What becomes a legend most? A diminutive best actress nominee sitting at the center of a group photo on last year's best actor winner's lap. At last year's nominees luncheon, Jeff Bridges was hanging with genuine affection with old pal Sandra Bullock.
Well, the warmth in the Beverly Hilton ballroom this year was with Annette Bening, who perched on Bridge's knees in the front row--with the first three letters of the alphabet, supposedly to protect them from having to stand while the Academy's Ric Robertson called up folks starting from the Zs. But he started with A, leaving Natalie Portman to sit demurely in splendid pink stilettos until her name came up to go collect her certificate and grey sweatshirt--but she did not have to wait as long as Michelle Williams, also teetering on heels. By contrast, several men sported white sneakers with their dark suits; Winter's Bone writer-director Debra Granik wore clogs.
The composers drew almost as much clapping as the movie stars, including Hans Zimmer, Randy Newman, Trent Reznor and A.R. Rahman. True Grit cinematographer Roger Deakins also got notable applause, as did Melissa Leo in a snappy white pant suit--despite "pimping herself out" by buying her own glam trade ads. After moving over to hug Williams, Mark Ruffalo ran to the podium, while Geoffrey Rush strolled. There was a big burst in the room for likely screenplay winners, The King's Speech's David Seidler and The Social Network's Aaron Sorkin. While no-shows included David Fincher (shooting The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Mike Leigh and Christian Bale, 151 out of 190 nominees turned up, a record in 30 years of Academy luncheons. Harvey Weinstein was glowing with the aura of victory. "I'm in a very good mood," he said (even if Michael Moore is suing him).
A parade of people wanted to meet the triple-threat Coen brothers (best picture, director and screenplay), who live in New York and don't get out much socially in Hollywood, from Tom Hooper to Disney/Pixar's Michael Arndt and John Lasseter (who told me the Annie Award voting needs to be more "fair"). Javier Bardem, the Coens knew--he's back in the running with Biutiful for the first time since his winning turn in their No Country for Old Men. Waste Land director Lucy Walker told Arndt that Toy Story 3 got their garbage spot on; he admitted that they did a bit of research. She's the only woman feature director nominated this year. The surprise of the day: I got bussed on the cheek by The Fighter's David O. Russell after wishing him well. He said, "my job is taking it on the chin." Well, I've landed a few blows, so he was more than gracious.
Academy president Tom Sherak told the nominees that he wants to keep the show to three hours. Show producer Bruce Cohen and co-producer Don Mischer are trying to keep acceptance speeches to 45 seconds without playing people off the stage. They displayed a screen with a slow white upside-down pyramid slowly filling up, yielding a "please wrap now" and then a more urgent flashing red "wrap now." Only then will the music come. The Academy has ordered 208 engraved name plates to cover every potential winner, so that Oscar winners can bring their naked little gold men to be outfitted at the Governor's Ball. Last year every Oscar but two went home fully dressed.
Cohen is having sleepless nights over the use of film footage in sophisticated technological ways throughout the show, he told me. They're also planning a longer-than-usual 90-minute pre-show and several digital "Road to the Oscars" stories featuring back stories on the nominees. They also want to include "mominees"-- moms of nominees, and are eager to teach them how to tweet. The 82-year-old mother of my table mate, Restrepo co-director Sebastian Junger, at least, does not tweet. We were at a cool table including Jeremy Renner and FX genius Richard Edlund. Junger is returning to Afghanistan to continue covering the war for Vanity Fair; he plans to report more of the Afghan side this time. His wife, Daniela Petrova, grew up in Bulgaria, where they had to watch the Oscars after the fact on wobbly video in dark smoky rooms with a single interpreter. After the Berlin Wall fell in autumn 1989, she got to watch her first Oscar show live. Her eyes sparkled with excitement.