Behind the scenes at the 2018 Oscar nominees luncheon: 'I'm a little freaked out right now'

Kevin Polowy
Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment
Nominees for the 90th Oscars

The 90th Academy Awards are still a cool month away, but the nominees had a dress rehearsal of sorts Monday afternoon in Los Angeles at the institution’s annual Oscar Nominees Luncheon. (If the Oscars are the Super Bowl of movies, the #OscarsLunch is… the Pro Bowl?)

The vast majority of the over 150 people nominated were in attendance at the Beverly Hilton ballroom for a cocktail reception, lunch, and the annual “class photo” (see above). Notable names missing included the famously publicity-shy actors Daniel Day-Lewis and Frances McDormand, as well as Denzel Washington, Roger Deakins, John Williams, 88-year-old Best Supporting Actor nominee Christopher Plummer (the oldest acting nominee ever, for All the Money in the World), and 90-year-old Best Adapted Screenplay nominee James Ivory (the oldest nominee in any category ever, for Call Me by Your Name).

Agnes Varda, the 89-year-old co-director of Best Documentary contender Faces Places, didn’t make the trip from her home in France, but was clearly there in spirit. Or more literally, in the shape of a cardboard cutout (holding a cat, natch) brought to the luncheon by her co-director and celebrated artist/photographer JR.


Those on hand, though, mingled, posed for selfies, broke bread together (The Post‘s Steven Spielberg sat next to Lady Bird‘s Greta Gerwig at one table, while Get Out‘s Jordan Peele knocked elbows with The Florida Project‘s Willem Dafoe at another), and shared with Yahoo Entertainment reflections of the experience so far of being an Oscar nominee.

Most honorees admitted they watched January’s nominations announcement from bed, given the majority are Los Angeles-based and the Academy times the unveiling to the pre-crack-of-dawn East Coast morning news shows. “I set my alarm for 5:36,” said Icarus director Bryan Fogel, who brought along five-time nominee Frank Marshall as his guest. The Disaster Artist co-writer Scott Neustadter, woke up his 5-year-old to watch with him from the comfort of his bed.

Dafoe, who was already up and about in New York, was surprised to be the sole representative of his highly acclaimed drama, The Florida Project. “I’m really happy, but I just really wish the film itself got more love,” the actor, who brought his cowriter/director Sean Baker as his plus one, told us. “I mean, with 10 spots you’d really think it’d get on there.”

First-time nominees Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, spouses and co-writers of The Big Sick, had to wait to celebrate their nomination, since he was shooting Silicon Valley and she was writing. But they eventually made it out for burgers and fries (not to be confused with the highly publicized dinner where Nanjiani reluctantly feasted on Brussels sprouts after losing a bet to his good friend Baby Driver director Edgar Wright.

Nine-time Academy Award-nominated legend Diane Warren (who wrote the Best Original Song nominee “Stand Up for Something” from Marshall) kept her fingers crossed that this would finally be her year; up until this point she’s 0-for-8 and faces some stiff completion in the category with a little ballad called “Remember Me” from Disney/Pixar’s Coco. Warren said she still celebrates each nomination, as does Octavia Spencer, who won in 2012 for The Help and is up for a third time (and for a second consecutive year) for The Shape of Water. “Oh honey, yeah,” she replied when we asked her if it’s still surreal to hear her name called on nominations morning.

There were some unlikely — yet immediately recognizable — Oscar nominees in the building as well. Like retired NBA star Kobe Bryant, who produced the Best Animated Short contender Dear Basketball. “I’m a little freaked out right now,” Bryant told us shortly after walking the red carpet and posing for pics with the likes of Allison Janney and Coco producer Darla K. Anderson. “It’s crazy.”


Onstage, new Academy president John Bailey welcomed the nominees and took special pride in the evolving organization’s increasing diversity two years removed from the second chapter of #OscarsSoWhite. “I’m a 75-year-old white male,” he said, before commenting on how much he appreciates seeing “the fossilized bedrock of many of Hollywood’s worst abuses are being jackhammered into oblivion.”

A self-effacing Patton Oswalt (“Look, they brought you the guy who voiced an animated rat,” he told the nominees in reference to his 2007 Pixar hit Ratatouille) then took the stage to deliver the Academy’s annual tutelage to prospective winners, focused mainly on the do’s and don’ts of the acceptance speech.

“Maybe think twice before thanking your managers and agents. … You don’t want to have to explain to your grandkids why you thanked someone who Dateline just did a four-part series on,” Patton said to big laughs, and in what was one of the afternoon’s only mentions of the sexual misconduct allegations that have rocked the industry since the fall.

“No cute trips and falls,” Oswalt added. “We’re onto you, trippers and fallers. Don’t try to go viral. Jennifer [Lawrence] owns that.”

It was then up to Laura Dern, the actor’s branch governor of the academy, to once again call every … single … nominee to the risers for the class photo, only showing ever-so-slight bias by changing her inflection when a few of those names happened to be nominated for technical awards for her own blockbuster Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Folks like Aaron Sorkin, Christopher Nolan, and Sam Rockwell had the unenviable distinction of getting called early, which not only meant they landed on the top riser, but had plenty of standing time ahead. Then, nearly last, came the nominee we’ll wager was the tallest: the 6-foot-6 Lakers Hall of Famer Bryant, who was relegated to a chair in the front row.

It was probably for the best, considering how freaked out he was.


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