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Hollywood 'Outsiders' Mingle With the In Crowd

Cinema: An unlikely cast of nominees does lunch and then some at annual pre-Oscar bash.

March 12, 1997|CLAUDIA PUIG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was the ultimate Hollywood insider event attended by possibly the largest collection of outsiders in movie-making history.

The 16th annual Oscar nominees luncheon, held Tuesday at the Beverly Hilton, gave the 90-plus nominees who attended a chance to slap each other on the back and also to reflect on their unlikely presence at such an event. Some even seemed a tad uncomfortable in the spotlight.

"Can you believe we're dressed up and actually using the right fork?" said Frances McDormand, nominated for best actress for her role as a pregnant police chief in "Fargo."

"Surreal" was a word bandied around by several nominees, who never expected to be nominated, including McDormand--who referred to herself and a few other actors there as "geeks."

"I find myself at these things catching people's eyes and we'll make goofy faces," said McDormand.

The lunch in question was sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, an annual event that provides a rare opportunity to see Hollywood types themselves act star-struck. The event is a precursor to Oscar night on Monday, March 24.

"It's so great to get the chance to meet people who I've been enamored of for years, like Mike Leigh," McDormand said. "He's the only director I've ever written a fan letter to."

And nearly everyone had a Spielberg story to tell.

"When I was talking to Steven Spielberg, he said, 'Your film has the best special effect of all, which is emotion,' " said Scott Hicks, nominated for best director and best screenplay for "Shine."

"Steven Spielberg wrote a note that arrived instantly the morning of the nominations," said Cameron Crowe, nominated for best screenplay for "Jerry Maguire." "I love that guys like that know it's a flash-point moment and they choose to inspire."

Kristin Scott Thomas, nominated for her role as the doomed adventuress in "The English Patient," said all the hoopla made her feel "like a child of 6."

And, like children showing off their favorite toys, some spoke excitedly of the mementos presented them by the Academy. Brenda Blethyn, nominated for best actress for her role as a troubled mother in "Secrets and Lies," proudly displayed a formal certificate which proclaimed her an Oscar nominee while Crowe compared official black nominee sweatshirts with another nominee.

After the freebies were distributed, the nominees were treated a bit like creative but errant children. Oscar telecast organizers repeatedly warned them to keep their acceptance speeches short and to the point (read: 30-35 seconds.)

Every high school class has its big man on campus and Billy Bob Thornton, nominated for best screenplay and best actor for "Sling Blade," seemed to fit the bill. Dressed casually in baseball cap and short-sleeved T-shirt that exposed a tattoo on his left forearm, Thornton held court to a steady procession of well-wishers. "I kind of feel like an ugly guy with a date to the prom," he said.

British filmmaker Mike Leigh, who has two nominations--for writing and directing "Secrets and Lies"--extolled Hollywood's new trend of honoring independents and how it has expanded his cinematic opportunities.

"Hollywood is wising up," he said. "Getting an Oscar nomination helps me do things I've never done before. So, it's a natural progression that you get to take bigger risks . . . [and] get larger funding."

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