At the right kind of party, even Steven Spielberg becomes a shameless fan. “I asked to sit next to Greta Gerwig,” said the 17-time Oscar nominee, as he settled into his seat in a ballroom at the Beverly Hilton on Monday afternoon for the Academy’s annual Oscar nominees luncheon. “I want to know more about her process.”
Spielberg, nominated for producing best picture nominee The Post, and Gerwig, for writing and directing Lady Bird, were on hand for what is one of awards season’s most egalitarian and upbeat traditions, the taking of the Oscar class photo, along with 168 other Oscar nominees, including Meryl Streep, Jordan Peele, Timothée Chalamet, Christopher Nolan, Mary J. Blige, Kumail Nanjiani, Common, Saoirse Ronan, Guillermo del Toro, and Kobe Bryant. At the Oscar nominees luncheon, everyone is a winner, no one has to deliver a speech, and honorees from little-known categories, like sound mixing and animated short film, rub elbows with A-listers and Hollywood royalty.
“I love this event because there’s nothing to stress about,” Spielberg said, as he, Gerwig, and del Toro huddled in close conversation. “You gave us all our dreams,” the Lady Bird writer-director said to Spielberg. “And 60% of the fucking craft!” del Toro said. Gerwig and Spielberg found that they shared a preference for writing in secluded places—she explained that she wrote Lady Bird in a bed and breakfast in Cold Springs, N.Y., while Spielberg said he drove out to the Mojave Desert community of Twentynine Palms to stare up at the stars while writing Close Encounters of the Third Kind. “Hey guys, let’s take a selfie!” Spielberg said to his fellow directors. “Only if you fucking send it to me!” del Toro replied, leaning in for the shot.
Del Toro, who had just won the Directors Guild Award Saturday night for his film The Shape of Water, was a particularly popular figure in the room, and at one point Disney chief Bob Iger and Paramount chief Jim Gianopulos collided on their way to congratulate him.
One nominee who made the event in spirit and image but not in body was Faces Places director Agnes Varda. JR, the French artist who co-directed the film with Varda, arrived at the luncheon carrying three life-sized cardboard cutouts of her, because, he said, the 89-year-old nominee, this year’s oldest, was too tired to travel. JR said he had carried the Varda cutouts through airport security, in their own seat on a flight down to Los Angeles from San Francisco, and had cleared it with that Academy that he would lift one aloft for the taking of the class photo (he did). Beside JR, three-time Oscar nominee Octavia Spencer reflected that the luncheon “never gets old,” before telling JR that his pink suit was perfect for standing out in the group picture.
While the nominees tucked into their Chilean sea bass, Academy president John Bailey rose to the podium and used the occasion to acknowledge the changes underway at the industry group, which last June invited its largest and most diverse membership class to date, and last month put into place new procedures for dealing with members accused of misconduct. “We are witnessing this venerable motion picture Academy reinvent itself before our very eyes,” Bailey said, in remarks to the luncheon audience. “I may be a 75-year-old white male, but I’m every bit as gratified as the youngest of you here that the fossilized bedrock of many of Hollywood’s worst abuses are being jackhammered into oblivion.” “Wow!” Spielberg said, at Bailey’s pointed remarks, applauding. Bailey also acknowledged the most dramatic event at last year’s Oscars telecast—the best picture envelope snafu, while thanking the “hard-working Academy staff.” “They make sure every detail goes off at every Academy event flawlessly,” Bailey said. “Well maybe not every event. Last year’s envelope malfunction wasn’t their doing.”
Oscar telecast producers Mike De Luca and Jennifer Todd delegated the task of delivering advice on speech-giving to actor-comedian Patton Oswalt, who emphasized the need for brevity, and heartfelt remarks, and advised on a particular consideration in the age of #MeToo and #TimesUp. “This is a little tricky area, but maybe think twice before you mention your agents and managers,” Oswalt said. “I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention to what’s been going on this last year in Hollywood. I’m just saying, cover for yourself. You don’t want to have to explain to your grandkids why you thanked someone who Dateline just did a four-part series on.”
As the lunch wound down, Academy governor Laura Dern began to announce all 170 nominees names, and they filed onto risers for the taking of the class photo, Varda cut-out and all. Spielberg held up his phone to record Dern saying one nominee’s name, his longtime producer Kristie Macsko Krieger. “I just had to get that one!” the director said, before bounding up the risers to take his place with the rest of the class.
Get Vanity Fair’s HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Rebecca KeeganRebecca Keegan is a Hollywood Correspondent for Vanity Fair.