The ballroom was stuffed with Hollywood’s elite: Meryl Streep, Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan. But it was an athlete who literally — at 6’6” — stood out in the crowd at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Oscar nominees luncheon on Monday: Kobe Bryant.
Why, might you ask, was the former Lakers star mingling with the stars of “Get Out” and “Lady Bird?” The 39-year-old produced and wrote an animated short, “Dear Basketball,” that’s up for a coveted golden statue next month. As a result, Bryant scored an invite to the annual gathering that honors each and every Oscar nominee — from the sound mixers on “Baby Driver” to veterans such as Streep, who will be in contention for the 21st time March 4.
The highlight of the luncheon tends to be the class photo, during which Laura Dern — governor of the Academy’s actors branch — this year introduced the 170 nominees who showed up to pose on bleachers alongside a life-size Oscar. The roll-call took about thirty minutes to complete, leaving women on the top row such as Mary J. Blige, Greta Gerwig and Octavia Spencer to teeter in their high heels for longer than most would prefer. Bryant, meanwhile, scored one of the sought-after seats in the front row, where his height presented no issue.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m a Los Angeles native,” Dern said, clearly starstruck as she called the basketball player to his spot. When it was announced Jan. 23 that Bryant had received an Oscar nod, the news stirred up some controversy online, with many on social media calling out the fact that the athlete had been accused of rape in 2003. (The charges against him were later dropped.) Not that anyone at the Hilton seemed distracted by those headlines.
After the official class photo was taken — snapped by cameras on the ceiling — Bryant was asked to pose for a handful of other photos with selfie-seekers. Timothée Chalamet, the 22-year-old star of “Call Me By Your Name,” posted a shot to his Instagram account with his mouth agape as Bryant flashed a peace sign in the background: “KOOOBE !!!!” his excited caption read.
Nearly everyone in the room was wielding an iPhone in an attempt to commemorate the moment. Even Spielberg, whose film “The Post” is up for best picture, wasn’t above a selfie, asking Gerwig and Guillermo del Toro to pose with him for a shot. (The nominees are spread among different tables during the actual eating portion of the event, mixed with Academy Governors and members of the press, whose seating assignments are randomly spit out via a Bingo cage.)
While there were certainly a respectable number of movie business stalwarts in attendance, plenty of vets simply skipped the event altogether: Daniel Day-Lewis, Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand and Christopher Plummer were among the major nominees to bypass the luncheon.
That seemed to be of little consequence to millennial nominees such as Daniel Kaluuya, Saoirse Ronan and Chalamet, who huddled together on the bleachers after the class photo like the coolest clique in the room. There was a lot of love in the room for first-timers, including Rachel Morrison — the first woman to be nominated in the cinematography category, for her work on “Mudbound” — and “Get Out” director Jordan Peele, who both received prolonged applause from the crowd when their names were announced by Dern.
Even John Bailey, the president of the Academy, acknowledged the young energy in the room.
“I may be a 75-year-old white male, but I’m every bit as gratified as the youngest of you here that the fossilized bedrock of many of Hollywood’s worst abuses are being jackhammered into oblivion,” Bailey said during his remarks, referring to the #MeToo movement. (There was little mention of #OscarsSoWhite inside the ballroom, despite the fact that over three dozen protesters gathered outside the hotel on Santa Monica Boulevard to advocate for more Latino representation in the film business.)
It remains to be seen how second-time Oscars host Jimmy Kimmel will address the wave of sexual harassment allegations that has swept through Hollywood in recent months. But at the luncheon Monday, nominees were advised to be mindful of who they thank in their speeches, lest they come to regret a televised shout-out months later.
“Maybe think twice before you mention your agents and managers,” said Patton Oswalt, the comedian who was brought out by telecast producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd to offer speech advice. “I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention to what’s been going on this last year in Hollywood. I’m just saying, cover for yourself. You don’t want to have to explain to your grandkids why you thanked someone who Dateline just did a four-part series on.”
Other words of wisdom from the self-proclaimed “guy who voices the cartoon rat” in “Ratatouille”?
Get up on stage as quickly as possible. You’re given 45 seconds for your speech from the time your name is read — not from the moment you get on stage. No “cute” trips or falls — “Jennifer owns” that already, Oswalt said, referring to Jennifer Lawrence’s infamous up-the-stairs trip in 2013. And stop acting so shocked when you win, he said — after all, most nominees are all dolled up in expensive gowns and tuxedos. “If you go up on stage in like a McDonald’s giveaway t-shirt and cargo shorts,” Oswalt said, “I believe that. I get it. Fine.”