The nerves, tension, and envy will come later, but at Monday's annual Oscar nominees' luncheon, it was all smiles and camaraderie, according to wire service reports. ''It doesn't feel competitive. It really doesn't,'' said Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind's Best Actress nominee Kate Winslet. ''It's like you're all going through this thing together, and it's just so kind of exciting and mysterious and strange and glorious. And you're all sort of in the bubble together.''
Being Julia's Annette Bening agreed with a reporter that it was ''cosmic humor'' that she was in a Best Actress rematch with Million Dollar Baby's Hilary Swank, who defeated her five years ago. ''It's just a fun coincidence,'' Bening said, then praised her rival. ''She's a great actress and she's great in the picture.'' For her part, Swank said of her return to the Oscars, ''I'm just as awestruck, I'm just as nervous. No, it doesn't get any easier.''
One nominee who admitted his desire to win was The Aviator director Martin Scorsese. ''It would be wonderful to win, I think,'' said Scorsese, a frequent Oscar bridesmaid. Of his previous losses, he said, ''It probably is better I didn't win in the '70s or mid-'80s or something'' because a victory then would have been something that ''maybe I was not able to handle at the time.''
Some 115 nominees, including 17 nominated actors (all but Johnny Depp, Natalie Portman, and Clive Owen) attended the banquet at the Beverly Hilton, where they posed for a ''class picture'' after dining on beef tenderloin, sea bass in ginger soy sauce, and lobster medallions with caviar. Also present was first-time Oscar host Chris Rock, who was serenaded with a group rendition of ''Happy Birthday'' by the nominees, since Monday was also the day he turned 40.
Producer Gil Cates, who's overseeing his 12th Oscar telecast, used the event to announce some changes in the way awards will presented. He said that, to give nominees who collaborate in groups (like screenwriters or art directors) more camera time, they'll be called to the stage before the winner is announced in their category. Conversely, to save time, some winners won't be called to the stage at all but will receive their trophies in the aisles. (Too bad that wasn't an option back when Roberto Benigni won.) Some winners will still receive their trophies the old-fashioned way, at the podium.
Cates also made his annual (and probably futile) plea to the nominees to keep their acceptance speeches under 60 seconds and not to recite laundry lists of names. ''If you pull out a piece of paper in your thank-you speech, you will never work again,'' he joked. Dual nominee Jamie Foxx, who delivered lively but long-winded acceptance speeches at the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards, probably wasn't listening. If he wins an acting prize for Ray or Collateral, he said, ''There are so many things that I want to say, I could never run out of things.''