Oscar nominees ‘grateful’ to be back in the ballroom

Amaree McKenstry, the subject of the Oscar nominated short documentary “Audible” chats with US actress Marlee Matlin as they attend the 94th Annual Oscars Nominees Luncheon at the Fairmont Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, March 7, 2022. (Photo by Robyn BECK / AFP) / “The erroneous photo credit appearing in the metadata of this photo has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: [Robyn Beck] instead of [Andri Tambunan]. Please immediately remove the erroneous mention[s] from all your online services and delete it (them) from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it (them) to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require.”
by Andrew MARSZAL

LOS ANGELES, United States (AFP) — Oscar nominees from Steven Spielberg and Will Smith to first-time Bhutanese director Pawo Choyning Dorji gathered at a Los Angeles ballroom Monday, as Hollywood’s award season enters its final stretch.

The Academy’s glitzy annual luncheon for nominated A-listers and indie auteurs did not take place last year because of the pandemic, but returned with a starry in-person crowd of those who made the best films released in 2021, a year during which many movie theaters reopened.

Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz chatted to Guillermo del Toro and Maggie Gyllenhaal over drinks, while Denzel Washington posed for photos with a long line of admirers.

“If there’s ever been a time to be grateful for, and to revel in, an occasion that allows us to be in the same room, ladies and gentlemen, this is the year,” said Will Packer, who will produce the 94th Academy Awards show.

Last year’s Oscars took place at a Los Angeles train station, with nominees mingling outdoors and then rotated in and out of the venue during the show, but this year’s is expected to be closer to normal.

Voting begins next week ahead of the March 27 prize-giving gala, meaning film campaigns that began as long as a year ago are mounting one last push.

Benedict Cumberbatch — star of Oscar best picture contender “The Power of the Dog,” which first premiered at September’s Venice film festival — told AFP he was “happy to keep banging the drum” for the Western, especially with director Jane Campion absent due to a positive Covid-19 test.

“I believe this (film) will stand the test of time,” he said, adding that Campion was “fine” and experiencing no symptoms.

Also in attendance were the cast of “CODA,” a drama about a deaf family and their musical child, which surged back into Oscars contention with a key win at last week’s Screen Actors Guild awards for best cast.

“We’re such a tight cast, so it was a lovely prize to win — it was so unexpected,” said its star Emilia Jones.

The film first premiered at the virtual Sundance festival in January 2021, meaning Jones and her ensemble are still campaigning against rival movies that “came out months after ours.”

And then there is “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom,” the first Bhutanese film ever nominated for an Academy Award, which was originally submitted the previous year but held over due to a technicality.

Director Dorji told AFP he at first “thought it was a mistake” when his film’s historic nomination was finally announced.

“I just cried meeting Jessica Chastain,” added his star-struck producer and wife Stephanie Lai, sitting one table away from the “Eyes of Tammy Faye” star, who is a favorite to win best actress.

© Agence France-Presse