February 10, 2014 6:20pm PT by Scott Feinberg
Inside the Oscar Nominees Luncheon
Megan Ellison and Bono were chatting intensely. Meryl Streep and David O. Russell kept each other amused for 20 minutes. Pharrell Williams sported his Grammys hat, Jared Leto rocked a gold jacket and Spike Jonze -- a collared T-shirt and cargo jacket?
They could all be found at the 33rd annual Oscar nominees luncheon.
The star-filled gathering took place Monday in the International Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton. Hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' board of governors, it drew the vast majority of this year's 203 Oscar nominees -- including A-listers such as Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), Sandra Bullock (Gravity) and Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club). The stars were assigned seats at one of several dozen tables alongside nominees from other categories own, as well as a few lucky journalists including myself. The nominees eventually all posed together for a "class photo" before picking up their official Oscar nomination certificate and a gift bag that included an "Oscar Nominee" sweatshirt.
Arriving guests were greeted at the top of the Hilton driveway by a dozen or so members of the Service Employee International Union loudly protesting the Academy's choice of a non-union security contractor, Security Industry Specialists, for the Oscars. Once inside, they enjoyed a cocktail hour and then took their seats for lunch. Cheryl Boones Isaacs, the Academy's new president, welcomed everyone and congratulated them on their nominations. Isaacs said that the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is "on track" to open and become "a world-class destination" in 2017, acknowledged two past presidents of the Academy who died over the past year, Fay Kanin (who served from 1979 to 1983) and Tom Sherak (whose tenure rane from 2009 to 2012), and she then asked a number of special guests of the Academy who were present in the room to stand and be applauded. They included past Academy presidents Gene Allen (1983-1985), Sid Ganis (2005-2009), Arthur Hiller (1993-1997), Richard Kahn (1988-1989), Walter Mirisch (1973-1977) and Robert Rehme (1992-1993, 1997-2001), and members of the Academy's board of governors from all 17 of its branches.
In what may have been a veiled reference to the recent controversy over the nomination of the song "Alone Yet Not Alone," written by a former member of the board whose nomination was rescinded when it was found out that he had lobbied Academy members for votes, Isaacs said to the board members in the room: "Thank you for your contributions to the integrity of the Academy and all that the Academy stands for."
Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, who are returning as producers of the Oscars telecast for the second year in a row then stepped up to the podium and cheered the return to the hosting gig of Ellen DeGeneres, who previously hosted back in 2007. "She's going to be bringing her specific brand of comedy with her, which we all love," Meron said. He also noted that the show's theme will be "movie heroes" -- "not just in movies but behind-the-scenes, as well" -- and offered shoutouts to the telecast's director (Hamish Hamilton), supervising producer (veteran Michael B. Seligman) and talent producer (Taryn Hurd). Zadan, playing the "bad cop," warned nominees that, should they win, they will have only 45 seconds at the podium before the orchestra plays them off. He told people who have co-nominees that one should be selected in advance to speak for all, or else the orchestra will just assume that the first person to speak will be the only speaker and will begin playing after that person wraps up. And he asked any nominees who do get up to the podium to deliver "personal, funny and heartfelt" remarks, "spoken from the heart, not from a list written on a piece of paper."
After lunch, Academy governor Ed Begley, Jr. stepped up to the podium to announce each nominee. That duty that had long been held by Ric Robertson, the Academy's former COO, but Robertson, who was at the event, joked to me that he has "retired" from it. Also different this year: nominees did not step up to collect their nomination certificate when their names were called, but instead headed directly to a set of bleachers to pose for a class photo. Journalists and publicists in the room carefully monitored the volume of the applause with which each nominee was greeted, as that has sometimes -- but not always -- proven to be an accurate barometer of support from the entire Academy.
This year, it sounded to me like the loudest ovations were accorded to best actress nominee Amy Adams (American Hustle); best actress nominee Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), who removed her high heels on the way to stage; best picture/best director nominee Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity); best cinematography nominee Roger Deakins (Prisoners); best actor nominee Bruce Dern (Nebraska); best supporting actor nominee Leto (Dallas Buyers Club); best actor nominee McConaughey; best picture/best director nominee Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave); best supporting actress Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave); best director nominee Alexander Payne (Nebraska); best picture/best director nominee Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street); 84-year-old best supporting actress nominee June Squibb (Nebraska), whom Leto graciously helped to the center of the bleachers; best actress nominee Meryl Streep (August: Osage County); and best original song nominee Williams (Despicable Me 2).
Stephen Prouty, the best makeup nominee for Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa, was the only one whose name -- or, rather, the name of his film -- prompted chuckles.
The 86th Oscars will take place on March 2, less than three weeks from today.