Oscar Nominees Lunch With Academy, Party at THR Event as Final Voting Approaches

Which nominees received the loudest applause? Who no-showed? And who brought Norman Lear as their guest? THR's awards analyst offers the inside dish.
Todd Wawrychuk

The 87th Academy Awards ceremony is less than three weeks away, but the final round of voting doesn't even begin until Friday. That's what made Monday's festivities — the Academy's 34th annual Oscar Nominees Luncheon and THR's 3rd annual Oscar Nominees Night party — so much fun: everyone on hand knew that they have made it to The Big Show and any outcome once there is still theoretially possible.

For the luncheon, more than 150 of this year's 195 Oscar nominees — along with their guests, the top brass from the Academy and ABC (which airs the Oscars telecast) and a few lucky journalists — packed into the Beverly Hilton's International Ballroom. Among those on hand were Selma's Oprah Winfrey and Common; American Sniper's Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper and Jason Hall; Birdman's Michael Keaton, Edward Norton and Emma Stone; Boyhood's Richard Linklater and Patricia Arquette; The Theory of Everything's Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones; Whiplash's Damien Chazelle and J.K. Simmons; Still Alice's Julianne Moore; The Judge's Robert Duvall; and Foxcatcher's Bennett Miller and Steve Carell.

See more Inside THR's Nominees Night Party

Notable absences included Into the Woods' Meryl Streep; The Imitation Game's Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley; Boyhood's Ethan Hawke, who couldn't get out of New York due to the snowstorm; Birdman's Alejandro G. Inarritu, who was in Canada working on his next film; Inherent Vice's Paul Thomas Anderson; Foxcatcher's Mark Ruffalo; and Unbroken's Roger Deakins, who has been to a lot of these gatherings in the past, with 11 prior best cinematography noms under his belt.

A cocktail hour, a carefully-crafted seating plan (each nominee was put at a table with nominees from other categories) and breaks between courses enabled nominees to visit with old friends and make new ones. Selma's Winfrey, definitely the biggest name in the ballroom (and probably any room she enters), arrived with her friend Larry Gordon, the producer, and was as friendly and accessible as could be with all comers. Meanwhile, I caught up with the aforementioned American Sniper trio, for whom the day was bittersweet: they were each there as nominees associated with a best picture nominee, but it was also the second anniversary of Chris Kyle's murder, and Hall told me that he had been periodically checking in with Kyle's widow Taya from inside the room.

Citizenfour director Laura Poitras brought as her guest the legendary Norman Lear, 92, who is a huge fan of the Edward Snowden doc and said that he, as "a bleeding-heart liberal," feels that Americans need to see it in order to reclaim some semblance of "sanity." Poitras, who was previously nominated eight years ago for My Country, My Country, told me that her fondest memory of her prior Nominees Luncheon was meeting Martin Scorsese, who was then nominated for The Departed.

Journalists' seats were determined, as always, through a Powerball-like spinning wheel. I ended up next to the lovely Reese Witherspoon, star of Wild, who was excited to be back at the luncheon nine years after her prior nom, for Walk the Line, which ultimately resulted in a win. (While everyone seemed to enjoy the fish plate that was served, Witherspoon and I thought it would be cool if the Academy tried a Southern-style dish one year — "Fried chicken!" she enthused.) But her costar Laura Dern had an even longer gap between noms: it has been 23 years since she was last at one, for Rambling Rose.

The actual business of the event was divvied up between a number of people.

The Academy's popular president Cheryl Boone Isaacs welcomed everyone and touted the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which she said is on track to open in 2017. She also acknowledged the presence of Academy CEO Dawn Hudson, Disney chief Bob Iger (who is also the chair of the capital campaign for the Museum), a number of past presidents of the Academy — Gene Allen (1983-1985), Sid Ganis (2005-2009), Arthur Hiller (1993-1997), Richard Kahn (1988-1989), Walter Mirisch (1973-1977), Robert Rehme (1992-1993, 1997-2001) and Hawk Koch (2012-2013) — and members of the Academy's board of governors.

Then Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, who are returning as producers of the Oscars telecast for the third year in a row, thanked this year's Oscars host, Neil Patrick Harris, for flying in to Los Angeles to attend the luncheon, which most hosts have not done in the past. Harris was greeted with enthusiastic applause, blew kisses to the crowd and then, stepping up to the mic a few moments later, said, "Hosting the Oscars has been a dream" for him — and then proceeded to take out a twisty device and try to hypnotize the audience, repeatedly stating, "Everything will be hilarious," before adding, "And awake!"

In emphasizing the importance of the Oscars, which Zadan said airs for "nearly a billion people in 225 countries or territories," Meron read a quote: "I never make a movie for awards consideration. I will use the hope of getting an Academy Award a) to honor the people who work so hard and also b) it's the greatest Good Housekeeping seal in the world. It's the greatest brand. It's as good as Louis Vuitton and Dior in the world of moviemaking. It's the Super Bowl." He subsequently revealed that it was stated by none other than Harvey Weinstein (for whom Meron and Zadan worked on the Oscar-winning Chicago years ago) and cracked, "He says some good things every once in a while."

Then came Meron and Zadan's annual bad cop routine: noting that they didn't have to play off any of last year's winners as a result of them talking too long or having more than one person approach the microphone, they reminded this year's nominees not to speak longer than 45 seconds and, for those with co-nominees, to select a designated speaker. (One nominee jokingly yelled, "No!" to a few laughs.)

As always, the luncheon culminated with a "class photo" of the nominees packed in together on a giant set of bleachers. (See a copy of it at the top of this post — and see if you can spot host Harris, who jumped in with the nominees.) For the second year in a row, it fell upon Academy governor Ed Begley, Jr. to carry out Ric Robertson's longtime duty of calling the nominees to the stage one by one. And, for the fourth year in a row, I was in the middle of the room and tried my best to read the applause for any hints about what/who might have the most ardent supporters.

I was somewhat surprised to find that everyone associated with The Grand Budapest Hotel and Whiplash were greeted with particular enthusiasm. I also heard upticks for Eastwood (the first name called, which meant that the 84-year-old had to stand for quite a while waiting for the rest of the roster to be read) and Cooper, Linklater and Arquette, Winfrey, Miller and Carell, Moore, Simmons, Witherspoon, Duvall and especially Keaton. Does any of this signal anything? We'll find out on Feb. 22.

After the lunch, in a conference room on the other side of the Beverly Hilton, I had the great pleasure of conducting a 45-minute podcast with almost all of this year's best original song Oscar nominees: Selma's Common ("Glory"), Begin Again's Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois ("Lost Stars"), Beyond the Lights' Diane Warren ("Grateful"), The LEGO Movie's Shawn Alexander ("Everything Is Awesome!") and Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me's Julian Raymond ("I'm Not Gonna Miss You"). Only Common's collaborator John Legend and Raymond's collaborator Glen Campbell were unable to join us. Our conversation, which couldn't have been more informative and fun, will air on this blog very soon. And a photoshoot of the group will appear in THR's upcoming Oscar Issue.

It wasn't long before a huge chunk of the aforementioned folks reconvened at THR's Nominees Nite celebration at Spago, which has become to the Oscar Nominees Luncheon what the Vanity Fair party has become to Oscar night itself: a must-stop destination. Among the nominees on hand — many of whom were good enough to stop and chat with me on their way in, clips of which appear on THR.com today — were:

American Sniper's Cooper; Birdman's Keaton and screenwriter Alex Dinelaris; Selma's Common, with director Ava DuVernay; Boyhood's Linklater, Arquette and film editor Sandra Adair, with lead actor Ellar Coltrane; Wild's Dern; The Judge's Duvall; Two Days, One Night's Marion Cotillard; The Theory of Everything's screenwriter Anthony McCarten; The Imitation Game's screenwriter Graham Moore; Begin Again's Alexander and Brisebois; Beyond the Lights' Diane Warren, with director Gina Prince-Bythewood; The LEGO Movie's Alexander; How to Train Your Dragon 2's director Dean DeBlois and producer Bonnie Arnold, with voice star America Ferrera; Ida's director Pawel Pawlikowski; Last Days in Vietnam's director Rory Kennedy; Finding Vivian Maier's co-director Charlie Siskel; Citizenfour's Poitras and producers Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky; and Wild Tales' writer/director Damian Szifron.

Also in attendance: DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg; stylist Rachel Zoe; Amy Landecker and Jay Duplass, stars of the Golden Globe-winning Transparent; TV personality Piers Morgan; Ahna O'Reilly, star of the forthcoming Sleepwalker; Reece Ritchie and Tom Cullen, stars of the forthcoming Desert Dancer, which opened the 30th Santa Barbara International Film Festival last week.

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg