It’s a symphony of sorts, the announcement of the Academy Awards nominees, set in distinct movements with varying tempos and timbres.
It starts with a gentle rustling as a couple hundred people — camera operators, news readers, reporters and observers — assume positions in the Academy Theater in BevHills a good 15 minutes before the announcement. Instructions are given row by row, clear and succinct: At three minutes to air, envelopes containing the list of nominees may be opened and perused, a disc of nominees may be inserted into laptops, writing may commence and a phone call from a landline may be placed. Then comes the warning: Do not press send.
For the two minutes that a follow a “five minutes to air” announcement, the room begins to swell with anticipatory chatter and a pinch of pontificating. Sound checks in Japanese, English, Spanish and French bounce around the room, slightly breaking through the hum of murmur.
The three-minute announcement is made and the room is instantly still. The hush, the quietly abrupt — almost choreographed — opening of the envelopes, the sustained silence — it’s as if we’re all back in the 11th grade, sitting with a No. 2 pencil and an SAT test on our desk, tired because it’s Saturday morning and we’re teenagers and we don’t like to be up this early. In some strange way, though, it’s a thrill — one rooted in your teen years — when you had no interest beyond a love of film and a desire to know who’s up for what. For those three minutes, when your mind starts racing as to what this year’s story will be, there’s a rush in knowing the status of “Dreamgirls” and the best picture list, that a guy you’ve socialized with has received another nom, that you guessed right about Rinko Kikuchi, “Pan’s Labyrinth” and the writers of “Borat.” That 4 a.m. alarm suddenly seems distant and inconsequential.
Under a minute to go and the photographers take over. Sid Ganis is introduced and then Salma Hayek. The room fills with camera clicks, non-metered and dense; surprisingly, there is no other sound.
Once they begin the telecast — and that would be 30 seconds after 5:38 a.m. for sticklers — the room is remarkably polite and attentive. Hayek let out a yelp when Penelope Cruz’s nomination was announced, but otherwise, the talking was civilized and sober. It ends on a note of “hmmm,” and chat of jobs well done.