Oscar nominees do lunch while basking in limelight

Times Staff Writer

Attendees of this year's Oscar nominees luncheon on March 12 shared more than just their nomination; they also shared a genuine sense that any of them could win.

The 20th annual affair, presented at the Beverly Hilton Hotel and sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, serves as a way to bring truth to the statement, "It's an honor just to be nominated."

Academy officials stressed, as they do every year, the importance of keeping acceptance speeches at the show brief. This year they are offering to post lengthier expressions of gratitude on their Web site.

Best-acting nominees Laura Linney ("You Can Count on Me"), Javier Bardem ("Before Night Falls") and supporting-actor nominee Willem Dafoe ("Shadow of the Vampire") spoke with pride about the larger audience their films will attract because of their nominations.

"People seem to be finding their way to the films even though the ads are this small," said Dafoe, gesturing with his fingers and thumb.

Linney, agreeing with a reporter's joking suggestion that it could cost her more to attend the Oscars than the entire budget for the film, "You Can Count on Me," replied, "I never expected to be standing here when I signed on for this film."

All five best-actor nominees were present, with Tom Hanks agreeing that even after five Oscar nominations and two wins, the event still "feels like a wedding day -- win or lose, I know both sides."

When a reporter asked him what he thought were his chances of winning, Hanks replied, "One in five, unless something's changed."

"Gladiator" best-actor nominee Russell Crowe said, "I don't have any glib lines about the Oscars, I'm not cynical about it at all. It's the highest honor in my profession."

With apparent front-runner for best actress, Julia Roberts ("Erin Brockovich"), absent, the other four leading-actress nominees enjoyed the limelight. When asked how much she wanted to win, Ellen Burstyn ("Requiem for a Dream") replied in a deep, serious voice, "Totally." Burstyn has been nominated for an Oscar six times and won once.

With the Oscars less than two weeks away, there's been little stopping for the nominees as they move from ceremony to ceremony.

"I need a break," said Ang Lee, whom the Directors Guild of America named best feature director on March 10 for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." "Maybe I'll make an American movie."

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