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State of the Oscar Race, Reading the Oscar Nominees Lunch Tea Leaves (VIDEO)

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood February 8, 2013 at 3:32PM

As of Friday, February 8, Academy members can vote for the Oscars, right up to February 19. Many have already received their paper ballots, and three have anonymously revealed their votes to the LA Times. All they reveal is that this year, more than most, the race is wide open and hard to call. "It's the best collection of movies in 90 years," says Harvey Weinstein...
Frank Marshall
Frank Marshall

Meanwhile Steven Spielberg's blockbuster "Lincoln," with the most nominations, 12, is seen as the establishment contender, as its rivals strive to portray it as boring and educationally historic. Daniel Day-Lewis, who was felled by flu and didn't make the lunch, and Tony Kushner are seen as locks for best actor and adapted screenplay. But picture and director? Lionsgate motion picture exec Rob Friedman warned a group of us that the Oscars are still "wide open."

Producer and tweeter Frank Marshall (@ledoctor) makes a good DJ. He was spinning discs at the Beverly Hilton on Monday as his wife Kathleen Kennedy, new CEO of Lucasfilm and producer of "Lincoln," worked the room. She was the first one called to line up for the annual nominees photo (which also included honorary awardees this year) and Spielberg was the last.

And the Academy also abandoned the press lottery, Academy chief Dawn Hudson said, so they could put media folks with like-minded nominees. They seemed to think I'd rather talk to sound mixers and animation directors and indie producers than celebs. OK-- they might be right.

Helen Hunt
Helen Hunt

"The Gatekeepers" is moving up in the documentary Oscar race. Sony Pictures' Classics is in the happy position of having the two frontrunners in the doc category, as "Searching for Sugar Man" keeps winning awards. But their recent release, Dror Moreh's "The Gatekeepers," featuring interviews with the five heads of Israel's security arm Shin Bet, is knocking audiences' and Academy voters' socks off. They're getting all five doc screeners in the mail, so they can all vote this year (along with the animated and live action shorts). "All five films are magnificent," admitted Barker at the Academy lunch.

Why are so many docs so good these days? Most agree that all fifteen of the shortlisted nominees were terrific. "There are two things going on," Barker replied. "On a technical level documentarians like Dror and Malik are making docs for movie theaters, that work in theaters best, and also work on TV and DVD. These five docs are made to be seen in movie theaters, which elevates them. And due to current events and global politics, documentaries are becoming so much more important to the public."

Indeed. "The Gatekeepers" seems to be having an impact in Israel. "We got the Oscar nomination on the Thursday, then we opened in a few arthouse cinemas," said Moreh. "We're now in 15, the numbers are amazing, but more important, a major commentator after the election was asked the reasons why Netanyahu fell from what was predicted, and he gave as his number one reason: 'The Gatekeepers.'"

Those super-high heels hurt. After the lunch, Helen Hunt ("The Sessions") stood leaning against the Hilton ballroom door as she waited to get word that her car was ready outside. She has flip flops in the car, she admitted, that she can slip on the second she's out of the public eye.

Our report on the Oscar Luncheon nominees meeting the press is here:

The global Oscar telecast is Sunday, February 24.

This article is related to: Awards, Awards, Oscars, Denzel Washington, Jennifer Lawrence

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.