The annual Oscar nominees lunch at the Beverly Hilton is nice work if you can get it: All the contenders have to do is get their pictures taken, work the cocktails a bit, sit at a table with some fellow nominees, an Academy governor or two, and a media person (assigned by lottery), and climb up the riser for the annual class photo.
— The Academy (@TheAcademy) February 5, 2018
This year, we were reminded by Academy president John Bailey that among the 205 members of the class of 2017 (170 showed), “The Post” producer Steven Spielberg has earned his 17th nomination, while his star Meryl Streep is up for her 21st. Celebrating her third Oscar nod at the ripe age of 23 was shivering “Lady Bird” star Saoirse Ronan, who borrowed her rep’s jacket; I just interviewed her Sunday night for her tribute at the Santa Barbara Film Festival.
Also fresh from Santa Barbara were fellow Virtuoso Award winners Kumail Nanjiani (with his wife and co-writer, Emily V. Gordon), who’s already working on a new feature script; Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out”), who does a mean Will Smith imitation; Mary J. Blige (“Mudbound”), who promises to sing her song “Mighty River” on the Oscar telecast; and Timothee Chalamet (“Call My By Your Name”), who says director Luca Guadagnino is eager to do a sequel and wore a shit-eating grin as he joined the class photo.
big day :)
— Timothée Chalamet (@RealChalamet) February 5, 2018
All earned rousing applause as they ascended the riser after their names were called by Laura Dern (who always shouted out any “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” nominees). But no one got more applause than cinematographer Rachel Morrison (“Mudbound”), the first woman nominee in that category.
Standing out in white were Blige (with white patent leather boots), “I, Tonya” star Margot Robbie in a mini-dress, and Meryl Streep and “Lady Bird” writer-director Greta Gerwig, who engaged in lively conversation. When “Strong Island” documentarian Yance Ford stood in front of Streep, she patted him on the shoulder.
Diminutive Sally Hawkins was gabbing with Robbie; Annapurna owner and producer Megan Ellison (“Phantom Thread”) wore a hoodie; “Molly’s Game” writer-director Aaron Sorkin congratulated director Dee Rees (nominated co-writer with Virgil Williams of “Mudbound”), “Faces Places” director J.R. brought a standee of his co-director Agnes Varda, and Kobe Bryant turned up in support of animated short “Dear Basketball.”
Moving on to new projects are “War of the Planet of the Apes” writer-director Matt Reeves, who is finally working on his “Batman” script for DC and Warner Bros., as well as his VFX frontrunner Weta Digital maestro Joe Letteri, who’s deep in two James Cameron projects, “Battle Angel Alita” with Robert Rodriguez and, of course, the sequel to “Avatar,” which is eight weeks into shooting. (No word on fast frame rate yet.)
Peter Kujawski of “Phantom Thread” distributor Focus Features knew all along that the film would come out too late to register with many of the precursor critics groups and guild voters, but planned accordingly — and scored six nominations.
Patton Oswalt was asked by returning Oscar show producers Jennifer Todd and Michael De Luca to run through the dos and don’ts for Oscar acceptance speeches. “Maybe think twice before you thank your agents and managers,” he suggested. “I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention to what’s been going on this last year in Hollywood. I’m just saying, cover for yourself. You don’t want to have to explain to your grandkids why you thanked someone who Dateline just did a four-part series on.” As for staying inside their 45-second maximum, he reminded: “They played off Jack Nicholson when he won for ‘Terms of Endearment’!”
At the start of the lunch, Bailey stated that the Academy is continuing to push for inclusion and diversity with “many programs that are being redefined in today’s era of a greater awareness and responsibility in balancing gender, race, ethnicity and religions,” he said, earning rousing applause as he added: “I may be a 75-year-old white male, but I may be as gratified as the youngest of you here that the fossilized bedrock of many of Hollywood’s institutions are being jackhammered into oblivion.”
He reminded the room this was the first year that international Academy members were invited to screen online the nine shortlisted foreign language films, and they participated enthusiastically, he said. All five directors of “The Square, “Loveless,” “A Fantastic Woman,” “The Insult,” and “On Body and Soul” were on hand.