Feature: Oscar nominees do lunch

PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 7 (UPI) -- At the traditional Oscar nominees' luncheon in Beverly Hills Monday there was the usual talk about the life-changing nature of an Academy Award nomination, along with an assessment from a directing nominee that the major studios could learn something from the class of '04.

Of the five Best Picture nominees, only one -- Warner Bros. Pictures' "Million Dollar Baby" -- was a product of a major studio. Taylor Hackford, the director of the Oscar-nominated feature "Ray," said the dominance of this year's proceedings by independent productions should send a message to the studios.


"I spent 13 years trying to get 'Ray' made -- shopped it to every studio asking them to just open their eyes to what I thought would be a spectacular picture," said Hackford. "None of them ever stepped up."

Hackford said the audience in 2004 voted with their money.

When the nominations were announced last month, "Ray" was the highest-grossing movie of the five Best Picture nominees, with more than $70 million at the U.S. box office. Now, Martin Scorsese's Howard Hughes biography "The Aviator" has taken the box-office lead among Best Picture nominees, with an overall U.S. gross approaching $76 million.


Jamie Foxx, a Best Actor nominee for his performance in "Ray" as music legend Ray Charles, said the movie also seems to resonate in unexpected ways with an audience that movie marketers covet in particular: young males.

"You see a young cat driving by in his Escalade -- white, black, Latino, it doesn't matter -- and you know what you hear?" said Fox -- as he broke into song with one of Charles' signature hits, "I Got a Woman."

Like several others who met with entertainment journalists at the nominees' luncheon, Foxx said making the cut on nomination day was a life-changing experience.

"It gives you an opportunity to get in that other door, with other scripts and other directors," he said.

Laura Linney, a Best Actress nominee for "Kinsey" who was previously nominated for "You Can Count on Me" in 2000, also said being nominated can change an actor's life -- and not always for the better.

"For some people it will change their lives and careers," she said. "For other people it will solidify where they already are. For others it could hurt them. You could overblow it and take it too seriously and then it's not good for you."


Even Alan Alda, who turned 69 a few days after the nominations were announced -- and already has a nifty collection of Emmy Awards -- said his nomination for Best Supporting Actor for "The Aviator" would change his life.

"It's very encouraging to me because I really am always trying to get better," he said. "It encourages me to go on for the next 40 or 50 years, or whatever."

On the other end of the experience spectrum, Catalina Sandino Moreno -- a newcomer who is up for Best Actress for "Maria Full of Grace" -- said one of the major changes in her life consists of getting to meet "huge stars" whom she previously knew only from their appearances on movie screens in her native Colombia. Like other nominees, she is also being sent more scripts to read.

Virginia Madsen said having her name called out as a Best Supporting Actress nominee for "Sideways" changed "everything" in her career.

"I just wrote a letter to someone who I'd never thought I'd be writing a letter to," she said, "who asked me if I had read a script."

Madsen did not reveal the name of the person she was referring to, but she did observe that the life of a nominee can sometimes be a bit surreal -- as she learned firsthand on nomination day, when she played back the messages on her answering machine and heard one from Harrison Ford.


Martin Scorsese -- who has his fifth Best Director nomination for "The Aviator" -- was asked again how much it would mean to him finally to win an Oscar and answered again that it would be wonderful. But he said even without an Oscar on his résumé, he has still been able to make the movies he wanted to make.

"Maybe I'd have gotten two extra days' shooting," he said, if he'd had the supposed bargaining power that an Oscar can confer on a filmmaker.

In any case, Scorsese said he would be OK if he didn't take home the statuette this year.

"If not, hopefully, the picture could garner a few nods, which would help the picture," he said.

"The Aviator" has 11 Oscar nominations, more than any other picture this year.

The 77th Academy Awards will be presented Feb. 27 in ceremonies at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, to be televised by ABC with Chris Rock as host.


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