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In a way, the annual Oscar Nominees Luncheon is even cooler than the Oscars: Almost all of the nominees show up — 170 this year, ranging from perennials Meryl Streep and Steven Spielberg (best actress and best picture nominees for The Post, respectively) to rookies Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele (both best director and best original screenplay nominees for Lady Bird and Get Out, respectively) — but, aside from the nominees’ plus-ones (and a few lucky journalists), it’s an exclusive affair, with the only other guests being members of the Academy’s board of governors and past presidents. Additionally, no one goes home a loser. And everyone has a lot of fun — plus a multi-course meal is served, which doesn’t happen on Oscar night.
In the words of the veteran publicist Marvin Levy, a member of the Academy’s board and Spielberg’s longtime rep, who has probably attended every Oscar Nominees Luncheon, “It never gets old.”
Another hallmark of the luncheon are speeches. First-term Academy president John Bailey referenced the Academy’s ongoing inclusion efforts, as well as the #MeToo crisis that has engulfed Hollywood (and beyond), when he said, “I may be a 75-year-old white male, but I’m every bit as gratified as the youngest of you here that the fossilized bedrock of many of Hollywood’s worst abuses are being jackhammered into oblivion.” Oscar telecast producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd applauded the diversity of this year’s nominees, which they said was more reflective of society than nominee classes of years’ past. And special guest Patton Oswalt humorously advised guests about how not to mess up their speech if they should win an award.
In a nice twist, the Academy makes sure that no more than one nominee from any film or category is seated at the same table (with the exception of those who are married — of which there are a record number this year — such as The Big Sick‘s nominated screenwriters Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani). One table included Spielberg, Gerwig, best supporting actress nominee Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water), best documentary feature nominee JR (Faces Places) and a cardboard cutout of Agnes Varda (JR’s co-nominee for Faces Places, and a 2017 honorary Oscar recipient, who could not be in attendance). Another — the one that I drew via the lottery that they hold to determine where journalists sit — contained no household names, but some pretty impressive film artists: best sound editing nominee Alex Gibson (Dunkirk), best animated short nominee Max Porter (Negative Space), best visual effects nominee Stephen Rosenbaum (Kong: Skull Island), best documentary short nominee Frank Stiefel (Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405) and best sound mixing nominee Stuart Wilson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi).
Among those seen chatting between courses and speeches: Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers whistleblower whose story helped to inspire The Post (and a guest of one of the producers of best documentary feature nominee Icarus), with Spielberg and then with best original screenplay nominee Aaron Sorkin (Molly’s Game) and the woman who inspired Sorkin’s film, Molly Bloom; Disney chief Bob Iger, whose ABC network broadcasts the Oscars and who also serves as the chair of the campaign for the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, and Netflix chief Ted Sarandos; best picture/director/original screenplay nominee Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) and seatmate Michael Mann, an Academy governor for the directors branch; Roger Ross Williams, an Academy governor for the documentary branch, with Netflix docs chief Lisa Nishimura; best documentary feature nominee Bryan Fogel (Icarus) and best supporting actor nominee Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project); and former Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and Academy governor-at-large Reginald Hudlin.
The luncheon culminates with a class photo featuring all of the present nominees standing on risers beside a giant Oscar. They take their places after being introduced — this year, for the second year in a row, by Laura Dern, a governor of the Academy’s acting branch (who humorously announced the nominees from Star Wars: The Last Jedi, in which she appeared, with a little more pizzazz than others). Dern seemed to get a particular thrill out of introducing best animated short nominee Kobe Bryant (Dear Basketball) — even ad-libbing, “I’m a Los Angeles native!” — who was greeted very warmly in the room (I, Tonya best supporting actress nominee Allison Janney approached him, “I never ask for photos, but…”), and was seated just to the right of the giant Oscar for the photo (he’d probably tower over it if he was standing).
The loudest ovation, though, for whatever it’s worth (this room is not exactly a scientific sample of Oscar voters), was accorded to Mudbound‘s Rachel Morrison, whose best cinematography nomination made her the first woman ever nominated for that honor. Peele wasn’t far behind. Others who were audibly popular with those in the room include Gerwig, Janney, del Toro, Streep, Spielberg, Dafoe, best actress nominees Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird) and Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water), best actor nominee Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), best director nominees Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk) and Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread), best supporting actor nominee Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and best adapted screenplay nominee Dee Rees (Mudbound).
Some other fun facts: guests of nominees included producer Frank Marshall (accompanying Fogel) and actor Danny Glover; best original song nominee Common (Marshall) was introduced by his birth name, “Lonnie Lynn,” which undoubtedly explains why his reception wasn’t louder; and Nanjiani snapped a selfie before the official photo was taken, which has got to be up there with Ellen DeGeneres‘ from the Oscars a few years ago, in terms of awesomeness.
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