Inside Oscar Nominees Luncheon: Sly Stallone, Academy Diversity Are Talk of the Day

More than 150 nominees attended the annual event, including 15 of the 20 acting nominees

In the midst of one of the most brutally competitive Oscar races ever, more than 150 Academy Award nominees got to be friendly and collegial for a few hours on Monday. The event was the annual Oscar Nominees Luncheon, an awards-season tradition at which all the nominees meet, are told to keep their acceptance speeches short, pose for a “class photo” and then pick up their certificates of nomination and some Academy swag — official nominee sweatshirts in the past, knit Oscar caps these days.

Of the 15 acting nominees in attendance — Tom Hardy, Michael Fassbender, Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet and Mark Rylance sent regrets — the clear VIP was Stallone. A stream of admirers made a pilgrimage to meet the “Creed” star, with “Room” director Lenny Abrahamson having a typical comment:

“I don’t remember the last time I got star-struck meeting an actor,” he said. “But meeting him, I had to — I used to run with the ‘Rocky’ music in my head.”

But the idea of equality is big at the luncheon, where the nominees are spread out so that you don’t sit with anybody in your category or anybody from your movie.

So Alicia Vikander shared a table with animated short “Bear Story” producer Pato Escala, Jennifer Lawrence sat with Danish director Tobias Lindholm and Brie Larson‘s table also included “Carol” cinematographer Ed Lachman and “The Big Short” producer Jeremy Kleiner.

Paul Allen, there because of the doc short “Body Team 12,” was excited to meet song nominee Lady Gaga — who later got an onstage shout-out from show producer David Hill for her Super Bowl rendition of the National Anthem.

“Revenant” director Alejandro G. Inarritu, fresh from his Directors Guild win on Saturday, quickly gathered a line of admirers when he entered. He huddled with “Cartel Land” director Matthew Heineman, whose documentary is set on both sides of the U.S./Mexican border — and when Steven Spielberg and Inarritu began talking, they were immediately surrounded by colleagues, gawkers and photographers.

Shaking his head over the craziness of the last two days, Inarritu told TheWrap, “I think I’m still hung over from Saturday.”

Elsewhere in the room, “Mustang” director Deniz Gamze Erguven chatted with fellow Paris resident Charlotte Rampling, while former Academy president Hawk Koch bowed and said, “I am not worthy” when introduced to “Son of Saul” director Laszlo Nemes.

“Brooklyn” star Saoirse Ronan arrived from stage rehearsals for her upcoming Broadway debut in “The Crucible,” which opens next month. “I just saw the one-sheet today,” she said, “and I think it’s going to be brilliant.”

At the bar, meanwhile, Pixar’s Pete Docter found himself standing next to Brazilian animator Ale Abreu, whose hand-drawn “Boy and the World” won one of the few Annie Awards on Saturday night that didn’t go to Docter’s “Inside Out.” (It won for best indie animated feature, a category in which “Inside Out” was mercifully ineligible).

“Look, it’s the big winner,” the guy whose film won 10 Annies said of the guy whose film won one.

Given the tenor of this awards season, of course, Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs used her opening remarks to briefly address the diversity issue.

“This year, we all know, there’s an elephant in the room,” she said. “I have asked the elephant to leave.”

Show producers Hill and Reginald Hudlin then told the nominees that they planned to offer a scroll of names across the bottom of the screen during acceptance speeches, so winners can be free to speak from the heart rather than reading from a list.

The Nominees Luncheon was launched in the early ’80s, initially as a way to get an extra blast of publicity during a down time in awards season. (Imagine that: There once was an era when awards season had a down time.)

But the event quickly proved outstrip its cynical motivations; it is, after all, the only time when the Academy brings all the nominees together and then doesn’t turn 80 percent of them into losers over the course of a tension-wracked night.

At the end of the lunch, the nominees mingled some more before picking up their swag and heading back into the fray of a wild awards race. “I’m trying to take it all in,” said “Room” star Brie Larson. “It’s like an overload of good.”

In less than three weeks, on Feb. 28, most of the nominees will lose in front of hundreds of millions of people.

On Monday afternoon, though, each of them was a potential winner, with the Oscar beanie to prove it.

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