Just like old times

Times Staff Writer

THE Oscar nominees’ luncheon -- a long-held tradition at the Beverly Hilton Hotel that usually kicks off the giddy weeks before the televised ceremony -- couldn’t quite shake the long shadow cast by the 13-week writers strike, despite news that a settlement could come as early as Friday.

George Clooney, nominated for his performance in the legal thriller “Michael Clayton,” strode into the press room looking tan and trim and joking that he had just returned from “two weeks in four conflict zones” and was entering yet another. Clooney expressed guarded enthusiasm about the outcome of the settlement talks.

“There’s a tentative agreement out there that I think has a good shot at getting signed,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of strike fatigue, and I think you start losing some of your negotiating power” as the Writers Guild of America strike wears on.


Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Sid Ganis drew rousing applause when he assured the nominees inside the luncheon that the Oscar ceremony would go on whether or not a settlement was reached, stressing that the ceremony wasn’t just about the show, it was about honoring and celebrating the art of the motion picture.

“The Oscar exists because the academy founders believed movies were not just a business and people need to be reminded of this,” Ganis said. “We did it 80 years ago in the Blossom Room at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, and we’ll do it again at the Kodak Theatre in three weeks.”

Still, there was no shortage of good cheer. Filmmaker Jason Reitman, nominated for indie darling “Juno,” arrived with his father, director Ivan Reitman, who not only snapped photos from the wings as his son answered reporters’ questions but also took to the podium himself at one point to tell stories from Jason’s childhood.

The film’s star, lead actress nominee Ellen Page, was there, too, and when asked about what she was wearing, quipped that “it was an old prison uniform” that she had modified.

Director Julian Schnabel, nominated for his French-language drama, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” arguably made the most singular fashion statement of the day, sporting hand-sewn purple pajamas his wife had made underneath a suit jacket and overcoat and carrying a glass of what appeared to be whiskey.

A renowned visual artist, Schnabel said he had no intention of leaving behind his first love, painting, for filmmaking. “I paint all the time -- I painted before the nomination, and I will paint after the nomination,” Schnabel said. “After all this is over, I will go back to all my paints and paint my way out of all that hell” -- presumably referring to the madness that can accompany an Oscar campaign.

All of the nominees in Schnabel’s category -- Reitman, Joel and Ethan Coen (“No Country for Old Men”), Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”) and Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood”) -- were on hand for the event, as were the 13 nominated screenwriters. Eight of the 19 acting nominees skipped the lunch, however, double nominee Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Daniel Day-Lewis, Johnny Depp, Tommy Lee Jones, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tom Wilkinson and the young Saoirse Ronan among them.

And though work schedules were probably to blame, the absences were yet another reminder that this year’s award season has lacked the usual over-the-top enthusiasm.

Before he left the podium to head into the ballroom, Clooney tried to put the contentious last few months into a more global perspective. “I’ve spent the last two weeks around people who have been killing each other . . . and I come here -- it’s a tremendous escape.”

The 80th annual Academy Awards ceremony is scheduled to take place at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland on Feb. 24.