The Oscar nominees luncheon is always full of good vibes, a definite highlight of the season especially since those in the room have all made it this far — all Oscar nominated and getting to mingle not just with other nominees but also the large number of Academy voters on hand. Considering we are less than two weeks away from final voting beginning, it is also a chance for some to push AMPAS members to check out their films.
“Hopefully if you have seen my movie you will want to vote for it,” said one prominent executive to an Academy member Monday. “And if you aren’t going to see it, vote for it anyway,” they added.
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And why not?
I snapped a photo of 15-time nominee and bridesmaid (although she has an honorary Oscar) Diane Warren, nominated this year for “The Fire Inside,” chatting it up with Barbie’s Greta Gerwig and telling the writer-director of the film that has two Best Song nominations (for both Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell’s “What I Was Made For?” and Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt’s male anthem “I’m Just Ken”) that she knows she has to lose to somebody — and has two chances to do that with Barbie. “You never know, they could cancel each other out,” she laughed in an aside to me. It is all in good fun and camaraderie at this event, which is why everyone is so happy to be there.
Killers of the Flower Moon Best Actress nominee Lily Gladstone told me the great thing about the luncheon, her first, is that everyone genuinely seems to really like each other’s movies, noting it is a very good year for film. She was one of the last names called for the annual class photo and said she found it hard to believe she would be seated right in front between Christopher Nolan and Martin Scorsese — not something she could have imagined before. Very cool.
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Academy president Janet Yang opened the proceedings with some remarks before lunch, but also again right afterwards when she told the crowd at the Beverly Hilton ballroom (weren’t we just here less than 48 hours ago for the DGA Awards?) that she had something very important to tell them. Yang went on to remind them the Oscar show would be starting an hour earlier this year, at 4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. ET. With that the audience was clearly rattled, apparently missing the Academy’s earlier press release about just that change. She went on to tell them it was also the first day of daylight savings — so please remember to spring forward. “We think it will be worth losing that extra hour of sleep, don’t you?”
Well yeah of course. It’s the OSCARS, but the rumbling and shockwaves could be felt across the room. It was almost as if she had just announced that Pope Francis had agreed to host the Oscar red carpet pre-show. Speaking of that, AMPAS CEO Bill Kramer said they feel a half-hour official pre-show at 3:30 p.m. PT is more than enough, especially since other outlets are available with longer coverage of the red-carpet fashion parade if you want it. The real reason for this switch to an hour earlier is ratings, which always get dragged down on the East Coast where the big awards are always after 11 p.m. ET, sometimes knocking on midnight, so this is a bold but I think smart move to make it all end at a reasonable hour.
Kramer is high on the way the show is shaping up, he told me, singling out new producers Raj Kapoor and Katy Mullan among others. It also looks like all five nominated songs will likely be performed on the show, along with some other surprises. He was mum on whether Ryan Gosling will be leading the “I’m Just Ken” number, but trust me, he will. Ronson has been hounding him to do it since well before the nominations even came out. I don’t see a world where he doesn’t do it despite his coy answers in recent interviews.
By the way there was also a mini La La Land reunion as the two 2024 nominees Emma Stone and Gosling, nominated back then in 2017 (Stone even won), were spotted talking on the floor.
I don’t play the game of trying to say which actors got the most applause when their name was called to come up for the class photo, but I can unequivocally say that Messi, the border collier who plays Snoop so memorably in the Best Picture nominee Anatomy of a Fall, stole all the attention at the pre-reception and the luncheon, a real selfie draw if ever there was one. I couldn’t resist asking the pooch’s PR team to take my photo with him. I have been pushing this dog for a Best Supporting Actor nomination ever since seeing the film in Cannes and watching his near-death scene foaming at the mouth due to an overdose of aspirin. It was stunning and it brought him the Palme Dog, the first time a Cannes movie had won both the Palme d’Or and the Palme Dog. Gosling was among those who met him, concerned that he looked passed out on the floor at one point. The fact is Messi is so chill he can get some sleep in even with every Oscar nominee passing by him.
Ronson was among the nominees there trying to get a selfie with Messi, who has to be the most unforgettable dog in a Best Picture contender since Mike, the terrier who played Uggie in The Artist, the Best Picture winner in 2011. That year the studio had Mike/Uggie out at every event imaginable. It worked. This was a very good play by Neon, which bought Anatomy in Cannes, with Neon head Tom Quinn telling me one of his sales points was that he could pretty much guarantee Anatomy would have a very good shot at winning Best International Film (which could have been the first to win for the country since 1992’s Indochine), only to see France fail to enter it (they picked The Taste of Things instead). He’s very happy that it got five nominations including Best Picture and won two Golden Globes as well. I have detected a lot of buzz for the film among members I talk to who have seen it. Quinn is also thrilled that his other film, Wim Wenders’ Perfect Days, which was Japan’s entry, did get an International Film nomination.
By the way, based on casual conversations, many members still have a lot of viewing to do before they get their ballots on February 22 (due back Feb. 27). One movie they may be inclined to catch after today’s lunch is Visual Effects nominee and surprise hit Godzilla Minus One, whose effects team brought Godzilla figurines with them to today’s event. There were also a few senior citizens featured in the Best Documentary Short nominees spotted in the crowd, including the 101-year-old activist in MTV’s terrific The ABC’s off Book Burning and 96-year-old Nai Nai and 85-year-old Wai Po the title stars of Sean Wang’s charming Disney+ film Nai Nai & Wai Po. In general it was a very starry crowd with most of the acting and other nominees on a high trading compliments others.
Christopher Nolan, whose Oppenheimer has emerged as the current frontrunner, had a table closest to the stage and the giant Oscar statues that adorned it. Robert Downey Jr was at that one too. He was the last name to be called for the group photo. At the reception he told me “I am sitting at table number one.”
Is that an omen? Scorsese’s table was right next to his.
As I arrived I also got a little bit of news. I ran into Academy Directors Branch governor Jason Reitman, who was talking to another Producers governor, Jason Blum. When I asked if published reports were true that he was taking over the iconic and historic Fox Village Westwood Theatre (currently run by Regency), he confirmed it.
“Today I officially became the owner,” he said, mentioning that the board of directors he helped form to take over the theater, where at least 50 movie premieres take place each year, would be announced Wednesday. And he says he already has an exhibitor in place to run it and has a lot of ideas to really revitalize it. He had been worried (as was I) about the theater’s fate (even though it is deemed a historic landmark in L.A.) and promises it will never have to worry about going away again. It is the theater where I saw my first movie, Disney’s Lady and the Tramp, the first animated feature ever presented in CinemaScope as touted at the time. Thanks Jason, and I can’t wait to see your plans.
Here’s hoping the 96th annual Academy Awards themselves are as much fun as this Oscar nominees luncheon was today.
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