121 Oscar nominees attend luncheon

2:12 PM PST 02/15/2010 by Gregg Kilday, AP
Greg Harbaugh/©A.M.P.A.S.

Annual photo includes Bullock, Clooney, Bridges, Cameron

Amid the final weeks of Oscar campaigning, the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences' annual Nominees Luncheon represents something of a cease-fire.

Not a complete cease-fire, of course: For the A-list actors and big-name directors who dominate the race, the gathering is one more opportunity to charm some of the key voters in the Academy -- albeit in a low-key way.

And because the seating is intentionally democratic -- with stars sharing tables with sound mixers, feature directors seated next to creators of short films -- it's also a chance for all the nominees from different categories to introduce themselves to each other, free of the anxiety about who will ultimately win that takes over on Oscar night.

On the way into the pre-lunch mingle at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, some of the name nominees stopped by for a brief interview session with the media.

Asked who she was looking forward to meeting, best actress nominee Gabourey Sidibe, charmingly offered, "Steve Martin is the person I want to meet. My mom had a crush on Steve Martin and we used to watch 'The Jerk' every day. I'm excited that the show will be hosted by Jack Donaghy and the Jerk."

Once inside, the guests chatted about the weather: Documentary feature nominee Rebecca Cammisa ("Which Way Home") was happy to have escaped the cold back east for the California sunshine. Others volunteered their plans for the coming weeks: Anna Wydra, nominated for the short doc "Rabbit a la Berlin," said she'd come all the way from Warsaw and intended to hang around until the awards take place on March 7. And still others engaged in friendly shop talk: "The Blind Side," its profile burnished with a best pic nomination, opens in March in the U.K. and Germany, Broderick Johnson, one of its producers, was telling Summit co-chairman and CEO Rob Friedman.

Bill Mechanic and Adam Shankman, who are producing the live broadcast, were busy making the rounds as well. Faced with introducing 10 best picture nominees, Shankman promised that film clips are being chosen with care so they'd be "deeper and richer," making the case for why a film had been nominated.

Working to streamline the show, they're also planning to use film clips, rather than performances, to spotlight the nominated songs.

One bit they revealed: The show will open with a film piece in which past winners talk about "what the awards mean to me," and they previewed some unedited footage from Diablo Cody, Renee Zellweger and director Davis Guggenheim.

Other details are still being nailed down. Monday morning, Mechanic was awakened at 3 a.m. with news that one element of the show -- he declined to be more specific -- had fallen through, and so was immediately on the phone with Shankman till 5:30 a.m., discussing how to handle it.

Mechanic greeted Quentin Tarantino, a double nominee as both writer and director of "Inglourious Basterds," who's agreed to be a presenter. Did Quentin want something written for him, or did he want to write it himself, Mechanic wanted to know. Just write something for him, Tarantino said, and then he'd play with it.

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"Thank you for coming today to our annual seminar on the inner workings of the preferential voting system," Academy president Tom Sherak joked as he called the luncheon, which drew 121 nominees, to order.

The Academy Awards have two purposes, Sherak said: First, to recognize the work of outstanding film artists, and second, to encourage a larger conservation about movies.

This year, he argued, that conversation is especially wide-ranging. Noting that there are five nominees in the animated feature film category for the fiirst time in seven years; five documentary shorts for the first time in five years; and those ten best picture nominees, he applauded the Academy for extending its reach. "This year, it seems to be more lively, more interesting than it's been in a while," he said.

With that, the nominees were invited to assemble for the annual group photo: Jeff Bridges stood side by side Sandra Bullock, George Clooney was elbow to elbow with James Cameron, and honorary Oscar winner Roger Corman sat up against an oversized replica of the Oscar statuette.

As their names were called out in reverse alphabetic order -- "Sherlock Holmes" composer Hans Zimmer was first and short documentary filmmaker Jon Alpert came last -- each of the nominees was presented with a certificate of nomination. "Yeah," called out Jason Reitman, a triple nominee for "Up in the Air," as, just after him, his father, Ivan Reitman, one of that movie's producers, was singled out.

Before the lunch wrapped, Shankman and Mechanic took a moment for the plea that Oscar show producers make every year, with mixed success: Winners should avoid laundry-list of thank-yous. "We want you to express what this once-in-a-lifetime moment feels like to you," Mechanic said.

Winners have 45 seconds to express their gratitude. And in the case of those awards that recognize more than one person, the producers warned, the microphone will be muted once one winner speaks for the group.

But what if winners can't decide among themselves who should be the designated acceptee? That could set up a couple of exciting sprints to the microphone.
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