More than 150 Oscar nominees come to the Beverly Hilton for a rare collegial moment on the campaign trail
"The last time I was at this thing," said Javier Bardem, looking around the International Ballroom at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, "I got so drunk."
By this thing, Bardem meant the Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon, an annual event at which those honored by Oscar voters receive their certificates of nomination, pose for a class photo and mingle with fellow nominees in an atmosphere mostly devoid of the competitive air in which they otherwise exist.
The last time the Best Picture nominee attended, he told TheWrap, he was a Supporting Actor contender (and eventual winner) for "No Country for Old Men." "George Clooney was going from table to table with a bottle," he said with a laugh. "And he got to my table and stopped."
Monday's Nominees Luncheon, the 30th the Academy has held, did not appear to end with any soused actors. But the soiree drew 151 nominees, the biggest field ever, including all of the acting nominees except Christian Bale and all of the Best Director contenders except David Fincher.
(Also missing: the elusive graffiti artist Banksy, nominated for directing "Exit Through the Gift Shop.")
The event, which began as a way to get a little extra publicity during what was then a dry spot on the Oscar calendar, has grown to be one of the friendliest and most collegial awards events, where nominees can try to grab a few bites to eat in between posing for the annual "class photo" and hobnobbing with each other.
A few looks inside the luncheon:
LOST IN TRANSLATION
Each nominee is able to bring a guest – and Bardem's was not his wife, Penelope Cruz, at home with the couple's first child, but the director of his film "Biutiful," Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.
You'd think that Inarritu would receive an invitation on his own, since "Biutiful" was nominated for Best Foreign-Language Film and the director will pick up the statuette if it wins. But under Academy rules, the nomination actually goes to the country of Mexico, even if the statuette would go home with Inarritu – so the slightly perplexed director said he had to come as a guest.
"I don't really understand it," said Inarritu, who was nonetheless elated by the nomination. "I think they should let the directors come to the luncheon as representatives of their countries."
Inarritu is not the first Spanish-speaking director to wonder about the rule. When Pedro Almodovar accepted the Foreign-Language Oscar for his film "All About My Mother" in 2000, he cornered Oscar show producer Lili Fini Zanuck at the Governors Ball and berated the Oscars for, among other things, not inviting the foreign-film directors to the Nominees Luncheon.
"He took me aside for 30 f—ing minutes," Zanuck said later. "And I thought, God, what if this guy hadn't won?"
As guests were sitting down to eat, "The Kids Are All Right" writer-director Lisa Cholodenko wandered around the floor of the ballroom, looking perplexed.
"I don't see the 'Kids Are All Right' people anywhere," she said. "I'm not sure where I'm supposed to sit."
In fact, she was told, the seating chart at the Nominees Luncheon is drawn up specifically to avoid tables full of people from the same movie. Nominees are spread around the room so that each one doesn't sit with anybody from their category, or anybody from their movie.
The seating plan, said AMPAS president Tom Sherak at the lunch, "is designed to show that all the nominees are equal."
Cholodenko eventually located the slip of paper on which her table assignment was written: table three. She ended up with Bardem and Inarritu on one side of her, Harvey Weinstein on the other, and former AMPAS president Frank Pierson across the table.
I'M READY FOR MY LONG SHOT, MR. DEMILLE
One of the rituals of every Nominees Luncheon is the class portrait, in which all the nominees arrange themselves on a series of risers around a large Oscar statue. With the biggest group ever, it was tough finding space for everybody in the shot – so at the last minute Jeff Bridges decided to perch on the base of the big Oscar, and Annette Bening then rushed in from the side and plopped down on his lap.
In an attempt to make the ensuing presentation go more smoothly, a line of chairs in front of the risers were reserved for nominees whose last names started with A, B and C. But when he spotted the pregnant Natalie Portman standing behind him, Bardem quickly tried to give up his chair and maneuver her into the front row.
She declined, so he stood next to her in the second row as the official AMPAS photographer shot numerous wide shots of the entire crew.
The class photo was followed by the presentation of nomination certificates, the most time-consuming part of the luncheon. As the Academy's executive administrator Ric Robertson read off each one of the 151 names, the nominees made their way from the riser to the stage, where Sherak gave them their certificates and posed for a photo.
The process always stretches on and on, with some nominees getting to the stage quickly and others having to thread their way through their colleagues on the crowded riser. Producer Michael DeLuca, standing in the back row, didn't even try to get through he crowd – instead, he climbed down the back of the riser and got to the stage that way.
As the presentation wore on, with Robertson calling the nominees in alphabetical order starting with Amy Adams, Portman did take a seat in the front row. Bardem and Bening got big cheers when their names were called, as did Colin Firth and "True Grit" cinematographer Roger Deakins.
"Social Network" screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, standing on the edge of the riser nearest to the stage, served as a glad-handing sentry of sorts, shaking hands and dispensing nods and back-slaps as many of the nominees made their way past him.
Up in the back row, composer Hans Zimmer watched the acting with a grin. As a nine-time nominee, he'd been through this process before – and he knew that with a last name starting with Z, he'd be up there for a long time.
In the end, it was down to Zimmer and "True Grit" costume designer Mary Zophres. Robertson called his name, leaving her standing alone on what had been the crowded riser – and when he finished the roll call with Zophres, she got one of the biggest hands of the afternoon, an ovation based as much on her alphabetic misfortune as her cinematic accomplishment.
One of the curious rituals of the lunch is the ceremonial bestowal of Oscar nominee sweatshirts – which are just that, sweatshirts with the Oscar logo and a discrete "NOMINEE" printed underneath it.
The shirts are a standby almost as old as the lunch itself, albeit one that always draws a few raised eyebrows. "What's the deal with the sweatshirts?" one British nominee asked me, warily eyeing the logo on his gray hooded shirt. "If I wore this outside the house in London, I'd get beaten up."
Another nominee later reported sitting in the vicinity of several nominated actresses – all of whom, he said, were laughing about the idea of actually wearing the shirt. (Last year, Carey Mulligan told me that hers was way too big for her to actually wear even if she'd wanted to.)
Still, the shirts are a ritual … and the Academy does like its rituals.
Another ritual: the mid-lunch speech in which the show's producers tell the nominees to keep their speeches short.
First, co-producer Bruce Cohen told nominees about the theme of this year's show, "you're invited." ("Just don’t try to get in the room," muttered one nominee.)
He also invited them to involve their mothers – the "mominees" – in Oscar-related activities, including Twitter, before moving on to the usual challenge: leave the list of names at home, and craft "an emotional and meaningful speech."
The key, they said, is to prepare: as Tom Hanks said in a video message that will be sent to the nominees, "spontaneity takes preparation. So memorize something memorable … Use some of your Oscar-winning creativity to make your speech entertaining."
The producers unveiled a new graphic that will be used on the TelePrompTer this year: a giant inverted triangle that will slowly fill in, from the top down, over the course of each winner's allotted 45 seconds. With five seconds left, "PLEASE WRAP UP" will be added to the graphic; when time's up, that'll change to "WRAP UP NOW," signaling that music is about to start playing.
"Our dream," said co-producer Don Mischer, "is that we don't have to play anyone off with music."
At a nearby table, "King's Speech" director Tom Hooper listened and considered the difficulties. "A lot of people think it's bad luck to write something, but you don't want to be up there stumbling around," he said. "But I've tried to memorize speeches in the past, and that doesn't work either, because if you're trying to remember something you lose the emotion."
When the speeches – and the advice about speeches – ended, the table-hopping began anew. Warren Beatty huddled with David O. Russell and Amy Adams; Mark Ruffalo and Michelle Williams got together in another aisle; Roger Deakins and Matthew Libatique had a cinematography summit meeting at the front of the room; and AMPAS' Bruce Davis and Tom Sherak sat with Banksy's producer, Jaimie D'Cruz.
And eventually, everybody headed for the exits. Mark Wahlberg stopped in the lobby to pose for photos with fans, while other nominees headed out – back to the world of Oscar campaigning, where we're in the homestretch and things aren't nearly so friendly.