At Oscars Luncheon, Bong Joon Ho Wins the Nominees Popularity Contest

"Everyone's a winner" is the mantra at the annual Oscar Nominees Luncheon. This year, especially the "Parasite director."
Bong Joon Ho with Academy president David Rubin
Bong Joon Ho with Academy president David Rubin
Phil McCarten / ©A.M.P.A.S.

“I’ve had dinner with Bong five or six times between here and Korea,” said Bong Joon Ho’s Oscar rival Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”), who has been a fan of the director’s work longer than anyone else at the annual “daytime formal” Oscar Nominees Luncheon. Now the Korean filmmaker’s fans are legion, it seems.

Per usual, the nominees mingled during cocktails at this year’s venue, the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood and Highland, featuring a new set of risers for the real purpose of their visit: to be called onstage for the annual class picture.

The Academy was forced to find a new location due to the earlier-than-ever schedule, which made the Beverly Hilton unavailable. “The Two Popes” star Jonathan Pryce was there without Anthony Hopkins, chatting with fellow Brits George MacKay (“1917”) and Florence Pugh (“Little Women”). “The Irishman” director Martin Scorsese and star Joe Pesci and Saturday’s “SNL” host Adam Driver stayed in New York, along with his “Marriage Story” costar Scarlett Johansson, while Antonio Banderas and Pedro Almodóvar stayed in Spain; Elton John (“Rocketman”) and the frontrunner for Best Actor, Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”) were other no-shows.

Roger Deakins and his wife, script supervisor James Deakins.Anne Thompson

ASC-winning “1917” cinematographer Roger Deakins is in good spirits partly because after working for 18 months, he’s kicking back by the beach in Santa Monica. “I like a challenge,” he said of his harrowing experience making the long-take war movie. “I didn’t know if it would work with audiences.”

Actress Illeana Douglas, who compared the lunch’s trendy plant-based menu to the post-apocalyptic “The Day of the Triffids,” replaced the usual person to call the nominees up to stand on the risers — Academy Governor Laura Dern — who was herself one of the nominees, for “Marriage Story.” Her director Noah Baumbach went up right after his partner Greta Gerwig (“Little Women”). And IDA-winning “For Sama” documentarian Waad Al-Kateab, at table 11, recognized immediately that any woman in high heels called late in the process had reasons to be grateful.

Leonard Maltin and Charlize Theron at the Oscar Nominees Luncheon.Anne Thompson

As usual, movie stars nab the loudest clapping, from Leo and Brad to Renée and Charlize, who stood next to diminutive dual nominee Cynthia Erivo. (I love watching studio heads, producers, and directors suck up to power-magnet movie stars.) Drawing rousing applause were Deakins and “1917” production designer Dennis Gassner, “Bombshell” makeup artist Kazu Hiro, and “The Irishman” producer Robert De Niro and editor Thelma Schoonmaker, along with, oddly, any mention of dual nominee “Honeyland,” nominated in both Documentary and International Feature Film, an Academy first.

Greta Gerwig, Leonardo DiCaprio and Noah Baumbach at the Oscar Nominees Luncheon.Anne Thompson

But there was no question who drew the warmest cheers and whistles: “Parasite” director Bong Joon Ho. (His distributor, Neon’s Tom Quinn, flew in from Sundance Monday morning and kept checking his phone to monitor various deals in progress.) How that translates on Oscar night is anyone’s guess. Many people are steering into “Parasite” winning both International Feature Film and Original Screenplay now that PGA and DGA winner “1917” is heading toward Best Picture and Director. Tarantino is still in that mix.

“1917” director Sam Mendes and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns.Anne Thompson

When I introduced “1917” screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns to “Joker” writer/director Todd Phillips, he said, “Your movie’s a steamroller!” His studio boss Ann Sarnoff, meanwhile, standing with the film’s likeliest Oscar winner, composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, is still glorying in the movie’s Oscar field-leading 11 nominations. Wearing black sneakers, “The Irishman” star Al Pacino stood on the side applauding enthusiastically until it was his turn.

As usual, the Academy president, David Rubin, celebrating 174 days in office, introduced the gathering and talked up Disney chief Bob Iger achieving 95% of the Academy Museum’s fundraising goals — “you haven’t donated yet? See Bob after lunch, I’m not kidding” — and continuing moves toward inclusion among Oscar voters. “We are evolving into a diverse global community of filmmakers,” he said. “As our industry changes, so does the world.”

Rubin turned somber when he asked the room to take a minute of silence in honor of  the late Kobe Bryant, who had attended the lunch two years ago as an Oscar nominee for the animated short “Dear Basketball.” Bryant scored the day’s biggest applause that year, on the way to an inevitable Academy Award.

This year’s first-time Oscar-show producers Stephanie Allain (“Beyond the Lights”) and Lynette Howell-Taylor (“A Star Is Born”) made the usual plea for brief one-minute speeches: “Keep it short and heartfelt.”

Dream on, ladies.

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