By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin February 16, 2010 at 2:15AM
In contrast to Oscar night, when everyone is tense and on parade, the atmosphere at the annual Oscar Nominees’ Luncheon is relaxed and celebratory. Once the curtains are drawn there are no television cameras inside and everyone is in high spirits. I feel awfully lucky to be invited to attend every year.
The schmoozing is beyond compare. James Cameron told me he never expected Avatar to be an Oscar-type of film. Instead, he was back at the Beverly Hilton Hotel for the third award function in as many days. (In fact, when he agreed to participate in the Santa Barbara Film Festival six months ago he thought this would be a slow period following the release of his movie.)
For George Clooney, with an Oscar under his belt and all the money he needs, it’s all about making the kind of films he really wants to make; an Oscar nomination is icing on the cake. For Jason Reitman, who directed him in Up In the Air, this was a proud day because unlike his last visit for Juno—when he brought his father as his “date”—Ivan Reitman had his own ticket to the lunch as one of the film’s producers …and Jason was able to bring his wife, Michele Lee.
When I told Meryl Streep that I thought she and Stanley Tucci were, without question, the screen couple of the year in Julie & Julia she said, “I know I owe a lot to him,” adding with a smile, “as he keeps reminding me.”
Newcomer Carey Mulligan seemed just as straightforward and down-to-earth as she was when An Education made its bow at the Telluride Film Festival last Labor Day weekend. Likewise the endearing Gabourey Sidibe, who’s enjoying the ride, and looks upon Carey as her award-season pal. They even stood beside each other for the official nominee photograph.
Watching the 120 nominees gather on bleachers to take that annual “class photo” offered other revealing moments. When Anna Kendrick’s name was called, her costar (and “rival” nominee) Vera Farmiga gave her a good-luck swat on the derriere that caught her by surprise. And when Meryl Streep made her way down the tall steps and Sandra Bullock offered her hand, Meryl kissed it.
George Clooney and James Cameron climbed to the top of the bleachers and enjoyed chatting between bursts of applause for each nominee. Sandra Bullock stood alongside Jeff Bridges, which made sense since the roster was alphabetical and neither one would have to be alone for long once the other’s name was called.
One of this year’s four honorary Oscar winners, producer-director Roger Corman, was on hand and earned a special place right in front of the giant Oscar statue. I wonder if he ever dreamed of such a moment when he was making The Brain Eaters or Teenage Cave Man?
As usual, the producers of the Oscar telecast, in this case Adam Shankman and Bill Mechanic, implored the nominees to think about their acceptance speeches and avoid reading laundry lists of names. They reminded everyone that a great speech is all about emotions—how they’re feeling at the moment they’re called to the stage. Based on past experience, I don’t think many people will heed their pleas. At the Nominees’ Luncheon, everyone is too busy having a great time.