Ben Affleck shared his tips for how to win an Oscar pool. Steven Spielberg hoisted an elaborate floral centerpiece off his table so he could better see his fellow lunch guests (including the youngest lead actress nominee, Quvenzhané Wallis). And 66-year-old uber-producer Frank Marshall ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button") deejayed the whole affair.
It was the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences' annual Oscar nominees luncheon at the Beverly Hilton. For a few hours Monday, more than 100 contenders for the 85th Academy Awards sipped Champagne, rubbed elbows with fellow nominees and received a few tips on Oscar speech making, all without worrying about who would wind up winners and losers come Feb. 24.
"It's my favorite day of the year," said Harvey Weinstein, the financier behind best picture nominees "Django Unchained" and "Silver Linings Playbook." "You see all of the achievement and no one is competing."
The ballroom at the hotel was decked out with silver tablecloths and mirrored orchid centerpieces. "It looks like a nightclub," quipped former academy president Tom Sherak.
Honorary Oscar winner Jeffrey Katzenberg and academy governor Michael Mann chatted up Affleck, who was coming off his win Saturday night at the Directors Guild of America Awards and appeared genuinely grateful to be included in the event. "I spent a lot of Oscar nights in the '80s and '90s watching from home," said the "Argo" director. "I'm truly, genuinely thrilled by our seven nominations."
Affleck recalled that he was invited to the luncheon back in 1998, when he was nominated (and eventually won) for original screenplay with Matt Damon for "Good Will Hunting." He was unable to attend, though, because he was shooting "Dogma." "At least it was [for] a movie I feel good about," he said about the Kevin Smith-directed comedy.
The luncheon is one of the most democratic of festivities because the academy seats its nominees in seemingly random fashion around the room, not grouped by film, studio or craft. For lead actress nominee Naomi Watts, that's the highlight of the event.
The actress from "The Impossible" recalled that the last time she attended the lunch, she met an animator from "Finding Nemo" and became enthralled by that world. "Much to my chagrin, I've never done an animated movie," said the Australian actress. "My kids think I've only been in one movie, 'King Kong.'"
After munching on an entree of sea bass, the nominees listened to show producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron urge winners to make short and memorable speeches, explaining to the nominees that everyone will be played off with music after 45 seconds.
She then asked her tablemates -- including "Frankenweenie" director Tim Burton and former Disney chairman Dick Cook -- whose Oscar acceptance speeches they remembered best. Sally Field and Roberto Benigni were the overwhelming favorites.
The luncheon was established 32 years ago by then-academy president Richard Kahn. Nominees receive certificates, and they are photographed in a group. The photo session requires a good 25 minutes to arrange and this year featured Wallis front and center. As the names of nominees were called, Marshall cued up scores from several of the best picture nominees.
Following the photo session, waiters passed around bite-sized chocolates, Champagne and coffee. Nominees lingered and chatted as Marshall spun some dance music.
The five-time Oscar-nominated producer said he began deejaying on film sets some 10 years ago to entertain crews while shooting in remote locations, but this was his first time performing at the luncheon. He brought all his own equipment to the Beverly Hilton, including two turntables and a laptop.
"Call me DJ Master Frank," said Marshall, who wasn't nominated this year. "It was the only way I was getting in."