Pundits may be piqued, and the blogosphere may be filled with fury over Christopher Nolan’s omission from the Best Director Oscar race, but the “Inception” filmmaker himself was the very picture of graciousness and good cheer at this week’s Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon.
The movie star handsome British filmmaker – a double nominee for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay — skipped the press room, no doubt well aware of the “snub”-related questions that would come his way. We happened to be seated at the same table as Nolan, where he appeared to enjoy looking over the nominee certificates he picked up after participating in this year’s class photo, and rather tickled about it as he got out his new Nominee sweatshirt and gave it a little pat. Nolan also laughed during the presentation of acceptance speech do’s and don’ts by producers Bruce Cohen and Don Mischer, including a video starring Tom Hanks, in which Tom reminded the crowd that those great spontaneous moments take preparation.
DreamWorks’ “How to Tame Your Dragon” Best Animated Feature nominee Chris Sanders, meanwhile, talked about his currently-in-the-works project, “The Crudes.” Due in March 2012, it has to do with cavemen on the verge of that very first step toward civilization. It sounds as if the characters have already taken on lives of their own, leading the filmmakers in entirely unexpected directions, even into those existential questions as to why we should care about what we do in life. Yep, that’s not what one would expect from something called “The Crudes.”
It’s no wonder the luncheon continues to be such a popular attraction on the awards season calendar, with all the stars at their relaxed, affable best. Little moments of their humanity emerge one after another — like Best Actor nominee Jesse Eisenberg getting up from his seat to shake hands with a waiter, look him in the eye and say thanks. Or fellow Best Actor candidate Jeff Bridges happily acceding to the request to let Best Actress nominee Annette Bening sit on his lap for the Class Picture. When she brightly hurried over and sat down, laughter broke out and it was a great moment.
Whatever the outcome when the 83rd Annual Academy Awards are presented on February 27th, it’s clear that Bening is a popular lady with her fellow nominees and industry members. She drew noticeably enthusiastic applause when her name was called out.
Speaking of noticeable, how could “Black Swan” Best Actress nominee Natalie Portman glide around like it was nothing in those impossibly high red heels while balancing her very pronounced-by-now baby bump?
In the press room, “Biutiful” Best Actor nominee Javier Bardem answered a question in Spanish, then jovially assured English speakers “It wasn’t that interesting. You didn’t miss anything.” He talked about how this nomination, his third, was particularly special to him because of the drama, in which he plays a dying criminal trying to reconcile his world, being in Spanish –a breakthrough. Pressed to say how he felt in Spanish, the native of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain, replied, “I feel the same way.” Ba-dum-pum.
ON THE PERSONAL SIDE: Ed Helms, the 37-year-old star of “The Office” and “The Hangover” got into some startling territory when Entertainment Weekly asked him things about himself that would surprise people. First off: He’s had open-heart surgery. “I had a congenital heart condition that became an issue as I hit my growth spurt,” he explains, in the issue that hits stands tomorrow (2/11). “My operation was during spring break of my eighth-grade year. I do have a scar, and you can see it in the movie—it’s a little zipper, about eight inches, that’s gotten lost in the fur. I have a natural sweater that disguises it.” The movie to which he refers is his Friday (2/12)-opening “Cedar Rapids” comedy, in which Ed plays a naive insurance agent who goes wild at an out-of-town convention.
Secondly — are you ready? — he listens to Yanni. “I went through a phase when I was obsessed with him….Somewhere in me there is a lonely, middle-aged housewife with a deep abiding crush on him.”
And third, Ed plays the banjo. In fact, he has banjo-bonded with picker extraordinaire Steve Martin. “We’ve become friends through playing the banjo. Obviously we’re both comedy people, but it is really neat to share a specific passion. I produce a bluegrass festival, the L.A. Bluegrass Situation. Last year’s was our first, and Steve was gracious enough to jump on board. We’ve had some great musical times together.”