Oscar nominees 'grateful' to be back in the ballroom
Oscar nominees from Steven Spielberg and Will Smith to first-time Bhutanese director Pawo Choyning Dorji gathered at a Los Angeles ballroom Monday, as Hollywood's award season enters its final stretch.
The Academy's glitzy annual luncheon for nominated A-listers and indie auteurs did not take place last year because of the pandemic, but returned with a starry in-person crowd of those who made the best films released in 2021, a year during which many movie theaters reopened.
Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz chatted to Guillermo del Toro and Maggie Gyllenhaal over drinks, while Denzel Washington posed for photos with a long line of admirers.
"If there's ever been a time to be grateful for, and to revel in, an occasion that allows us to be in the same room, ladies and gentlemen, this is the year," said Will Packer, who will produce the 94th Academy Awards show.
Last year's Oscars took place at a Los Angeles train station, with nominees mingling outdoors and then rotated in and out of the venue during the show, but this year's is expected to be closer to normal.
Voting begins next week ahead of the March 27 prize-giving gala, meaning film campaigns that began as long as a year ago are mounting one last push.
Benedict Cumberbatch -- star of Oscar best picture contender "The Power of the Dog," which first premiered at September's Venice film festival -- told AFP he was "happy to keep banging the drum" for the Western, especially with director Jane Campion absent due to a positive Covid-19 test.
"I believe this (film) will stand the test of time," he said, adding that Campion was "fine" and experiencing no symptoms.
Also in attendance were the cast of "CODA," a drama about a deaf family and their musical child, which surged back into Oscars contention with a key win at last week's Screen Actors Guild awards for best cast.
"We're such a tight cast, so it was a lovely prize to win -- it was so unexpected," said its star Emilia Jones.
The film first premiered at the virtual Sundance festival in January 2021, meaning Jones and her ensemble are still campaigning against rival movies that "came out months after ours."
And then there is "Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom," the first Bhutanese film ever nominated for an Academy Award, which was originally submitted the previous year but held over due to a technicality.
Director Dorji told AFP he at first "thought it was a mistake" when his film's historic nomination was finally announced.
"I just cried meeting Jessica Chastain," added his star-struck producer and wife Stephanie Lai, sitting one table away from the "Eyes of Tammy Faye" star, who is a favorite to win best actress.
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