Oscar nominees bask in friendly lunch spotlight

AMPAS BevHilton event draws 104 of the 155 contenders

They may have come to BevHills from diverse perspectives and corners of the globe, but participants in Monday’s luncheon for Oscar nominees all mouthed the exact same line: This isn’t a competition; we’re just happy to be here.

Coming from A-list stars, such a stance invites cynicism. But in this Oscar season so full of surprises and first-timers, the luncheon at the BevHilton offered proof that Oscar pomp does give a charge to veteran nominees and greenhorns alike.

“I am really excited about today because you don’t really have to say anything,” said Hilary Swank, up for a best actress trophy for “Boys Don’t Cry.” “You can just sit amongst all these talented people and have great conversation about our craft.”

Following tradition, all the Oscar nominees gathered on a set of risers for a group photo. Just as the photos started snapping, Michael Clarke Duncan (nommed for supporting actor in “The Green Mile”) showed his trademark enthusiasm as he bounded in with “I’m sorry I’m late!”

He drew a big laugh as he explained that after Sunday night’s Screen Actors Guild awards, “I lost my keys and I didn’t have anywhere to stay!”

At the microphone, Acad governor Marvin Levy dryly responded, “This may be the first time we’ve ever had a homeless person at the nominees luncheon.”

Each nominee was then called out to receive an Academy certificate and sweat shirt. All got healthy applause, but even grizzled Hollywood vets seemed star-struck: the heaviest applause was reserved for the actors. Prior to the luncheon, nominees met the media to answer rapid-fire questions on everything from the cosmic meaning of their film to what they’ll wear on Oscar night.

Haley Joel Osment, the 11-year-old star of “The Sixth Sense,” was given a special step so he could see over the lectern. Asked to assess the Oscar field, he conceded: “I haven’t seen a lot of the other nominated films because they’re rated R.”

No stranger to the ratings system, Trey Parker, co-creator of “South Park,” lived up to his reputation, firing off profane taunts at fellow best song nominee Phil Collins.

Appearing with Marc Shaiman, who co-wrote “Blame Canada,” Parker was asked if he was concerned that Collins might attend the luncheon.

“Well, he can only weigh about a buck-fifty,” Parker shrugged.

With Oscar ballots not due for a few more days, the event packed star power eclipsed only by the March 26 awards. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences event drew nearly 400 people, including 104 nominees — a healthy percentage of this year’s total of 155 contenders.

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