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Oscar luncheon draws top nominees

With less than two weeks to go before the 66th Academy Awards, a record number of Oscar nominees gathered for the annual feel-good luncheon, class portrait, pep talk and all-around schmooze-fest.

Academy officials crowed at the turnout, which included an unusually large representation of above-the-title names, including Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Holly Hunter, Liam Neeson, Rosie Perez, Angela Bassett, Ralph Fiennes, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Fishburne, James Sheridan, Winona Ryder and Janet Jackson. They and fellow nominees packed the Beverly Hilton Hotel’s International Ballroom Tuesday for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences 1993 nominee luncheon.

This year’s number of nominees attending the luncheon was 99, up from last year’s 84.

As has been the case with past nominees luncheons, the emphasis Tuesday was on the communal joy of being nominated, as opposed to the singular thrill of winning. As Academy president Arthur Hiller noted, 80% of the lunch guests would go home losers on March 21.

So, with just 12 days left to act palsy-walsy, Fishburne and Hanks found themselves seated near each other, and the leading actor nominees exchanged a warm embrace. Later, after the nominees posed for the group portrait, when each was called to receive their nomination certificate, the two men cheered loudly for other actor and actress nominees.

The event also serves as an opportunity for people to meet. “Sleepless in Seattle” scripter Jeff Arch introduced himself to “In the Line of Fire” writer — and fellow original screenplay nominee — Jeff Maguire, and the two exchanged compliments.

Before the luncheon, in which the nomination certificates were handed out and a group photo was taken, many of the nominees appeared at a press conference. Among those was Fiennes, who was nominated for a supporting actor Oscar for his role in “Schindler’s List.”

“Any film that examines the past is valuable for the next generation,” said Fiennes, who has been cast in Kathryn Bigelow’s “Strange Days.””It causes a sense of investigation.”

On a lighter note, Hanks, who is up for a leading actor Oscar for his role in “Philadelphia,” got the biggest laughs when he was asked if a nomination was as good as winning an Oscar.

“If you are lucky enough to be invited to a pancake breakfast and they’re giving out portable televisions, you want to go home with one of those televisions,” he said.

Hunter, a double nominee for her lead role in “The Piano”and her supporting role in “The Firm,” said, “It was good when I got nominated for ‘Broadcast News, ‘ but I’m older and I appreciate this more.”

Sheridan, a triple nominee as director, producer and co-writer for “In the Name of the Father,” said his film was never meant to be an anti-English film. He also compared it to “Schindler’s List.”

“The difference is that the conflict in our movie is still going on,” Sheridan said.

After the luncheon, Academy Awards show producer Gilbert Cates gave a speech instructing this year’s winners to keep their speeches short.

Cates got more laughs when he announced, “We’ve done a survey and none of the people thanked ever employ the actors who thank them in their speeches. Be brief , be brief, be brief.”

Also on hand were a number of Academy executives, including past presidents, and several execs from ABC, which is broadcasting the Oscarcast again this year.

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