Oscar Nominees Luncheon: Kobe Remembered, Diversity Touted and #BongHive Represented

The Hollywood Reporter's awards columnist reports from inside the room, where Leonardo DiCaprio, Florence Pugh and Al Pacino learned about the Academy's inclusion initiatives and enjoyed a plant-based meal.
Todd Wawrychuk / ©A.M.P.A.S.

“I’ve now been president for 174 days,” Academy president David Rubin said at the outset of the annual Oscar Nominees Luncheon — held for the first time inside the Ray Dolby Ballroom at the Hollywood & Highland Center — on Monday, adding to laughter, “and no sign of impeachment yet.”

With Once Upon a Time in Hollywood lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio, Little Women supporting actress Florence Pugh, The Irishman supporting actor Al Pacino and more than 100 other Oscar nominees looking on, Rubin also acknowledged the elephant in the room: the sudden death on Sunday of Kobe Bryant, who attended the luncheon two years ago en route to winning an Oscar for his documentary short Dear Basketball. “He was probably the most excited person to be in the room,” Rubin recalled, before leading a moment of silence for Bryant.

The rest of the lunch, as usual, involved lunch (plant-based for the first time), a lot of mingling and a little housekeeping.

Rubin announced that the long-gestating Academy Museum of Motion Pictures has now raised 95 percent of its fundraising goal, and also touted the Academy’s diversity initiative A2020 and similar initiatives, declaring, “These programs do work. They are enormously effective.” He added, “Excellence is enhanced when we widen our lens.”

Rubin also acknowledged the past presidents of the Academy in attendance, including Richard Kahn, under whose watch the Oscar Nominees Luncheon first began, and all of the current members of the Academy’s board of governors, including two who are Oscar nominees this year: actors branch governor Laura Dern, a best supporting actress nominee for Marriage Story, and short films and feature animation branch governor Bonnie Arnold, a best animated feature nominee for How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.

The Oscar telecast producers — rookies Stephanie Allain and Lynette Howell Taylor — gently warned nominees not to give long and/or boring acceptance speeches.

And someone — this year the actress Ileana Douglas, filling in for Dern due to her little conflict of interest — called up each of the nominees, one by one, to the rafters that were set up for a “class photo.” To my ear, the loudest applause, by far, went to Parasite writer/director/producer Bong Joon Ho. Also getting notably loud receptions: Dern; The Irishman producer Robert De Niro, supporting actor Al Pacino and film editor Thelma Schoonmaker; Judy lead actress Renee Zellweger; Once Upon a Time in Hollywood supporting actor Brad Pitt; Little Women screenwriter Greta Gerwig; The Two Popes lead actor Jonathan Pryce; and virtually everyone associated with 1917.

Unable to attend, for one reason or another, were Joker lead actor Joaquin Phoenix; The Irishman director Martin Scorsese and supporting actor Joe Pesci; Won't You Be My Neighbor supporting actor Tom Hanks; Bombshell supporting actress Margot Robbie; Little Women lead actress Saoirse Ronan; The Two Popes supporting actor Anthony Hopkins; Marriage Story lead actor Adam Driver and lead actress Scarlett Johansson; Pain and Glory's director Pedro Almodovar and lead actor Antonio Banderas; Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker's composer John Williams; and Rocketman songwriter Elton John.

Chatter overheard at the luncheon included: 

Millie Cao, a ballroom dancer who is the subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary short Walk Run Cha-Cha, said that she had previously tried to be an Oscars seat filler. When reminded that someone else would have to fill her seat this year, should she need to go to the restroom or bar, she asked if it might be possible for a relative to fill that position.

And Carol Dysinger, an NYU professor who is the Oscar-nominated director of the documentary short Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl), noted that she had won a Student Academy Award back in 1977, which was presented to her by Frank Capra, who told her, “Gosh, I wish I’d made that movie!” Her college roommate was Once Upon a Time in Hollywood writer-director Quentin Tarantino’s late film editor Sally Menke, whose widower she brought as her plus-one on Monday.

Meanwhile, Diane Warren, a best original song nominee for “I’m Standing With You” from the small film Breakthrough, confirmed that she was attending the Oscar Nominees Luncheon for the 11th time. She has yet to win, and cracked, “This is the fun part before we fucking lose!”