THE ANGELS – Denzel Washington playfully punched the air as he jogged to the platform. Kristen Stewart and billie eilish wave to sweet hello on the gold steps. William of the Bull gave Bradley Cooper a cheery high-five.
Such was the camaraderie at Monday’s oscars luncheon, where The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences honored this year’s crop of nominees, who mingled, hugged and traded laughs before being called individually to golden bleachers for the annual class photo.
Unlike past years, when nominees gathered for one group shot, this year smaller clusters of nominees took photos, in a nod to updated COVID protocols.
Held three weeks before the March 27 Oscars telecast, the luncheon was a grand affair in line with pre-pandemic festivities, which did not go unnoticed by the well-heeled attendees.
“Thanks for being here to continue the great tradition of celebrating our Oscar nominees. I’d love to say annual tradition, but last year’s luncheon was COVID-canceled,” said Academy president David Rubin. “Honestly, just being back together without having to wear a hazmat suit is cause for celebration.”
A hallmark of the lunchtime soiree is gentle coaching from show producers on do’s and don’ts of giving acceptance speeches on Oscars night. “I have just a couple of thoughts for you first timers – you’re welcome,” producer Will Packer joked from the podium, before the vegan meal of fried chickpea and quinoa salad was served.
I have advised winners to avoid thanking a laundry list of agents and managers at the podium. “Frankly, that audience doesn’t care,” he said, urging stars to focus instead on their stories and their passion.
To emphasize his point, Packer played a “timeless message” for the gathered crowd. The grainy, black-and-white video featured Kate McKinnon in character as an old-Hollywood “screen legend” pretending to give advice from the 1938 nominees’ luncheon.
“We’ve all seen our share of clunkers,” she drewled, offering tips on “how to leave them throwing roses, not tomatoes.”
In short, winners were advised to be concise, prepared, speedy and yes, paperless. “Bonus tip. Don’t curse 18 times in your speech,” intoned McKinnon in the video, also warning winners against hugging everyone in their row (yes, hugging and the journey to the stage counts against winners’ 45 seconds of thank-you time).
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You couldn’t spin around in the ballroom of the Fairmont Century Plaza Hotel without seeing a famous face. steven spielberg animatedly chatted with the stars of “CODA,” including Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur. Everyone came up to “Nightmare Alley” director del Toro, including Cooper, a producer and star of the best-picture nominated film, who knelt by the director’s chair for a prolonged chat.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, nominated for best original song for “Encanto,” caught up with a circle that included Benedict Cumberbatch, who is nominated for “The Power of the Dog,” and his wife, theater director Sophie Hunter. Stewart, nominated for best actress for playing Princess Diana in “Spencer,” brought her fiancé Dylan Meyer and chatted with “CODA” filmmaker Sian Heder inside the affair.
Jessica Chastain, who emerged in the best actress race for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” after her recent Screen Actors Guild Awards win, arrived arm-in-arm with the real Rev. Steve Pieters. In “Tammy Faye,” she recreates the moment in which Tammy Faye Bakker poignantly interviewed Pieters, an openly gay minister living with HIV, in 1985. “Today would have been Tammy’s 80th birthday,” she said.
Who is JK Simmons, nominated for best supporting actor for “Being the Ricardos,” bringing to the Oscars? “My wife (Michelle Schumacher) slash director,” he said. The couple have a family drama called “You Ca n’t Run Forever,” due this fall, in which Simmons stars alongside their daughter de él, with their son composing and Schumacher directing.
Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes are set to host this year’s show. After months of neck-in-neck oscar campaigns, an omicron arises and to change in format that will see some awards presented early, will it be as chummy as today’s lunch? Tune in March 27 (ABC, 8 EDT/5 PDT) to see.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism