BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (MCT) – In a town obsessed with VIP status, it is a refreshingly meritocratic event.
At the Motion Picture Academy's annual Oscar nominees luncheon Monday at the Beverly Hilton, A-list stars such as Bono, Meryl Streep and Leonardo DiCaprio dined with Hollywood's more anonymous craftsmen, the sound mixers, documentary short directors and makeup artists who share with them one special quality _ they are all among this year's 203 Oscar nominees.
"I guess at the Oscar luncheon we all mix and mash together like a giant gumbo," said DiCaprio, nominated for lead actor for "The Wolf of Wall Street," upon arriving at his table with his father, George.
More than 150 of this year's nominees attended, with the notable exception of Woody Allen, who never comes _ even in years when he's not engulfed in controversy.
For some, the luncheon was a chance to forge new and unlikely connections.
Across the bread basket, Leonardo DiCaprio spotted indie rock vocalist Karen O, nominated for original song for "The Moon Song" from "Her."
"Huge fan!" DiCaprio said.
"No, I'm a huge fan!" O replied, before the two launched into a conversation about one of her performances.
"This is just surreal," said their tablemate Daniel Sousa, director of "Feral," an animated short film, who had flown in from Rhode Island for the event. "It's like a pop-up book."
Beside them, former academy president Sid Ganis talked with Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos about the new season of the streaming media company's "House of Cards" and the challenges of doing business in China. Sarandos was attending on behalf of the nominated feature documentary "The Square," which Netflix produced.
As the nominees kibitzed, the producers of this year's Oscar telecast, Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, took to the podium to offer some advice on speeches. Whether anyone will listen is another story.
"The show is successful if the pacing of the evening feels brisk," Zadan said, pausing for effect. "You understand? The words should be spoken from your heart and not from a list on a piece of paper."
He warned that winners would have 45 seconds to speak before the orchestra started, and that group winners should select a spokesperson.
"I was told not to remind you there will be over 1 billion people watching from more than 225 territories throughout the world," Zadan said. "Don't be nervous."
Meron told the group that the theme for the evening would be a "celebration of movie heroes."
The day wasn't all air kisses and well wishes, however.
Shortly before the cocktail hour got underway, a group representing the Service Employees International Union took to the valet line of the Beverly Hilton chanting, "Oscars, Oscars you can't hide. We can see your greedy side." Police moved the group, which was protesting the academy's use of a nonunion security firm at the Oscars, from the Hilton grounds to Wilshire Boulevard.
After lunch, as the nominees lined up on risers for their class photo, with best song nominee Pharrell Williams and his signature tall hat stationed wisely at the back, there was time for more inter-movie bonding. "American Hustle" director David O. Russell made "August: Osage County" actress Streep laugh; "American Hustle" lead actor nominee Christian Bale introduced himself to "Captain Phillips" supporting actor nominee and Hollywood newcomer Barkhad Abdi; and "Dallas Buyers Club" supporting actor nominee Jared Leto escorted "Nebraska" supporting actress nominee June Squibb up the steps.
"Everybody's happy to be here," Ganis said. "On the red carpet, there's no time for this gabbing around."
Academy members will cast their votes for the Oscars between Feb. 14-25. The 86th Academy Awards will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on March 2.