From Brad Pitt and Renée Zellweger to costume designers to the directors of animated shorts, the 2020 Academy Award nominees gathered Monday afternoon at the Dolby Ballroom atop the Hollywood and Highland complex in Los Angeles for the annual Oscars Lunch and massive "class photo" the event has become synonymous with (see below).
During a cocktail hour that preceded lunch, Leonardo DiCaprio arrived with his father, Charlize Theron arrived with her mother, and Greta Gerwig arrived with her Little Women star Florence Pugh — as opposed to longtime partner and fellow screenplay nominee Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story), though it wouldn't be long until the couple was seen conversing together with friends.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood writer-director Quentin Tarantino, who eschewed the formal dress attire in favour or a black and yellow bowling shirt, signed a movie poster for his sound mixer Mark Ulano (a double nominee this year also up for Ad Astra), while nearby Best Director nominee Todd Phillips (Joker) embraced Baumbach, Gerwig found a corner to chat up Laura Dern, and Pugh mingled with Harriet nominee Cynthia Erivo and 1917 star George MacKay.
"It's all so surreal," Knives Out writer-director Rian Johnson told us about the scene, gushing over the fact he'd just spotted Thelma Schoonmaker, Martin Scorsese's longtime film editor up for an eighth time (she's won thrice) for the Netflix mob drama The Irishman. 1917 actor Dean-Charles Chapman was equally as awed by the star power in the room, though there was one actor not in attendance that he wishes had made the Oscar ballot: 12-year-old Jojo Rabbit ingenue Roman Davis Griffin.
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For lunch, the Academy followed in the footsteps of this month's Golden Globes ceremony and provided guests a plant-based meal that included vegan cheese, a beets-and-citrus salad, and for the main course, roasted maitake mushrooms over a bed of forbidden black rice, winter squash and cauliflower.
"When they said plant-based, I didn't know it was gonna be an actual plant," cracked Illeana Douglas, the actress who handled role call duties calling every nominee to the risers for the class photo. (Dern usually handles the task, but she's a Best Supporting Actress nominee herself this year for Marriage Story.)
Joaquin Phoenix, who opened his Golden Globes acceptance speech by thanking the Hollywood Foreign Press Association not for the award but for the vegetarian entrée, would have been pleased… if he was there. There are always a handful of high-profile absentees, typically in the actors branch, and this year that list included Phoenix, Scorsese, Tom Hanks, Joe Pesci, Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Anthony Hopkins, Saoirse Ronan, Antonio Banderas and Best Original Song nominee Elton John (Rocketman).
Also not in attendance: Barack and Michelle Obama, whose fledgling Higher Ground production company backed the Netflix release and Best Documentary nominee American Factory. "It's so hard for them to go anywhere," the film's co-director Julia Reichert told us when we asked if they'd been invited, noting the extensive security sweep that would be involved for the venue as well as the number of Secret Service agents involved in any public appearance the former president and first lady make. Reichert recalled an early meeting with the couple that required an entire café was cleared out and "only water" was served.
In his opening remarks, Motion Picture Academy president David Rubin began by recognising Sunday's shocking death of basketball great Kobe Bryant, who, along with his daughter Gianna, was one of nine people killed in a Los Angeles helicopter crash. Rubin called for a moment of silence for Bryant, who attended the 2018 Oscar Nominees Luncheon for the animated short he spearheaded, Dear Basketball. "He was the most excited nominee in the room," said Rubin, which we can attest to, having seen Bryant arrive that year.
Rubin lightened the mood by reflecting on his short tenure thus far as Academy president, which said he has now reached 174 days. "And no impeachment yet," he cracked.
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Attendees mingled more over lunch, with small hordes forming around folks like Brad Pitt – helpfully wearing a name badge – (hey, if you're a Documentary Short nominee, this might be your one chance to meet him) and Al Pacino.
The latter, now 79 and nominated for Best Supporting Actor for The Irishman, told Yahoo he appreciates his ninth and latest nomination moreso than previous ones, especially since it's been 27 years since his last (in 1993 when he won Best Actor for Scent of a Woman). "People keep asking me if I can believe it's been so long since I was nominated," Pacino told us. "I just tell them, 'Hey, time flies.'"
At the same table, Zellweger — considered a heavy favourite to win Best Actress for her stunning turn as Judy Garland in Judy, and up for her first Oscar in 16 years — told us she hasn't yet gotten to truly celebrate her fourth nomination. "My dog's been sick, so that's been my main focus," Zellweger revealed.
Songwriter Diane Warren is not considered a heavy favourite to win Best Original Song for penning "I'm Standing With You" from Breakthrough (not against Rocketman and Frozen 2 tunes), but the 11-time nominee who's yet to win remains optimistic. "You never know," she told us. "Stranger things have happened."
Across from Warren sat costume designer Mark Bridges, the Niagara Falls, N.Y. native who scored one of Joker's leading 11 nominations. The two-time winner (The Artist, Phantom Thread) owned one of the 2018 Oscars telecast most viral moments when he was gifted a jet ski by host Jimmy Kimmel for rattling off the night's shortest speech. Naturally, we had to ask him how the jet ski is treating him. Turns out he donated it to a motion picture institute. "I didn't want to pay the taxes," he joked.
After this year's telecast producers ran through their annual list of guidelines for winners and speeches, with some jokes threaded in, ("Be prepared"… "Get to the stage quickly, you have 45 seconds [to make your speech]"… "Don't say you weren't expecting it, you had one in five chance"), Douglas took to the mic to call the nominees to the risers, leading off with husband-and-wife Frozen 2 songwriters Kristin Anderson-Lopez and Bobby Lopez. They also called power couple Gerwig and Baumbach to the stage in succession so the pair could stand next to each other.
In a season where we're anxious to read whatever tea leaves we can in predicting who will ultimately win, one of those can be which nominees receive the loudest applause from the audience, which includes many Academy voters.
While Pitt, Dern, Phillips and Gerwig all received big cheers, the very loudest were reserved for Robert De Niro — a producer on The Irishman who was snubbed for Best Actor — and Parasite director Bong Joon Ho. In fact, any time the South Korean sensation was mentioned — the film got six nominations total — there was rapturous applause.
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Like we said on the day of nominations, don't be too surprised if the deeply adored Parasite pulls off a big upset come Oscar night 9 Feburary.
Watch Golden Globes nominees react to making President Obama’s year-end best list: