With a whopping 139 contenders, Monday’s Oscar nominees luncheon offered several only-during-awards-season treats: Seeing Peter O’Toole sit a few feet from Abigail Breslin, Steven Spielberg introduce himself to Philip Glass, Clint Eastwood reunite with his “Bird” star Forest Whitaker and members of the Mexican film community issuing whoops of enthusiasm over each other’s noms.
The annual ritual, which began in 1982, offers contenders the opportunity “to bask in the company of your fellow nominees,” as Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences prexy Sid Ganis said.
Event at the BevHilton featured three of the five directing hopefuls, 15 of the 20 actors and reps from 23 categories — everything except foreign-language film, since that group gets its own event two days before the Feb. 25 ceremony.
Oscarcast producer Laura Ziskin announced the first “Thank-You Cam,” a camera backstage that will be the first stop for winners as they step offstage. They can extend their acceptance speeches, and the footage will be quickly posted on Oscar.com. (The unspoken goal, as always, is to reduce the laundry list of names cited onstage.)
Among the attendees were Sherry Lansing, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award winner; Ray Feeney, Gordon E. Sawyer Award recipient; triple nominee Henry Krieger (for “Dreamgirls” songs); Kevin O’Connell, up for his 19th Oscar this year; and all contenders for original score.
The invitation said dress is informal, and outfits ranged from Penelope Cruz’s snazzy white dress and Eastwood’s suit to the jeans and untucked shirt of Gil Kenan (“Monster House,” animated feature) and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s cargo pants and corduroy sport coat.
Biggest applause went to eight-time nominee O’Toole (a rare standing ovation) and Martin Scorsese.
The tradition is for all the contenders to assemble for a “class photo,” after which each is called to the stage to accept a certificate and an Oscar sweatshirt. Ganis said the first lunch featured 45 nominees; last year’s event featured a then-record 111. With a turnout this year that “easily blows our previous record out of the water,” as Ganis said, it took 40 minutes to complete the roll call.