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Oscar Says, 'Let's Do Lunch,' So They Do : Movies: The mood is giddy as Academy Award nominees gather for a pre-ceremony photo shoot and luncheon.

March 16, 1995|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There were plenty of stargazing possibilities at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominees luncheon Tuesday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Nine of the 20 acting nominees attended, including Tom Hanks, John Travolta and Winona Ryder.

In all, 105 Oscar nominees from every category gathered at the annual ritual to pose for a group picture and receive their nomination citations, high school graduation-style. (All the nominees also received smart navy sweat shirts embossed in gold.)

And like the autograph hounds congregated in front of the Hilton, the nominees proved to be, almost without exception, star-struck and tickled by the experience. They timidly introduced themselves to one another and appeared to be genuinely impressed by their fellow thesps.

Travolta, who has been a star for almost 20 years, gushed about having dinner with Hanks during the same week that both Madonna and Michael Eisner tried to get him on the phone. It was a reminder that the term "Hollywood community" is a misnomer, that most celebrities spend more time in the company of their agents and publicists than with each other.

While everyone was suitably humble about the honor of being nominated, they were anything but blase about it. "Forrest Gump" director Robert Zemeckis, who has already won the Directors Guild award, said "it feels good" being an Oscar front-runner.

Another actor who is favored to win, Martin Landau, nominated for best supporting actor for "Ed Wood," said he was taking it all "one step at a time. I don't spend time dwelling on the past, and I try not to spend time in the future."

But both Zemeckis and Landau looked as if they'd been walking around with their fingers crossed ever since the nominations were announced Feb. 14. Hanks, who could become the first back-to-back best actor winner since Spencer Tracy in 1938, was told he was so popular right now he could run for President and win. "That's a sad comment on the state of America," he said with a grin.

But none was more giddy and happy than the comeback kid, Travolta. "It's pretty exciting," he effused, admitting that after getting his first Oscar nomination for "Saturday Night Fever" in 1977 he assumed he'd be getting them more frequently than once every 17 years.

And then there were the pragmatists. Jennifer Tilly's nomination for best supporting actress in "Bullets Over Broadway" has not only resulted in more work, she said, but "I get more money now." But before the nomination, the role worked against her. Her agent told her producers were loath to cast her because they assumed she was just like her character in the film, with "that really irritating voice. And a bad actress."

Samuel L. Jackson said his supporting nomination for "Pulp Fiction" has also brought about some changes. "It's meant that my phone rings continually and my wife has no peace."

The only sure winner, Quincy Jones, who will receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, was gladdened by the fact that this time he is certain he won't go home empty-handed--after seven previous nominations and no wins. "I can just walk in and be cool," he said.

The luncheon itself--designer finger food followed by rack of lamb--was much more casual than typical Hollywood ceremonies. The "class picture" came together quickly as the nominees scrambled onto risers and assumed a collegial air. There was even some horsing around as Jackson and "Pulp" director Quentin Tarantino mugged for the camera. The nominees fidgeted around waiting for their names to be called--in alphabetical order. Zemeckis, being dead last, shook hands with every other "Gump" nominee--the film received 13 nominations--as they filed by.

Then Gilbert Cates, the Oscar telecast producer, presided over an amusing show-and-tell on the dos and don'ts of acceptance speeches. Each winner will have no more than 45 seconds to thank family, God, country and their agents, he advised. "Which is a very, very long time," Cates said.

His comments were underscored by brevity-is-the-soul-of-wit clips from Oscars past. Worse than a long speech, he cautioned, is a boring one. "This is not a dinner at the Sportsmen's Lodge," he said, emphasizing the show's worldwide audience of 1 billion. "Use the same creativity, passion and intelligence (on your speech) that you brought to winning the Oscar in the first place." As in the past, the long-winded will be drowned out by music, he cautioned, since "the show is already nine hours and 26 seconds long."

The luncheon, which started only a few minutes late, weighed in at a trim two hours.

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