Source: Daily News (BEVERLY HILLS) - With the Academy Awards show less than three weeks away, new nominees as luminous as Sandra Bullock and as little-known as Anna Wydra whetted their appetites for Oscar hoopla at the annual nominees' luncheon Monday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
If any first-timers felt out of place, they could take comfort in knowing that even fifth-time nominee Jeff Bridges sounded as if he's making his Oscar debut.
"When they said there was a nominee lunch, I thought it was going to be a small table with the guys," Bridges, a best-actor nominee for his role in "Crazy Heart," said with a self-deprecating laugh. "You'd think as long as I've been doing it, I'd be more prepared for this. But everytime I walk down that red carpet and see those lights, it seems to get more crazy."
The luncheon drew 121 of the nominees for the 82nd Academy Awards ceremony March 7 at the Kodak Theatre. The focus was on actors and directors seeking their first Oscars. Everybody wanted to know how they feel.
"I have no idea how I feel," joked Colin Firth, up for best actor for "A Single Man," explaining that he has been too caught up in the pre-Oscar swirl to take stock of his emotions. "I'm sure I'm ecstatic. I'll probably have a flashback in about six weeks time, and I'll hope to answer that question then."
At no time since the Feb. 2 nominations announcement has the celebrity swirl been a distraction for contenders in some of the lower-profile categories.
Wydra, whose "Rabbit a la Berlin" is nominated for best documentary short, said she had just flown in from Poland to mingle with Oscar fixtures like best-actor nominees George Clooney ("Up in the Air") and Morgan Freeman ("Invictus"), best-actress hopefuls Helen Mirren ("The Last Station") and Meryl Streep ("Julie & Julia"), and directors James Cameron ("Avatar") and Quentin Tarantino ("Inglorious Basterds").
Another nominee in one of the many lesser-known categories was overheard to crack that he was staying in a Motel 6 during his time in Los Angeles.
For one day, as at an Olympics opening ceremony, everybody was a winner Monday, gathering for a lunch of marinated chicken and poached pear gorgonzola salad, with table assignments encouraging conversation across Oscar categories and industry rankings.
Only when the whole group posed for a 2010 nominees' class photo did the stars clearly gravitate to one another.
Carey Mulligan, a best-actress nominee for "An Education," said she's been following around Kathryn Bigelow, best-director nominee for "The Hurt Locker," hoping to land a future role.
Bullock said although she feels her nomination is deserved, she's "amazed and thankful to be here."
"I know I work really hard," Bullock said. "But just because I work really hard doesn't mean the elements will come together to make a good film. When all those elements do come together, I'm always amazed."
In the interview room Monday, some nominees talked seriously about issues their movies address.
Gabourey Sidibe, up for best actress for "Precious," said people tell her about their own experiences with the child abuse and neglect suffered by the title character.
"A lot of them told me the first person they ever told was me," Sidibe said. "It's a little strange. But I guess because of seeing the film they feel a connection to Precious."
Woody Harrelson, a supporting-actor hopeful for "The Messenger," said meeting Army personnel in filming changed his thinking about the armed services.
"The former administration of this country would have you associate the warriors with the war and want you to lump it all in together," Harrelson said. "When they say `Support our troops,' they mean `Support the war.' I think I always kind of lumped it all together. (Now I realize) how amazing these people are. I have a high regard and great respect for the people I've met.
"But as much as I love the warrior, I still loathe the war."