LOS ANGELES – Hollywood is still reeling from the loss of Kobe Bryant.
Monday’s Oscars nominees luncheon began on a somber note, with Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president David Rubin leading the crowd of stars in a moment of silence in honor of the NBA star, who died Sunday morning alongside his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, in a helicopter crash.
“We should take a moment to acknowledge the tragic death of Kobe Bryant,” said Rubin, noting that Bryant won an Oscar in 2018 for his best animated short “Dear Basketball.”
Bryant once attended the luncheon and “with all his mega-success on the court, he was probably the most excited person in the room to be a nominee,” Rubin said.
With that, the room went pin-drop quiet, with stars including Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cynthia Erivo, Charlize Theron, Kathy Bates, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro paying their respects to Bryant.
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The luncheon, this year held at the Ray Dolby Ballroom, is an annual tradition of celebration for Oscar nominees, allowing them to rub elbows and take a giant class photo.
Cute plus-ones abounded: Theron brought mom Gerda, while DiCaprio brought his dad, George. Renee Zellweger gabbed with songwriter Diane Warren, and Greta Gerwig hung out with Laura Dern. (Not everyone was able to make it this year: Missing nominees included Margot Robbie, Saoirse Ronan, Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson.)
Pitt, who arrived solo, proved a magnet in the room, as an endless throng of fellow nominees and their guests approached the seated star during the lunch portion. He graciously shook hands and chatted away.
Guests ate from a plant-based menu of gem lettuce salads and roasted mushrooms served atop forbidden rice and red curry. Such menus have become de rigueur for Hollywood awards shows this season, starting with the Golden Globes. (In fact, it was announced Monday that this year’s menu at the Governors Ball, which follows the Oscars telecast, will be 70% plant-based and 30% vegetarian, fish and meat.)
How’d the mushroom curry fare? “At least it looked appetizing,” joked actress Illeana Douglas from the dais, who was on hand to call nominees to the risers for the annual class photo. (We tasted it and liked it, for what it’s worth.)
Throughout the lunch course, more schmoozing went on: Pitt talked to “1917” cinematographer Roger Deakins (with whom he collaborated on 2007’s “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”) and Quentin Tarantino (the “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” director worked the room with a glass of red wine in hand).
During the roll call, the room cheered for each nominee (the loudest applause seemed to be a four-tie between “Parasite” director Bong Joon-ho, De Niro, Pitt and Pacino). And almost everyone wears name tags (this hilariously included Pitt), with instructions to take them off for the official portrait.
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