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Oscar Nominees Lunch

Heath_michelle2 Over the years I have occasionally been invited to attend the annual Oscar nominee lunch, which is always a civilized, stress-free affair. The 25th installment was held a week ago at the Beverly Hilton. Borys posted an item or two that day; I meant to post too but I got pretty crazed and somehow the week got away from me. But today's a holiday. Here's some of what went on:

Milling about before the lunch, George Clooney and Alex Gibney (director of the docu Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) compared notes on the art of finding archival footage—and not getting sued for using it. Gibney wound up sitting next to the relaxed and bearded Heath Ledger, whose hair was tufting up at odd angles. He and Michelle Williams were seated at different tables, but he was reunited with her during the big group nominees photo, when he nuzzled her neck.

Each of the restless 116 nominees had to wait for their name to be called to collect an award certificate of nomination and a sweatshirt from Academy president Sid Ganis. Of course the stars got the most applause, although William Hurt was almost unrecognizable in jeans and a blue sweater. Michelle Williams and Reese Witherspoon, wearing her trademark perky pony-tail,  had to stand for a long time waiting for their names to be called, along with "Crash" song thrush Kathleen "Bird" York and a poor guy whose last name began with Z.

I had no stars at my table, unless you count Steven Spielberg's producer Kathleen Kennedy, who enjoyed the reel of great Oscar speeches from the likes of Alfred Hitchcock (the shortest: "thank you") and Stanley Donen, who tap-danced with his Oscar cheek to cheek. One of the nominees from King Kong told me that Universal should have let Jackson have more time, as Fox and Paramount did James Cameron with Titanic; then Jackson would have figured out the perfect length for the movie. To meet the release date, there wasn't time to do any judicious cutting.

Sean Ellis, the 36-year-old British writer of the live action short Cashback, has wasted no time; he has already shot an indie-financed feature film version, which includes the 19-minute short, with the same cast. He's screening it for the Cannes International Film Festival this week. And he plans to start casting another untitled movie set to shoot May 31.

Matt Dillon and Capote writer Dan Futterman were sitting at the next table; Dillon kept fingering the lapels of people's jackets, like Terrence Howard, who looked sleek in a splendid tan suit and was still high from his experience as a Sundance juror. Futterman and his writer wife Anya, whom he met on the set of Homicide: Life on the Street, are writing a script together. There was plenty of flitting about the room; Futterman, who had starred in Tony Kushner's Angels in America on Broadway, made his way over to talk to the Munich co-writer.

On the way out, I talked to The Squid and the Whale's Noah Baumbach, who's shooting his next movie in New York with producer Scott Rudin at Paramount's specialty division, and then Bennett Miller, who is also developing a movie with his old agent, John Lesher, who now runs the specialty division. Miller was then waylaid by Steven Spielberg, who was standing at the door. Onward.



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