For the past thirty years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has held a luncheon for its award nominees, and for the past decade I’ve been lucky enough to attend. This year a record-setting 152 men and women (out of a total of 190) gathered at the Beverly Hilton Hotel to cheer each other and share in a day of celebration, without the nervous tension that goes along with the actual award ceremonies.
The seating arrangements are unusual by Hollywood standards: there is no Social Network or Black Swan table. Instead, multimillion-dollar movie stars are seated next to sound editors and documentary filmmakers. Guests like me get their table assignment from a bingo-style drum, and this year I hit the jackpot: I sat with Colin Firth (not to mention Pixar’s Andrew Stanton and sound mixer Jeffrey J. Haboush).
The highlight of the luncheon is the taking of an annual “class photo,” where all the nominees—
—stand on bleachers and pose for a commemorative picture. Then their names are called, one by one, and the crowd applauds as they walk to the stage and receive their official nomination ballot (from Academy president Tom Sherak) and an exclusive Oscar nominee sweat shirt. I noticed that Firth, who’s somewhat shy, didn’t move toward the center but stood instead on the edge of the bleachers, alongside Michelle Williams.
He later told me that he’s very fond of her but didn’t realize (at first) that she was the teenage girl he worked with back in 1997’s A Thousand Acres; her sister was played by Elisabeth Moss. (He also said that he thought she and Ryan Gosling were extraordinary in Blue Valentine, and can’t understand how Gosling didn’t make the final cut for Best Actor—or Robert Duvall, for that matter.)
Following the lunch I went to work for Entertainment Tonight, interviewing a number of nominees poolside at the hotel. Geoffrey Rush, sporting a beret to cover his bald head (for a current role), knocked me out when he mentioned that he looked like the hipster wolf in the Warner Bros. cartoon Three Little Bops! (And he’s right.) Helena Bonham Carter was delighted to meet Jeff Bridges, “who didn’t disappoint,” and confessed that the day was a particular treat for her mother—one of numerous “mominees” enjoying the experience.
When I asked Melissa Leo how she transformed herself into that creature she played so vividly in The Fighter she said she had tons of background material from which to draw, including the real-life Alice Ward’s scrapbooks. She can take full credit for an extraordinary, transformative piece of acting.
Rather than becoming blasé her third time over this course, Amy Adams explained that with each nomination she’s become more aware of what’s going on around her, and is happy to drink it all in. Newcomers Hailee Steinfeld and Jennifer Lawrence were somewhat dazzled, and happy to be in such heady company.
Smiles were standard-issue all day long, and why not? This is a collegial and congenial event where the Academy does what it’s supposed to do, cheering the best filmmakers of the past year.