Oscar Nominees Celebrate at Academy Luncheon, AARP Awards and Hollywood Reporter Party

Inside the Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon With Glenn Close, Lady Gaga and More

Learning that one is nominated for an Oscar, as 212 people did on Jan. 22, is obviously a huge moment for anyone in the film industry — but for many members of this year's class of nominees, it wasn't until Monday that it began to feel real. That's because Monday included the 38th annual Oscar Nominees Luncheon, a gathering at the Beverly Hilton that features a roll call of the nominees, a class photo and the presentation of certificates of nomination — as well as, for many, the AARP Movies for Grownups Awards and The Hollywood Reporter's Nominees Night party, both at the Beverly Wilshire, the latter inside its Cut restaurant.

The luncheon is pretty special because it, like the Oscars, is hosted by the Academy, and, unlike the Oscars, is very intimate, with no TV cameras and very few people in the room who aren't nominees — only their plus-ones; the Academy's board of governors and past presidents; a contingent from TV partner ABC, including Disney chief Bob Iger; and a few members of the press, including myself. Nominees are assigned seats in a way that guarantees they don't share a table with anyone from their own film or category — unless, that is, they are spouses, as like best documentary feature nominees Jimmy Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi of Free Solo — in order to encourage them to get to know new people.

Things kicked off with a reel comprised of clips, posted to social media, of members of this year's class emotionally reacting to the news that they had been nominated — among them, Roma's Yalitza Aparicio, BlacKkKlansman's Spike Lee and Can You Ever Forgive Me?'s Richard E. Grant. Then, Academy president John Bailey, who is finishing his final year in office before he must leave the board of governors for at least one year (having served three consecutive terms on the board), welcomed and congratulated the nominees, noting that they hailed from 52 different movies and all around the world. In speaking about the grand tradition of the Academy Awards, he mentioned that the first Oscars ceremony had two top awards, one recognizing the year's best artistic picture and the other recognizing the year's best commercial picture. The idea was discontinued after a year because, he said in a winking reference to this season's "popular Oscar" debacle, it was apparently an "unpopular" idea.

“This year we have the largest class of women nominees,” Bailey, a veteran cinematographer, pointed out, to applause, something that he said is important as the industry seeks "a truer representation of who we are." He also noted that this set of nominations brought the first best director mention for Lee and the first mention in any category for his old friend Paul Schrader (a best original screenplay nominee for First Reformed). He went on to note that the producers of this year's Oscars telecast, first-timer Donna Gigliotti and veteran Glenn Weiss, had previewed the Feb. 24 show to the board at its most recent meeting and vowed to keep it to just three hours — which, he emphasized, "means you’re hitting the parties by 8:15!"

Gigliotti and Weiss later came on stage and laid out for nominees how winners' help would be needed in achieving that goal — mostly by winners getting to the stage quickly and keeping acceptance speeches brief and heartfelt. (They played a clip of Steven Soderbergh's 18-year-old best director Oscar win for Traffic as an example.) It was a little weird that they previewed no details about the reimagined Oscars ceremony that, as has been widely reported, is moving forward without a host for the first time in 30 years. In recent weeks, there also has been carping from some members of the community about reports that not all the nominated songs would be performed on the show (now it appears all five will be represented in some manner); some awards will be presented during commercial breaks; and not all of last year's acting winners have been confirmed to present awards that the prior year's acting winners have traditionally presented. I suppose they may still be sorting some of that out.

The proceedings came to a close with Laura Dern, a twice-nominated governor of the Academy's actors branch, calling nominees — one by one — up to a set of risers erected for the annual class photo. The first person announced — I would guess deliberately, since the image of him standing alone alongside a giant Oscar evoked a standing ovation from many — was Lee. Also receiving loud applause, for whatever it's worth noting, were best actress nominees Aparicio and Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?); best supporting actress nominee Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk); best actor nominee Viggo Mortensen, my tablemate, and best supporting actor nominee Mahershala Ali (both from Green Book); and two people who Dern slightly 'built up' more than others: "a queen," best actress and best original song nominee Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born), and "are you ready for this," best picture, best director, best original screenplay and best cinematography nominee Alfonso Cuaron (Roma).

You can't beat the people-watching opportunities at both the Nominees Luncheon and, after it wraps up, poolside at the Beverly Hilton where many nominees head to grant interviews to media outlets. This season's two frontrunners for supporting acting Oscars, Ali and King, chatted it up; Ali and best adapted screenplay Oscar nominee Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk) later posed for pictures, two years after attending this same event on behalf of Moonlight. Cuaron and Peter Farrelly, Green Book's director and both a best picture and best original screenplay nominee, huddled in conversation. Lee chatted with his films' longtime costume designer, Ruth E. Carter, who is nominated this season for Black Panther, and whose collaborator, best production design nominee Hannah Beachler (the first person of color ever nominated in that category), appeared to nudge Carter to introduce her to Lee. Best supporting actor nominee Grant visited with Chris O'Dowd, who was originally set to play the part for which Grant is nominated. Best documentary short nominee Marshall Curry (A Night at the Garden) brought as his plus-one his old friend Matt Beringer — the lead vocalist for the band The National. And best supporting actor nominee Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born) and best actor nominee Willem Dafoe (At Eternity's Gate) met for first time, with Dafoe excitedly telling Elliott, "I've followed you for years! Since [1971's] Lifeguard!”

The AARP awards, which happened a few hours later, sound a little stodgy, but actually draw a ton of talent each year — not all that surprising when one considers that the Academy is still mostly comprised of people who are 50 and over! This year, the retirees spread their honors around, with prizes going to — among others — Green Book for best picture, Lee for best director, Mortensen for best actor, The Wife's Glenn Close for best actress, Grant for best supporting actor, Can You Ever Forgive Me? scribes Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty for best screenplay, Bohemian Rhapsody for best ensemble, Mary Poppins Returns for best intergenerational film, If Beale Street Could Talk for best time capsule and Roma for best foreign film.

Many AARP attendees, and others, closed out their night at THR's party, which offered tasty food, a great DJ and a funky video booth. I served as our resident Army Archerd, greeting and interviewing most of the guests as they arrived. A few notables slipped past me and headed directly into the action, including Close and THR contributing editor Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But I had fun chats with, among others, Farrelly, who came with his very proud mother Mariann (who, I was reminded, made cameos in his earlier films Dumb & Dumber and There's Something About Mary); Aparicio, who says the Hollywood figure she most wants to meet is Will Smith (I would think Netflix's Ted Sarandos can make that happen), and her co-star Marina de Tavira, a best supporting actress nominee who says she is very proud to be a part of the first film to boast multiple acting nominees from Mexico; Grant, who came with his longtime friend, actress Catherine O'Hara; Chin, Vasarhelyi and their subject, climber Alex Honnold, who told me he would be very open to making a climbing cameo at the Oscars; Dafoe, who playfully chided me for failing to anticipate his long-shot nom this year; Diane Warren (RBG), a best original song nominee for the tenth time, who entertained my idea that she should deliver her eventual Oscar acceptance speech in the form of a song titled "It's About F—ing Time"; best documentary short nominees Melissa Berton, an L.A.-area high school teacher, and Rayka Zehtabchi, the 25-year-old recent USC graduate, who collaborated on Period. End of Sentence. (Berton laughingly vowed to show up for class the day after the Oscars, even if their film wins and they stay out partying); best documentary feature nominee Bing Liu (Minding the Gap), who said he has truly enjoyed getting to know the other nominees in his category; and Terence Blanchard, Lee's longtime composer, who is a first-time nominee and acknowledged that, while his Grammy and BAFTA nominations are also exciting, there is nothing like an Oscar nom.