Oscar's light will shine

Ganis: 'We're going to do it'

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Academy president Sid Ganis vowed that the 80th Annual Academy Awards will take place as scheduled Feb. 24 at the Kodak Theatre, strike or no strike, as he welcomed this year's Oscar hopefuls to the traditional nominees luncheon.

"There's no doubt about it. We're going to do it," he said to an outburst of applause.

Speaking to the 115 nominees who gathered Monday in the Beverly Hilton's International Ballroom, Ganis immediately sought to dispel any fears that the writers strike, whether or not it's resolved by showtime, might derail the Oscars the way it shut down the Golden Globes.

"Of course, we really, really hope that the negotiations between the writers and the producers -- which we now hear are going very, very well -- will have reached a conclusion that everyone is pleased with," Ganis said. "Mainly so that the industry and the workers of the industry are functioning again but also because it will allow our amazing producer Gil Cates to put on the sort of show we all want to see.

"But regardless of those circumstances, which are beyond our control, we will be presenting awards as scheduled on the 24th. We're going to hand out Oscars not because of some showbiz notion that the show must go on -- it's not the show per se that matters. ... The Oscar exists to shine the brightest possible light on you and your work, and it would be such a terrible shame, through no fault of yours and no fault of ours, if the current conditions prevented us from shining that brightest possible light."

As they circulated throughout the room at the democratic event, in which A-list stars mix with sound mixers and short-film makers introduce themselves to feature directors, Academy officials were breathing a definitive sigh of relief, however, at word that an agreement could be in the immediate offing.

Disney CEO Robert Iger, who had been among the top execs meeting informally with writers, called Cates on Friday night to let him know of breakthroughs in the talks that could lead to a resolution before the Oscarcast, which airs on ABC.

"We're not out of the woods yet," Academy executive director Bruce Davis said. But he clearly was feeling more confident that the Academy would be able to mount a show celebrating its 80th anniversary without resorting to Plan B: special film packages that were quietly being planned in the event that a strike led some of the nominees to boycott the awards.

The sense of optimism appeared contagious among the strike-weary crowd.

"I hope things get resolved, but they should get resolved properly," said Viggo Mortensen, a best actor nominee for "Eastern Promises." "I'm a positive individual. I think the sun will come up tomorrow, that the strike will get resolved and the awards will happen."

Joked feature documentary nominee Michael Moore: "This is really so odd that this town be shut down because of two cents. I'm thinking of starting a penny drive asking Americans to send their pennies to Rupert Murdoch and various studios."

Although SAG president Alan Rosenberg recently suggested that actors might have different needs in their upcoming contract talks than either writers or directors, George Clooney, nominated as best actor for "Michael Clayton," said that such sabre-rattling "is a mistake."

He suggested that SAG negotiators get cracking on negotiating a film and TV contract to replace the one set to expire June 30.

"They seem to think they can get the best deal by waiting until the last minute to negotiate," Clooney said. "But that's a mistake because people are strike-weary right now."

Having returned from Darfur, Sudan, which he had visited as a U.N. peace envoy, Clooney added: "I've been in a place where people are killing each other, that has warlords all around. I don't want to hear about people who can't all get in a room and get along."

Sources on both sides of the WGA negotiations said a tentative contract agreement appears within reach within the next couple of weeks. That would end the three-month writers strike in time to save the Oscars from the prospect of a boycott by guild writers and most actors.

With that prospect improving everyone's mood, the nominees -- ranging, alphabetically, from best supporting actor nominee Casey Affleck to sound editing nominee Matthew Woods -- gathered for a class photo. Ganis then gifted each of the nominees, including all six men nominated for best director, with a nomination certificate and commemorative sweatshirt. Also taking part were this year's honorary Oscar winner, production designer Robert Boyle, and David A. Grafton, who has been selected to receive the Gordon E. Sawyer Award.

In his remarks, Cates, producer of the telecast and head of the DGA negotiating committee for that guild's recently concluded contract talks with the studios, didn't offer the usual lecture that winners keep their Oscar acceptance speeches short. Instead, he echoed Ganis' comments, saying, "As Sid said, we're all hopeful that things can be worked out soon, and it does look good."

Carly Mayberry in Los Angeles contributed to this report.