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If there was any doubt that Tom Cruise is the biggest movie star in Hollywood, that was eradicated on Monday afternoon at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 41st Oscar Nominees Luncheon, where the producing nominee for Top Gun: Maverick — making his first appearance of the season on the awards circuit — was swarmed by virtually everyone else in the Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom.
Awestruck first-time nominees queued up and were greeted with Cruise’s eye-contact and million-dollar smile, a handshake and a selfie. Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani Nobel laureate who attended the event on behalf of the documentary short nominee Stranger at the Gate, and might otherwise have been the biggest celebrity in the room, was escorted over to him and greeted warmly. And even veteran A-listers Steven Spielberg, a producing, directing and writing nominee for The Fabelmans, and Guillermo del Toro, a best animated feature nominee for Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, made their way through the crowd in order to say hello, and received bear hugs upon doing so.
As Academy president Janet Yang said in her remarks welcoming the 186 nominees (or, in the case of four individuals, directors of Oscar-nominated international features) who were in attendance, “You are all winners” — which, she politely refrained from adding, will not be the case on March 12, when the 95th Oscars ceremony takes place across town at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood and only a fraction of the nominees leave with a golden statuette. (The ceremony will be hosted by Jimmy Kimmel and broadcast on ABC.)
A dark cloud hovered over the upbeat gathering for just a moment when Yang referenced — without using any names — Will Smith’s onstage slap of Chris Rock that marred the 94th Oscars ceremony. “Today, I feel it’s important to take this rare opportunity, while we’re gathered here together, to address some of the Academy’s recent challenges last year,” she said. “As I’m sure you all remember, we experienced an unprecedented event at the Oscars. What happened on stage was wholly unacceptable and the response from the organization was inadequate. We learned from this that the Academy must be fully transparent and accountable in our actions and particularly in times of crisis. We must act swiftly, compassionately and decisively for ourselves and for our industry. You should and can expect no less from us going forward. We are committed to maintaining the highest standards while creating the changes we wish to see in our industry.”
The first-term Academy president also delivered an implicit rebuke of last year’s controversial decision to not air live the presentation of all 23 awards on the Oscars telecast. “Our focus for the upcoming Oscars will, in fact, be on unity, partnership and the collaborative nature of cinema,” she stated. “We shall celebrate the power of entire film crews and the behind-the-scenes magic that makes movies possible and powerful.” And, she added to even louder applause, “We have worked really hard to present all awards live on the show this year — so we need to be sensitive to our running time. You’ve got to work with us. This is live television, after all. Translation: keep it [acceptance speeches] short, sweet and to the point, please.” (She noted that winners will have 45 seconds, tops to deliver a speech before they are cut off.)
Following a montage of clips sourced from social media posts in which a handful of this year’s nominees reacted in real-time to the announcement of their nominations back on Jan. 24, Academy governor DeVon Franklin called up the nominees, one by one, to take their places on bleachers that were set up for the annual “class photo.”
From my vantage point, for whatever it’s worth, the loudest applause in the room went to the following individuals: Everything Everywhere All at Once supporting actress nominee Jamie Lee Curtis (the first name called), lead actress nominee Michelle Yeoh and supporting actor nominee Ke Huy Quan (the fact that the film was represented by nominees in a field-leading 11 categories can’t have hurt); Women Talking adapted screenplay nominee Sarah Polley; Causeway supporting actor nominee Brian Tyree Henry; Elvis lead actor nominee Austin Butler; and yes, Cruise.
Does any of this reflect the tastes of the Academy overall? We’ll find out in just 27 days!
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