And The Winners Are — to Be…

I walked into the BevHilton Hotel Monday afternoon with Leonardo DiCaprio. He was attending the luncheon for the Oscar nominees, he for his spectacular performance as an actor in a leading role — in “Blood Diamond.”

I was later to spend the luncheon seated with Eddie Murphy, Oscar-nominated for his drop dead, dramatic-musical performances in a “Dreamgirls” supporting role. With Eddie was his gorgeous girl friend, Tracy Edmonds.

En route to the table I schmoozed with a few nominees — also a winner, Sherry Lansing who will receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. She was telling nominee friends who asked about her moviemaking future that she now runs a foundation — whose aim and projects are health and welfare. I told her I’d just received an “invitation” from her to attend a Feb. 20 fundraising reception for Sen. Barack Obama  “in support of his Presidential Exploratory Committee” at the  same BevHilton — with Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg hosting. Plus a private dinner at the home of David Geffen following the 5:30-7:30 p.m. reception. Sherry wasn’t exactly happy about the $2,700 per person invitation — saying it should be $100-a-ticket event — perhaps there would be such a one upcoming as well.

Leonardo DiCaprio was his usual super-gracious self as he walked through the hotel lobby signing program after program for the fans. He told me about his most important venture, the documentary, “11th Hour” on which he’d been working for three years. He has assembled a cast of top international leaders participating. They include Mikhail Gorbachev, Nobel prize-winner Wangari Maathai, David Suzuki, David Orr, Steven Schneider, etc. The show asks “whether people will live well in the future.” Leo is writing, narrating, hosting, and producing with Leila Conners Petersen and sister Nadia co-directing. It has taken over Leo’s priorities — he’s also been busy globally promoting both “The Departed” and “Blood Diamond.” And, he is still recovering from serious bruises he suffered in the making of “Blood.”
 
I asked Danette Herman, co-producer on Laura Ziskin’s Oscar show if she’s as yet signed Sacha Baron Cohen as an Oscar presenter. “Borat” is a nominee as an adapted screenplay which Cohen co-wrote. “Not yet,” Herman said. I recalled what Ziskin said here when I asked the same question the day after the nominations were announced: “If I don’t (get him on the show) I’ll be lynched,” she laughed.

Peter O’Toole and Clint Eastwood were in a long conversation before being seated. Peter and I also recalled my visit to the set of “Becket” in 1963. He is now thoroughly enjoying the post-honorary Oscar award period with his current Oscar nomination. “I’ve been dealt a great hand,” he smiled.

When O’Toole went on the Hilton stage to accept his nomination certificate from Acad Pres. Sid Ganis, he sauntered with a John Wayne-like gait! The parade of nominees — 140 strong — was cleverly in reverse alphabetical order — thus Alan Arkin was one of the last, and Vilmos Zsigmond, first. It was non-stop applause with the hefty hands for Forest Whitaker (who told me he’s made four films since “Last King of Scotland’) and Martin Scorsese, modestly seeking anonymity on arriving.

Also getting hefty cheers were: Helen Mirren, Jennifer Hudson, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Guillermo del Toro, Eddie Murphy, Penelope Cruz, Adriana Barraza and young Abigail Breslin among many others. Among those cheering every one of the 140 nominees was my tablemate James L. Brooks who is on the Academy’s Board of Governors. He led the conversation at our table about acceptance speeches, saying winners should have their say — “but when they start taking out a sheet of paper — that’s when I draw the line.” Brooks is now in the final phases of “The Simpsons” feature — and, of course holding his breath on some of the no-punches-pulled topics to be or not to be included.

Sad to say among the missing nominees were Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench, Kate Winslet, and Meryl Streep. You can be sure they won’t be missing Feb. 25.

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