricades separating the sidewalk from the closed-off street, and Gomez and his wife were both hoping to catch a glimpse of Joaquin Phoenix — they loved “Joker” and hoped it would win lots of awards. (It ended up with two: for Phoenix’s acting and for Hildur Guðnadóttir’s original score.)


So how did I end up going to the Oscars this year and what was it like inside?

Veteran entertainment reporters typically cover the ceremony, but my editors sent me with an extra ticket to give newsletter readers a sense of what Hollywood’s biggest night is like behind the scenes. (Hollywood’s biggest night, by the way, happens to be held in a mall that also has a Cabo Wabo Cantina and a California Pizza Kitchen. I got a good look at the backside of the Hollywood & Highland center while trying to figure out how to get to into the theater on foot, which was not easy.)

The view inside the Dolby was a surreal mix of total glamour and the quotidian. Think watching nominees touch up their lipstick in the bathroom two feet away from you, and also watching the lady sitting in front of you read the Sherman Oaks Nextdoor neighborhood digest on her phone during the show. Inside the glitzy downstairs bar, a man quietly vacuumed up stray sequins and popcorn kernels while two old guys leaned against the wall commenting on the relative hotness of the best supporting actress nominees. The lobby snack tables, which had little plastic packets of popcorn, cookies and trail mix, were perpetually swarmed. Yes, every celebrity seemed to know one another.

And no one inside knew what was going on with Eminem’s 18th anniversary performance either. “It’s vomit. Mom’s. Spaghetti. On your sweater,” I heard a man say at the bar, parsing the lyrics to “Lose Yourself” with a Talmudic intensity, while an otherworldly beautiful woman vaped next to him, looking bored.

My seat was in the nosebleeds with the working people (read: non-stars) of Hollywood, so high up that one aisle-mate brought his own binoculars. Clearly not his first time at the rodeo.

“Parasite’s” stunning victory for best picture was foreshadowed early, as the crowd hooted and hollered with increasing excitement each time the film won. When the Korean-language film finally took home the big trophy, it became the first foreign-language film ever to win the film academy’s top prize.


More Oscars coverage:

  • “Parasite” was the big winner at the 92nd Academy Awards, pulling off a historic upset. Los Angeles Times
  • What will it take for Netflix to win a best picture Oscar? The streaming service spent tens of millions to campaign for “The Irishman” and “Marriage Story.” And yet the company still came up short, winning only two awards of their 24 nominations. Los Angeles Times
  • What you didn’t see on TV: Entertainment writer Amy Kaufman gives the dish from backstage. Los Angeles Times
  • Plus, the complete list of winners. Los Angeles Times

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:


Orson Bean’s death on a Venice street sparks mourning and concern over pedestrian safety. The 91-year-old actor-comedian was killed when he was hit by two cars Friday night while crossing Venice Boulevard on his way to see a play. Los Angeles Times

The 1971 Sylmar quake is keeping veterans homeless in L.A. in 2020. A deadly earthquake 49 years ago led to the removal of 1,460 veterans from the West L.A. VA campus. That decision continues to shape the homelessness crisis among veterans today. Los Angeles Times

The Spice Table cheeseburger has returned, seven years after the restaurant in question closed. “Created by a rising chef who’d cooked at Pizzeria Mozza and at Daniel in New York, the sambal-laced ‘gourmet’ burger was a rite of passage for a certain kind of food blogger.” Los Angeles Times

Some streets around Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre will remain closed days after the Oscars. Hollywood Boulevard between Orange Drive and Highland Avenue will remain closed until 6 a.m. Wednesday. Los Angeles Times

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A federal judge in Los Angeles issued his final judgment in a long-running immigration case, upending the way Immigration and Customs Enforcement uses local police to detain people it suspects of being in the country illegally. Los Angeles Times


“Lorena Gonzalez likes a good fight.” A profile of the assemblywoman, who is one of California’s most influential legislators, and author of the hotly debated AB 5. Los Angeles Times

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

In the race for California’s 50th Congressional District, President Trump has become the defining factor. Even before Rep. Duncan D. Hunter resigned from Congress last month, it was no secret that the race to replace him was going to get brutal, especially on the Republican side of the aisle. San Diego Union-Tribune

The heated race for a Sonoma County supervisor seat: “It is a contest between two former political allies and close friends who dated as recently as five years ago.” Santa Rosa Press Democrat


Why did the government mandate a coronavirus quarantine? The quarantine at an air reserve base in Riverside County is the U.S. government’s first mandatory quarantine since a smallpox outbreak in the 1960s. Los Angeles Times


A powerful windstorm pummeled Northern California on Sunday, toppling trees and power lines, halting ferry service and leaving tens of thousands of homes and businesses without electricity. San Francisco Chronicle


A public memorial service will be held Monday at Angel Stadium in Anaheim for three members of the Altobelli family, who were among those killed with Kobe Bryant in a Jan. 26 helicopter crash. Los Angeles Times

Mammoth Mountain founder Dave McCoy has died at 104. A pioneer of the California ski industry, McCoy built Mammoth Mountain over six decades. Los Angeles Times

Coronavirus travel restrictions and a tourism slowdown in San Francisco: More than 500,000 people visit San Francisco from China each year, and China was the second-largest source of international visitors for the city in 2018. San Francisco Chronicle

Did you miss one of the recent nice mentions about Bakersfield in the national media? Fear not, here is a summary “of some of the positive things the national press has been saying recently about Bakersfield.” Bakersfield Californian

Four Fresno airport workers were fired after a viral TikTok video. The short clip shows them dancing and generally goofing off on the tarmac and inside the airport. SFGate



Los Angeles: partly sunny, 72. San Diego: rain, 61. San Francisco: sunny, 65. San Jose: sunny, 69. Sacramento: sunny, 71. More weather is here.


This week’s birthdays for those who made a mark in California:

Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger (Feb. 10, 1951), actress Laura Dern (Feb. 10, 1967), surfer Kelly Slater (Feb. 11, 1972), former Black Flag frontman/columnist Henry Rollins (Feb. 13, 1961), presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg (Feb. 14, 1942) and actor Mahershala Ali (Feb. 16, 1974).

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.