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Inside the Oscars luncheon, where nominees are reminded to keep their speeches brief

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Rami Malek arrives for the 91st Oscars Nominees Luncheon in the Grand Ballroom at the Beverly Hilton.
(Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times)

With less than three weeks to go until the Academy Awards, there is still next-to-nothing publicly known about this year’s Oscars telecast. And it appears that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences isn’t planning on revealing even the scantest of detail about the 91st annual ceremony until the red carpet is rolled out on Feb. 24th.

At an annual luncheon for this year’s Oscars nominees on Monday — attended by the likes of Lady Gaga, Spike Lee, Rami Malek and Christian Bale — show producers gave attendees no indication of what to expect from the event. There were no remarks about the program’s apparent lack of host, a subject the academy has remained mum on since Kevin Hart dropped out of the gig in December. Nothing was said about the musical acts, special guest stars or which categories will actually get coveted air time during the three-hour ceremony.

In fact, all that was conveyed to the crowd at the Beverly Hilton was pretty much that the show will be three hours long.

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Lead actress nominee Lady Gaga arrives at the nominees luncheon for the 91st Oscars at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills on Monday.
(Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)
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Yes, that’s what all Oscar producers promise — a shorter show. But this year, director Glenn Weiss and producer Donna Gigliotti made it clear they intend to adhere closely to the stopwatch, shuttling guests off to after-parties by 8:15 p.m.

Those who are announced as the winners of a golden statue will have a total of one minute and 30 seconds to rise from their seat, walk to the stage and deliver an acceptance speech. Once on stage at the Dolby Theater, winners should speak from their heart — “not from a paper waving around your head like a white flag,” urged academy President John Bailey.

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With his first nomination as director of a motion picture, Spike Lee was having fun at the nominees luncheon for the 91st Oscars at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills on Monday.
(Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

“Thank your mom and dad, your partner — not your dog walker or keto dietician,” Bailey continued. “You have 45 seconds to say something memorable to everyone watching at home — not just to your peers in the theater.”

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To emphasize the point, a clip of Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 director speech for “Traffic” was played. Gigliotti said it was an example of “a very fine” speech because it was brief but heartfelt, and the filmmaker also didn’t “waste any time getting up to the stage.”

In the old speech, Soderbergh did not thank a list of individuals by name, instead opting to call out “anybody who spends part of their day creating,” because “this would would be unlivable without art.”

“At the risk of sounding like a sap,” Gigliotti told the crowd as the clip finished, “I’m sorry, that speech brings tears to my eyes.”

It remains to be seen how seriously the eventual winners take the plea for brevity. Inside the Hilton ballroom on Monday, more seemed less concerned with cutting down their potential Oscar speeches than rubbing elbows with their fellow nominees.

The academy luncheon is one of the few events where a majority of nominees are in the same room, and it offers an opportunity for those who might otherwise never connect — like first-time nominee as short-film director Guy Nattiv and veteran Oscar winner Alfonso Cuarón — to score some face time.

This year, the event also gave Julie Cohen and Betsy West, the co-directors of the documentary “RBG,” the chance to have a card signed for their film’s subject: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As servers laid out plates of pan-roasted salmon, Cohen circled the room gathering get-well messages for Ginsburg, who is on the mend after January cancer surgery.

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The directors said they’ve been in frequent contact with Ginsburg but are still unsure of whether she’ll attend the Oscars — though they were eager to deliver her card filled with messages from Glenn Close, Steven Spielberg and Sam Elliott.

Elliott, who at 74 is up for his first Oscar for his supporting role in “A Star Is Born,” said he had whiplash from traveling between so many glitzy events and his home in Malibu, which nearly burned down in the recent Woolsey fire.

“My house is fine, but Malibu isn’t,” the actor lamented, noting that the devastation may propel him to move permanently to his ranch in Oregon.

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Bradley Cooper, left, director and costar of "A Star is Born," nominated for best picture, with supporting actor nominee Sam Elliott at the nominees luncheon.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Elliott wasn’t the only one having trouble focusing on the endless champagne flutes. Vincent Lambe, a 38-year-old short-film director up for his first Oscar, said every time he opened his phone to take a photo, he noticed a new email threatening his life.

Lambe’s 30-minute film, “Detainment,” has been the subject of intense criticism in the UK because some claim it attempts to humanize two 10-year-old boys who brutally murdered a 2-year-old boy in 1993. The filmmaker said he relied on police interview transcripts and other public records to make his short, but did not speak with the families of anyone involved in the crime.

“You should see my Gmail inbox — I categorize things into hate mail, death threats and then the real psychos,” Lambe said. “It’s hard to enjoy [the nomination], because it’s all happening at the same time. There are people asking me to withdraw the film, but I don’t intend on doing that because then that would just defeat the purpose of making it.”

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It’s a subject that might be difficult to tackle in the academy’s mandated 45 seconds.

amy.kaufman@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter @AmyKinLA


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