Oscar readies lunch bunch for Iraq & roll

Nominees in final stretch, agree to attend no matter what

To some reporters, Oscar night is more about international politics than fashion, but Oscarcast producer Gil Cates on Monday reminded attendees of the Academy Awards nominees luncheon that the point of the evening is “to celebrate an art form.”

In the Beverly Hilton Intl. Ballroom, 99 of this year’s contenders assembled for the 22nd annual luncheon, which has become one of the most popular events in the Acad’s Oscar buildup.

In a media room set up adjacent to the lunch, nominees were asked their thoughts on everything from war to kudos-night attire. While the contenders ran a range of views, everyone agreed that, no matter what happens, they’ll be at the Kodak Theater on March 23.

At the luncheon itself, the mood was upbeat, as contenders rubbed elbows with Academy officers, board members and various guests in the competition-free environment.

Directing contenders Rob Marshall, Martin Scorsese and Stephen Daldry were there, as were almost all of the acting nominees (only Paul Newman and Meryl Streep were no-shows).

Repping the best pic quintet were Martin Richards (“Chicago”), Harvey Weinstein (“Gangs of New York”) and Scott Rudin (“The Hours”). Also on hand were producers of four animated features: Chris Wedge (“Ice Age”), Chris Sanders (“Lilo & Stitch”), Jeffrey Katzenberg (“Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron”) and Ron Clements (“Treasure Planet”).

Contenders in every other category, from animated feature to visual effects, mingled between courses of Trader Vic’s salad, a beef-chicken combo and dessert.

As usual, the nominees gathered for a “class photo,” then were presented certificates by Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences prexy Frank Pierson.

The contenders were called to the stage in alphabetical order. Catherine Zeta-Jones, ever the trooper, was announced last, but stood cheerfully during the entire ritual despite being eight months pregnant.

Later, Oscarcast producer Cates extolled the virtues of brief acceptance speeches, dismissed concerns about Kodak Theater security (he said he’s bringing his family and wouldn’t do that if he had any doubts) and reminded everyone that, “if we are at war, the Oscar telecast will reflect that reality.”

Backstage, the tone in the media room was a bit less breezy, as nominees opined about where they stand on a possible war and ultimately where they would be standing come Oscar night.

“What is important is that we find a subtle way to proceed,” said Daniel Day-Lewis. “It would be obscene to glam it up as per the usual fare and traipse down a red carpet. I am not sure how it should be done, but that must not be the way.”

Queen Latifah said, “I am the daughter of a Vietnam vet, so I have lived with the effects of war every day of my life. I stand by my country; war is not my first choice, but I am not unrealistic about this. I am thrilled to be in the Oscar race, but standing behind whatever our country does takes precedence for me. On the other hand, nobody wants to cry all day. Families would be saying goodbye to loved ones for who knows how long, and maybe the Oscars can be a diversion for them to escape for a few hours.”

Nicole Kidman declared, “We will need to continue on as normal as possible; on the other hand, it will no doubt feel strange to show up.” One reporter caused groans when she interrupted Kidman’s thoughts on war to hear about the actress’s plans for her Oscar-night dress.

A bit more mum were Nicolas Cage and John C. Reilly. “I don’t want to see women and children dying, and that is all I am gonna say,” said Cage.

“The best way to express your political views is to vote. And just as your vote is private, so are my views,” added Reilly.

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