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February 04, 2008

The slapstick statesman

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By Carly Mayberry

"Should we call you Mr. Ambassador?"

That was the first question tossed to a svelt-looking George Clooney at Monday's Oscar nominees pre-luncheon press conference at the Beverly Hilton.

And Clooney, despite just getting back in town after traveling through three conflict zones in the last two weeks, threw right back, culling from his vast reserve of one liners.

"How come I look so good up close? -- Was that your question?" quipped the best actor nominee, who quickly followed with, "Yes, and we only have time for one more question..."

At one point, Clooney turned downright slapstick comedian in his tongue-in-cheek attempt to drink in the spotlight.

"I don't like Daniel Day-Lewis. I don't know if any of you have met him but I caught him stealing," he joked.

On a more serious note, the actor admitted how good it felt to be back wearing a suit after traveling through places like the country of Chad and the city of Goma in the Congo while also acknowledging the pleasure he felt for being nominated for best actor for "Michael Clayton."

"It's funny a lot of stars are star-struck so there's something exciting about meeting and standing around people like this," he said. "You don't really run out of things to talk about because you're around a lot of
actors. It's a fantastic honor and a tremendous escape. You gotta kind of accept it and be happy about it. It's fun."

Earlier, "Michael Clayton" director Tony Gilroy, nominated for best director, had his own words about Clooney.

"He's better at the job of being a movie star than I think anyone's ever been," said Gilroy. "From maintaining a dignity and having a world political view that's not too preachy and doing it effortlessly. He really is the Michael Jordan of movie stars."

To that Clooney would later quip, "Tony plays drunken writer better than anyone's ever done."

The ghost of Clooney even lingered on after he stepped away from the platform.

"I can still smell George Clooney -- that's nice," sighed a smitten Amy Ryan, who stepped up to the podium after Clooney departed.

Ryan, who like many of the female nominees is being courted endlessly with dresses and jewels, said she planned on taking a "less is more" approach to Oscar night's attire.

"I'm thinking Grace Kelly. I want to be able to look back 20 years from now and have it be timeless."

Best actress nominee Ellen Page, who described the whole experience as "surreal," said she was lucky to have people to help her "figure it out" when it comes to her style or as she put it, lack thereof. Dressed in a black and while horizontally-striped dress Page quipped, "I took my old prison uniform, learned how to sew and slapped on some heels."

The often-eccentric Julian Schnabel made his own fashion statement.

"My sneakers are Vans because I'm a surfer and my pajamas, my wife made," said "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" director who wore a dark formal sports coat on top to complete the ensemble.

When asked if he was disappointed at not receiving a best picture nod, Schnabel replied, "It's interesting to be nominated for best director, editing, cinematography and screenplay and not best picture. I don't know what else you have do to make a picture but it's all good."

Hal Holbrook spent the majority of his time on the stage lauding his wife Dixie Carter and all the support she's provided him during this awards season. Holbrook is nominated for best supporting actor for "Into the Wild."

"It's wonderful if you're lucky enough to be married to someone who is a champion four you," said Holbrook about his wife of 28 years, while a beaming Carter looking on from the back row.

When it came to Jason Reitman's turn to take the spotlight, the "Juno" director asked for "a moment" as he turned around to take a better look at the two larger-than-life Oscar statuettes which framed each side of the podium.

"I may never be here again so give me one second," said Reitman, whose doting dad Ivan stood to the side snapping pictures.

When asked how the elder Reitman felt about his son's recent nomination, Reitman quickly took the podium from his son.

"When Jason was 12 he asked me, 'Dad, how come you never go to the Academy Awards?' and I told him that I felt uncomfortable because I've never been nominated," explained Reitman. "But when Jason asked, 'Well, what if I get nominated, will you come?' I said, 'Yeah, I'll be there.'"

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Oscar Contenders

  • So "The Dark Knight" didn't make it into the final five after all, never mind that critical and popular support. Let's just call the comic-inspired mega-hit "The Biggest Snubee."

    Here are the best picture contenders in a race that, two weeks away from the Oscars, seems to be a foregone conclusion ("Slumdog") unless there's a come-from-behind possibility ("The Reader" anyone?)

    "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett; the politically timely "Milk;" rags-to-riches fairy tale, "Slumdog Millionaire," Holocaust best-seller-based drama "The Reader," and Watergate-era biopic "Frost/Nixon."

    Could "Button" and "Slumdog" split the vote, allowing another film to take the prize? Doesn't seem likely. After having clung to "Button" for months as what we thought would be the Academy voters' top vhoice, our money's now on "Slumdog." Momentum can't be ignored.

    Watch this blog for updates, ephemera and all manner of postulating.

Picture this

  • Mmmmm, chocolate Oscar. Not every star will walk away from the 81st annual Academy Awards with a trophy, but if they hit the high-profile Governor's Ball they can have pastry chef Sherry Yard's gold-dusted candy version. Also on the menu from celeb chef Wolfgang Puck is tuna tartare in sesame miso cones, chopped Chino Farms vegetable salad with ginger soy vinaigrette, Maine lobster and caviar. Serve it up! (Getty Images)

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