Inside the Oscar Nominees Luncheon

“What happens, do we have lunch?” Paul Mescal asked me before Monday’s contender-studded Oscar Nominees Luncheon got going at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles. As he’d soon learn, yes, you do—along with some other stuff along the way.

The annual tradition has become the unofficial kickoff to the second phase of Oscar campaigning, with the field narrowed down ad the lucky nominees gearing up for a final sprint to the big night. Inside the packed ballroom, each of the daytime-formal-clad Oscar nominees—all are invited—mingle with their guests, Academy governors and mainstays, and representatives of those studios and companies that have been adequately recognized. It didn’t take long to spot Netflix’s Ted Sarandos, whose German-language All Quiet on the Western Front is among the most nominated movies of the year. (Guillermo del Toro also made the rounds for his animation nominee, Pinocchio.) As David Greenbaum, whose Searchlight Pictures fielded the leading contender The Banshees of Inisherin, put it to me, “If we weren’t here [today], we didn’t do our job.” 

After a slightly COVID-constricted event last year, 2023’s bash signaled a firm return to business as usual. This meant a few hours of stargazing before attendees took their seats. Tom Cruise, making his first big appearance of the season for Top Gun: Maverick (for which he’s nominated as a producer), utterly held the center with photographers, reporters, and fellow nominees swarming him in seemingly equal awe. Austin Butler may have snagged the most time with him; their conversation kept going even as Cruise stopped for pics with the likes of Ke Huy Quan and Angela Bassett, each eager to say their hellos.

Steven Spielberg and Ke Huy Quan.Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

But the luncheon especially spotlights the names less common on a marquee—after all, of the Academy’s 23 categories, the vast majority are made up of craftspeople who do their work with a lot less public glory, and in many cases, who’ve been waiting a long time to get into this room. By the bar, I spoke with a beaming Lesley Paterson, nominated cowriter of All Quiet on the Western Front, whose adaptation didn’t come easy. In fact, she was holding onto rights to the seminal novel for 16 years before they were about to lapse. A triathlete, she signed up for a race she needed to win to be able to financially retain the rights. The day before the race, she broke her shoulder; basically down an arm, she swam her way to a win anyway. “And now I’m here,” she concluded for me, in triumph. She later revealed that she’d previously attended the Oscars 14 years ago—as a server, at the Governors’ Ball. This time, she gets to go as a nominee.

The Academy’s new president, Janet Yang, delivered a few important messages in her opening remarks, quickly alluding to last year’s Slap and calling the organization’s response to what happened “inadequate,” adding, “Particularly in times of crisis you must act swiftly, compassionately and decisively for ourselves and for our industry. You should and can expect no less from us going forward.” She later reminded the nominees, in great detail, that should they win their Oscar next month, they’ll be strictly limited to 45-second speeches. Why the extra emphasis? She reiterated the broadcast’s commitment to air all 23 category presentations live after last year’s fiasco. “We’ve worked very hard,” she said. 

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