The Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon was a happy occasion full of hugs between stars, but also a sense of trepidation as the first Academy luncheon since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020. With a live, in-person event held at the Fairmont Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, with remarks from Oscars producer Will Packer and Academy president David Rubin, over 200 guests gathered to celebrate the achievements of this year’s nominees for the 94th Oscars, set to take place on March 27.
Rubin’s opening remarks acknowledged the war in Ukraine and the Academy’s global support for a peaceful resolution.
Some key takeaways from the event
1. The Academy wants the show to be fun.
Packer emceed the top of the event, praising the year’s crop of nominees. “This is the year,” he says to the crowd. “If there’s ever been time for celebration, this is the year. You folks represent the best of the best.” But, he then jokingly adds, “you tricked your peers into thinking you’re better than them.”
A promo for the 94th Oscars played at the top of the event, with a montage of past and present movies. The theme pronounced itself on the screen: “Movies Lovers Unite.”
DJ KISS provided beats and music for the event after an opening sketch starring “Saturday Night Live’s” Kate McKinnon as Gloria Concave, a fictitious multiple Oscar-winner who gives the rundown on the dos and don’ts of winning an Oscar. The sketch covered not hugging everyone in your row, not delivering a long-winded speech, and choosing a designated person in a group of winners.
2. It’s not 100% back to normal.
The annual event, which didn’t take place last year, was devoid of the quintessential class photo. Instead, the Academy took multiple groups in order to a mash-up later on. In a room that was jam-packed with people, many of the nominees shared they thought it was silly not to do the larger picture, since they were already in the room, with negative tests, and with a vaccine requirement in order to attend.
3. The elephant in the room wasn’t addressed.
During Packer’s remarks, he gave pointers about things viewers at home want to see. “People watching at home, they don’t know your agents, your managers. The audience doesn’t care. They care about you. They care about your story. They care about your passion.”
There was a visible disappointment that the Academy’s plans to cut certain categories from its live awards broadcast were not acknowledged in a room full of artisans. One nominee for sound, who asked not to be named, said, “There’s a better way to do it, and if they just asked us directly, we could have come up with a solution that was good for everybody.”
Academy Award winner Phil Lord of “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” also voiced his disagreement with the change: “Hot take, it should be longer,” referring to the ceremony itself which ABC and the Academy are fixated on delivering at a three-hour runtime.
Only one of this year’s nominated composers was in attendance: “Encanto’s” Germaine Franco, the first Latina to be nominated for original score.
Actors, artisans, studio executives and representatives gathered in the lobby.
4. The nominees are happy to be there.
Actor Alfred Molina read the individual names of every nominee present for the honors. He took great pride in the reading of nominees and friends from “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz.
Some of the biggest applause breaks in the room included those for Will Smith and Aunjanue Ellis (“King Richard”), Steven Spielberg and Ariana DeBose (“West Side Story”), Troy Kotsur (“CODA”) and Paul Thomas Anderson (“Licorice Pizza”). In addition, there was thunderous reception for Questlove (“Summer of Soul”) and Jonas Poher Rasmussen, the triple nominee for “Flee.”
The cast of “CODA” and best actress nominee Kristen Stewart (“Spencer”) took photos with one another on the carpet, sharing in the joy of the day.
Some of the big names that weren’t present included Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley (“The Lost Daughter”), Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst (“The Power of the Dog”) and Beyoncé (“King Richard”).
Jane Campion and Ari Wegner, the Oscar-nominated director and cinematographer for “The Power of the Dog,” were also not in attendance after testing positive for COVID last week. A Netflix representative shared that they were sent a homemade Oscar-nominee luncheon to allow them to feel a part of the event still.
Nonetheless, it was a star-studded affair. Billie Eilish and Finneas, the songwriters of “No Time to Die,” made an appearance that made many giddy.
In a moment you could only catch in the room, Paul Thomas Anderson (“Licorice Pizza”), Andrew Garfield (“Tick, Tick … Boom!”) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Encanto”) engaged in a fun conversation about movies and future projects. Garfield said to Variety on the way out of the room, “I want to work with that guy.”
Best actress nominee Jessica Chastain (“The Eyes of Tammy Faye”), another favorite in the group, was a proud mama-producer as all of her makeup and hairstyling crew members were called. The three-time nominee sat with adapted screenplay nominee Maggie Gyllenhaal (“The Lost Daughter”), who brought her husband Peter Sarsgaard, who was celebrating his birthday today.
Though he received his second career Oscar nom for “Power of the Dog,” this was Benedict Cumberbatch’s first time at the luncheon, after missing it for “The Imitation Game.”
Kenneth Branagh, the writer, director and producer of “Belfast,” shared that this was only his second time at the event, despite seven career nominations.
5. Ariana DeBose wants to host the Oscars next year.
Supporting actress frontrunner DeBose was a favorite in the room, alongside her “West Side Story” co-star Paloma Garcia-Lee who plays Graziella. In a chat walking out of the ballroom, DeBose shared that she would love to host an awards ceremony in the future and would love the opportunity to helm the Oscars. The Afro-Latina actress was a big part of the Oscars pre-show last year alongside Lil Rel Howery, so she seems more than capable of the gig.