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At the Oscar Luncheon, Politics Mingled With Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, and Other Nominees

"The empty chairs in this room have made Academy members activists," said Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs.

The Academy class of 2016.

Anne Thompson

Every year the best and brightest from across the global film industry assemble at the Beverly Hilton for the annual Academy nominees lunch and group photo.

This year, 163 nominees showed up.

VFX whiz Rob Legato, producer Marc Platt, and Damien Chazelle arrive at the Academy lunch

Anne Thompson

First, everyone piles into the ballroom for champagne and hobnobbing. Documentary nominee Raoul Peck, whose “I Am Not Your Negro” is kicking it at the box office, was hanging with fellow nominee Ezra Edelman, whose “O.J.: Made in America” won the DGA award on Saturday.

Raoul Peck and Ezra Edelman

Anne Thompson

Swedish filmmaker Hannes Holm (“A Man Called Ove”) met with his fellow foreign nominees Sunday night — they were in touch with “The Salesman” director, Asghar Farhadi, who’s boycotting the Oscars — to discuss the Muslim travel ban. He promised to let me know what comes of these ongoing discussions.

Hannes Holm, director of “A Man Called Ove”

Anne Thompson

Netflix chief Ted Sarandos accompanied Ava DuVernay’s nominated documentary “13th.” He’s recovering from Sundance, where seven Netflix original films played, and he acquired world rights to Dee Rees’ southern drama “Mudbound” for $12.5 million. Netflix will qualify the movie via a smaller number of theaters than “Beasts of No Nation,” he said, so that it doesn’t wind up tainted by failure. But it will go to many more people on Netflix. And will get a full-on Oscar campaign.

Steven Spielberg and Barry Jenkins

Anne Thompson

Annette Bening was at the lunch in her role as Academy Governor, along with branch leaders Steven Spielberg, Rory Kennedy, Caleb Deschanel, and others. Bening filled in her “20th Century Women” director Mike Mills on her next project, Ryan Murphy’s FX series “American Crime Story: Katrina.”

Annette Bening and Mike Mills

Anne Thompson

Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker accompanied “Elle” Best Actress nominee Isabelle Huppert, who is flying to New York to appear on Stephen Colbert before getting grilled by me at Wednesday’s Santa Barbara Film Festival tribute. At the lunch, I sat with “Hell or High Water” star Jeff Bridges, who also gets a tribute from his hometown festival on Thursday.

Screenwriter Luke Davies envies director Garth Davis (who won first-time director at the DGA Saturday for “Lion”) his next movie, “Mary Magdalene,” co-starring Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Davis is eager to get back to the editing room with his “Lion” producer Iain Canning.

When Dev Patel arrived, they had a group hug.

“Lion” screenwriter Luke Davies, star Dev Patel, and director Garth Davis.

Anne Thompson

At the lunch, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs went where everyone expected her to go: “What a difference a year makes,” she started out, to applause.

“We continue to bring change to the Academy and the entire industry… The empty chairs in this room have made Academy members activists,” she continued, referring to nominees from Muslim countries like Iran’s Farhadi who did not attend. “Just as our work does not stop at borders, borders can’t be allowed to stop any of us. Strong societies don’t censor art; they celebrate it.”

Oscar show producer Jennifer Todd dodged questions about how many Oscar-nominated songs will be performed, and whether Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling would perform the two nominated songs from “La La Land.” Please!

The “La La Land” gang

Anne Thompson

“La La Land” composer Justin Hurwitz worried, should he win Best Original Score, about how to get all his thanks into one short acceptance speech. (He’s about to find out.)

The next order of business was the annual admonitions about how to give a pithy Oscar acceptance speech. This year, Oscar show producers Jennifer Todd and Michael DeLuca asked SNL’s Kate McKinnon to give them a short film. She delivered a delicious black-and-white piece starring herself as Gloria Concave, a Golden Age movie star who cursed 18 times in one acceptance speech, hugged and kissed so many people on the way to the stage that she never got there to make another speech, and fought against her male cohorts to get to the mic.

Justin Hurwitz

Anne Thompson

“Make her the next Oscar host,” was the Twitter response. I couldn’t agree more. The Academy says the short was only designed to be shown at the lunch. May they post it soon.

Kate McKinnon as Gloria Concave

Anne Thompson

During the annual call-down to the riser for the class photo, smart actresses Emma Stone, Natalie Portman, and Octavia Spencer sat on chairs in order to spare their feet. On the way out, “Fences” nominee Viola Davis (who got the most rapturous applause of the day) had already stowed her heels in her bag and wore black flats on her way to the car. Both Stone and Ryan Gosling got big whoops as they headed down to the riser. (The movie stars tend to get the most; Viggo Mortensen, Jeff Bridges ,and Denzel Washington also scored big applause, along with Mahershala Ali.)

Notably missing, besides Farhadi, was East Coaster Meryl Streep. 

“Fire at Sea” director Gianfranco Rosi

Anne Thompson

Ruth Negga and Casey Affleck stood next to each other during the group photo, as well as “Lion” costars Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel, standing next to Mel Gibson and Ezra Edelman. Whizzing by my table on the way to the photo were Michelle Williams (“Manchester By the Sea”) and baseball-cap casual Pharrell Williams (“Hidden Figures”).

Michelle Williams

Anne Thompson

The 89th Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 26, 2017, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, and will be televised live on the ABC Television Network at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT.  

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