The question was put to Curtis Hanson, director of Oscar-nominated "L.A. Confidential": Did it bother him to hear prognosticators say it's a foregone conclusion that "Titanic" will win best picture at this year's Academy Awards?
"You know, it was a foregone conclusion that the ship was going to get to New York," Hanson quipped as a Beverly Hills hotel room filled with the world's entertainment press erupted in laughter.
"We'll see what happens," Hanson said with a shrug.
With that, the director escorted actress Kim Basinger--one of the stars of his film and a nominee for best supporting actress--into the main ballroom of the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where about 120 nominees for 23 Oscar categories gathered for the 17th annual nominees luncheon hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
The event was billed as a chance for the nominees to meet one another and be honored in a setting free of the tensions of Oscar night, next Monday. But for many of the actors and directors who attended, it was evident they were still overwhelmed by the experience.
For some, receiving an Oscar nomination means that years of struggle--either to get a film project or a career off the ground--are finally paying dividends.
Robert Duvall, a best-actor nominee for his portrayal of a Texas preacher seeking redemption in "The Apostle," which he wrote and directed, was asked what his character in the film might say had he been in Duvall's shoes on Monday.
"Praise God!" said Duvall.
The veteran actor, who won an Oscar in 1983 for his role in "Tender Mercies," said awards don't make it any easier to find financing for a film.
Robert Forster, nominated for a best supporting actor award for his work in director Quentin Tarantino's "Jackie Brown," recalled how he had gotten to the point in his acting career where he had no agent and was "scraping for everything" he could get because he had a family to support.
"I went from a guy who couldn't get a job to a guy who people now say nice things about," Forster said, adding that the nomination means he is able to meet with "real directors with A-pictures."
Atom Egoyan, a best-director nominee for "The Sweet Hereafter," recalled that after making his critically praised 1994 film "Exotica," he thought his next logical career move would be a bigger-budget movie for a Hollywood studio. But Egoyan said he soon discovered that decision was unsatisfying and jumped back into making smaller-budget, independent movies.
Egoyan said that if nothing else, his nomination this year "sends out a message to other filmmakers that you don't have to give that up."