Renée Zellweger, Al Pacino and dozens of other Academy Award nominees bowed their heads in a moment of silence Monday for Kobe Bryant to open the annual Oscars luncheon, a sombre moment in an otherwise sunny annual affair that serves as a meet-and-greet, celebration and training session for each year’s class of nominees.
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President David Rubin asked the audience to honour the NBA star and 2018 Oscar winner, and his daughter, who were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday.
“With all the success he had on the court, he was the most excited person in the room that day,” Rubin said of Bryant at the 2018 luncheon. Bryant went on to win an Oscar for best animated short for “Dear Basketball.”
The group of both longtime Oscar luminaries and first-time hopefuls broke into applause to end the silence.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Laura Dern, Robert De Niro and Quentin Tarantino were all set upon by groups of photographers as they walked into the luncheon being held just a few steps from the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, home to the 92nd Academy Awards on Feb. 9.
Tarantino, nominated for best director for “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood,” stood for just a few photos before heading to join his fellow nominees at lunch tables.
“One more, Quentin, come on,” one photographer said.
Inside the ballroom, Brad Pitt and Tarantino autographed a “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” movie poster brought by the film’s sound engineer Mark Ulano, who is nominated for his work in three films in the best sound mixing category.
Taika Waititi, whose film “Jojo Rabbit” is nominated for six Oscars, walked in and shared a hug with Bong Joon Ho, whose “Parasite” earned nominations for best director, best international film and best picture.
Both congratulated each other on their awards season recognition.
The luncheon is an annual chance for all Oscar nominees to rub shoulders, celebrate the status many will only have once, and take a class picture, after a roll call of all the nominees summons them to the front of the ballroom. Among those standing near the centre of the frame were Pacino, Diane Warren and “Frozen II” songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.
In another annual ritual, they were told to keep their acceptance speeches short at the Oscars, ideally 45 seconds or less, and were urged to appoint one person to speak for a group of winners.
Democratized seating arrangements at the luncheon often pair little-known nominees in categories like documentary short or sound-design with major stars nominated in acting categories.
Warren, an 11-time nominee who this year is competing for best original song with “I’m Standing With You” from “Breakthrough,” chatted with newbie nominee director Matthew Cherry, telling him and producer Karen Rupert Toliver that their animated short “Hair Love” was “amazing.”
As some started to eat, best actress nominee Cynthia Erivo and best supporting actor nominee Pitt posed for selfies with their fellow hopefuls.
Pacino said he’s embracing getting his first nomination in 27 years, for best supporting actor in “The Irishman.” He called getting the nod in a category that also includes Pitt, Tom Hanks, Anthony Hopkins, and his “Irishman” co-star Joe Pesci “special.”
“Time flies,” Pacino said.
Monday’s menu was entirely plant-based, with nominees noshing on vegan cheese, micro herbs, roasted maitake mushrooms and forbidden rice, with wines from the fittingly film-friendly vineyards of Francis Ford Coppola.
The academy also announced that it is also increasing the veggie-friendly options at its post-Oscars Governors Ball, where winners get their Oscar statuettes engraved.
The move follows the Golden Globes and other events that have gone to entirely plant-based menus as part of some in the industry advocating for a more sustainable approach to Hollywood’s lengthy awards season.
Joaquin Phoenix in his Globes acceptance speech praised the event for keeping meat off the menu, and urged his fellow actors to stop using private jets to get to nearby destinations like the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
Phoenix, who has been sweeping through awards season and has become the likely Oscar favourite for best actor, was one of Monday’s notable absentees, along with fellow best actor nominee Adam Driver and his “Marriage Story” co-star Scarlett Johansson, who is nominated in two categories.
Phoenix’s “Joker” is this year’s leading Oscar nominee with 11, followed closely behind by “1917,” “The Irishman” and “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” all close behind with 10 apiece
AP Entertainment Writer Andrew Dalton contributed to this report.