“I have a feeling I’ve been here before,” said Diane Warren as she came downstairs at the Beverly Hilton Hotel and looked around the pool area. That’s where a dozen or so media outlets were set up to do interviews and take photos at the annual Oscar Nominees Luncheon.
Of course, Warren had been here before, plenty of times — because if you’re a 15-time nominee, as the prolific songwriter is, you’ll get plenty of invitations to the Oscar Nominees Luncheon. It’s one of the most pleasant of all Oscar traditions.
The lunch came to Beverly Hills on Monday, settling into the Beverly Hilton Hotel ballroom that has been its home for all but two of its 40-some years. Designed as a break from campaigning and a collegial event at which everybody can glory in their status as nominees without getting all competitive and worrying about who’s going to win, the event ran true to course with mutual-admiration societies springing up all around the tiered ballroom.
The crush intensified every place Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone and the “Barbie” gang of Ryan Gosling, Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie went. Plus, everybody wanted to get close to “Marty,” aka Martin Scorsese, the “Killers of the Flower Moon” director who’d been the most popular person in the same room two days earlier at the Directors Guild Awards (though he lost to Christopher Nolan and “Oppenheimer”).
This was the second year in a row for the luncheon to be back at the Beverly Hilton after moving to the Ray Dolby Ballroom in 2020. It was cancelled due to COVID in 2021 and shifted to the Fairmont Century Plaza in 2022. The Hilton, though, is where the lunch began in the early 1980s and where the traditions began of mixing up nominees so you don’t sit with anybody from your category or from your movie, posing for the annual “class photo” and getting souvenir sweatshirts that read “Oscar Nominee.”
Those sweatshirts, embraced by nominees with a mixture of pride and embarrassment, are no longer part of the luncheon swag — they were among many casualties of the Academy’s drive to change things up in the 2010s.
As she did last year, Academy President Janet Yang kept her remarks brief and took over the job that used to fall to the Oscar show’s producers, that of encouraging nominees to prepare an emotional thank-you speech while keeping it to 45 seconds. Only one part of her speech seemed to register with most of the people in the room: the end, when she reminded everybody that the show begins an hour earlier than usual this year, 4 p.m., which seemed to come as a surprise to much of the room.
Plus, Yang added, Daylight Saving Time begins that same Sunday, March 10.
Then everybody was called to a huge riser, one-by-one, to receive a round of applause and take a spot for the class photo. The idea that the Nominees Luncheon Applause Meter can actually predict who’s going to win was long ago disproven – but for the record, the most enthusiastic support in the room seemed to go to Paul Giamatti, Robbie, Scorsese and, because he was saved for last, Robert Downey Jr.
There was nowhere near the level of electricity in the room as there was last year, when Tom Cruise showed up as a nominated producer of “Top Gun: Maverick” and shifted the center of gravity in the room every time he moved. When he and Austin Butler got together, it was an “Oppenheimer”-level event.
Still, Ryan Gosling prompted a flurry of flashbulbs and iPhone cameras simply by standing up at his table. Lines of people, many of them other nominees, formed to tell Greta Gerwig how much they loved her work and how, in the words of one actress, she “was robbed” by not getting a Best Director nomination. Gerwig shrugged off that kind of talk, posed for photo after photo and spent time telling “20 Days in Mariupol” director Mstyslav Chernov how much his film meant to her and how important it was more broadly.
Alexander Payne also attracted a string of admirers, but he flipped the tables on “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” director Kemp Powers and “Io Capitano” director Matteo Garrone by telling them how much he loved their work before they could say how much they loved his.
Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas O’Connell got plenty of attention, but so did their fellow “Barbie” song nominee Mark Ronson, who hung out with Sean Ono Lennon. The Beatles progeny came with the filmmakers of the animated short “War Is Over! Inspired by the Music of John and Yoko.”
After the class photo, one crowd gathered around Steven Spielberg, another around the dog from “Anatomy of a Fall.” Elsewhere on the ballroom floor, Carey Mulligan beamed.
“We didn’t get one of these for ‘Promising Young Woman,’” she said. “That was the COVID year, and they cancelled it. So this was my first since (2009’s) ‘An Education.’ Great to be back.”
Some of the nominees headed down to the pool area for more interviews and photos — in other words, to start campaigning again — while in the hallway outside the men’s room, there was time for one more true Nominees Luncheon moment. Sound nominee Jason Ruder (“Maestro”) stopped Alexander Payne and said, “I’ve been looking for you to thank you. You gave me my first film credit on ‘Sideways,’ and now I have an Oscar nomination.”
Payne took a selfie of the two of them, then shook his head. “From ‘Sideways’ to a f–king Oscar nomination,” he said. “How about that?”
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