BEVERLY HILLS – This year's Oscar-nominated actors and filmmakers convened at the Beverly Hills Hotel Monday afternoon for the Academy's annual Nominees Luncheon. It's a unique event that often finds a number of talented circuit staples in the same room for the first time as relationships are rekindled, new ones are forged and the reality of Oscar dreams really begins to crystallize.
Take “Whiplash” writer/director Damien Chazelle, for instance, nominated for his screenplay. Here is a young man who was an Oscar geek for years, following the race annually, reading sites like In Contention (he was a big fan of the Oscar Talk podcast and skewered me over the weekend for folding it). Now he's standing on a set of risers next to Oprah Winfrey as…an Oscar nominee. His mind must have been blown.
“Song of the Sea” director Tomm Moore, nominated for Best Animated Feature Film, was grinning ear to ear as he flashed a selfie he'd captured with “Birdman” star and Best Actor nominee Michael Keaton. Best Original Song contender Gregg Alexander (“Lost Stars” from “Begin Again”) bent “The Boxtrolls” director Anthony Stacchi's ear for a bit about seeing the stop-motion film back home in London and loving its detailed cultural flourishes. And “Boyhood” star Ellar Coltrane, there as a guest of director Richard Linklater's, told me he was excited to track down “American Sniper's” Bradley Cooper and tell him how brilliant he was in “The Elephant Man” on Broadway. (Both Cooper and “Birdman's” Emma Stone, by the way, are back on a flight in the morning to fulfill those stage commitments – she's starring in “Cabaret.”)
Folks like me, we sometimes find ourselves in the unique position of being able to introduce a number of these individuals to one other; while we in the media may talk to them countless times throughout the season, they often miss each other as figures in the overall circus. “The Imitation Game” screenwriter Graham Moore, for instance, often writes while listening to Hans Zimmer's scores. And today he had a chance to meet the composer. After I made the introductions, Moore was nearly speechless listening to the “Interstellar” nominee go on about how much he adored “The Imitation Game” and how he himself was a long-time Alan Turing fanatic desperate to see the mathematician's life depicted on screen. Moments like that, it appears, are what make the event special.
I was seated at a fun table, with “Whiplash” producer David Lancaster (he also produced “Nightcrawler” and, like a number of people, remains bummed that Jake Gyllenhaal couldn't slide into the Best Actor category), “The Boxtrolls” director Graham Annable, “The Phone Call” director Mat Kirkby (Best Live Action Short) and “The Bigger Picture” producer Christopher Hees. On the latter, that was a joy, to be able to talk to him about what is one of the most dynamic and inventive movies nominated in the animated short category. He brought the film's cinematographer Max Williams along as his guest.
A few big names couldn't make the trip, like Alejandro González Iñárritu (still up in Calgary shooting “The Revenant,” which I'm beginning to hear looks AMAZING) and “Inherent Vice” writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson. Some like to gauge the crowd, listening for who gets the biggest burst of applause, but it's sort of obvious that the big stars get the big pops. When Keaton's name was read by Ed Begley Jr., he did get a rousing burst. But “The Theory of Everything's” Eddie Redmayne got a respectably enthusiastic one, too. As did Cooper, for that matter. So there were no clues there to be had regarding the Best Actor race, I'm sorry to report.
Meanwhile, Academy Awards host Neil Patrick Harris was also on hand. Oscarcast producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan said it was a rarity for the host to be available for the luncheon, so that was a nice addition.
They finished the fish, gobbled the dessert, took the big class photo and said their goodbyes. Many of them will be catching flights at the end of the week for the BAFTA Awards, where they'll perhaps run into each other once again in a completely different heady atmosphere. It's all heady, though, particularly for the first-timers. And as Zimmer, who has been to this dance 10 times now, put his arm around Moore, he offered a single note of advice and put it into perspective: “Take it all in. This is for you. It means nothing, and it means everything.”
That would probably be a great tagline for the Oscar season.
Check out this year's Oscar Class of 2014 photo below. You can click for a larger version.