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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Amy Nicholson

Tom Cruise goes maverick and Riseborough goes awol at the Oscars nominees luncheon

Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg at the 95th Oscars nominees luncheon.
Back in the ballroom … Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg at the 95th Oscars nominees luncheon. Photograph: Dana Pleasant/Newspix International

Twenty-three years have ticked by since Tom Cruise last attended the annual Oscars nominees luncheon, in support of his performance as the manipulative sex guru Frank TJ Mackey in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. He lost – his third defeat in a decade, following Jerry Maguire and Born on the Fourth of July – and shortly afterwards set aside his Academy Award ambitions to prove his value as a daredevil action star.

But this year’s best picture nod for Top Gun: Maverick, in which Cruise not only starred, but also produced, meant he was back in the ballroom of the Beverly Hills Hilton where he held focus with an exuberant physical display. Cruise bear-hugged Guillermo del Toro so enthusiastically that the great director nearly disappeared underneath him. He pulled Austin Butler in for a backslap that anointed the Elvis star as a member of the leading men’s club, cracked a quip to Everything Everywhere All at Once’s Michelle Yeoh that made her hide a giggle behind her clutch handbag, and closed his eyes to dramatically kiss her co-star Jamie Lee Curtis on the knuckles, then cradle her hands to his chest.

Tom Cruise and Jamie Lee Curtis.
An exuberant physical display … Tom Cruise and Jamie Lee Curtis. Photograph: Valérie Macon/AFP/Getty Images

As a capper, Cruise embraced Steven Spielberg as onlookers pressed forward to capture the moment on their phones. You might remember that it was during the promotion of their last film together, War of the Worlds in 2005, that Cruise made his infamous visit to The Oprah Winfrey Show, triggering gossip about the demise of their partnership, as well as of Cruise’s career. (In truth, Worlds marked Cruise’s biggest opening weekend box office at the time.) With that tension publicly defused among an awards crowd that likes him – really likes him – it’s might now be time for Cruise to resume his quest for an acting prize.

The Academy began to host its annual luncheon in 1982. That year, only 42 of the 105 nominees bothered to attend. “Those who aren’t here are getting facelifts,” one joked to the Los Angeles Times. None of the journalists in attendance made note of what was served, but it likely wasn’t vegan risotto with mushrooms carved to resemble scallops. A guest with a self-admitted “child’s palate” confessed they planned to pull over for a hamburger on the way home. Still, it’s tricky to feed a room of the fastidious and fashionable, especially when Avatar: The Way of Water director James Cameron and EO director Jerzy Skolimowski have spoken candidly about how their alien- and animal-loving movies prodded them toward plant-based diets.

Cameron wasn’t there, though his producer Jon Landau was, and wore a blue and teal shirt that rippled through the room like the oceans of Pandora. Other notable no-shows included Lady Gaga (nominated for the song Hold My Hand from Top Gun: Maverick) and Rihanna (nominated for Lift Me Up from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever); at least the latter had the excuse of performing the half-time extravaganza at the Super Bowl just 17 hours before.

Also missing was Andrea Riseborough, a shock best actress nominee for the little-seen To Leslie. Few people at the luncheon seemed to have managed to catch the film. Still, as Riseborough is a genuine talent – and a chameleon – there’s always a chance she was wandering incognito through the crowd. Wasn’t that Riseborough who just passed Michelle Williams as she sidled shoulder-to-shoulder with the director Sarah Polley? Or was that Riseborough right behind Brendan Fraser, who entered with his The Whale co-star Hong Chau and then pivoted with delight to greet activist Malala Yousafzai?

Oscar nominees luncheon ‘class photo’.
Oscar nominees luncheon ‘class photo’. Photograph: Richard Harbaugh/©A.M.P.A.S.

The Riseborough rumours were put to rest when Academy governor DeVon Franklin began to summon the nominees one by one to take their position on the risers for the class photo. Since that tradition began in 1985, the portrait has grown exponentially from four rows of short, straight bleachers to a sprawling six-tier semi-circle that threatens to spill over on to the closest tables, risking a splash zone of white Bordeaux. The nominees used to be announced in alphabetical order, regularly ending with Hans Zimmer. More recently, they’re called up seemingly at random, which can lead to unexpected opportunities to mingle during the endless standing around and waiting. Irish veteran actor Brendan Gleeson stood next to this year’s ingenue, Austin Butler. Fraser squeezed into a spot between costume designer Ruth Carter and the writer-director Martin McDonagh. Jerry Bruckheimer scooted in just before the songwriter Diane Warren, who was then followed by Brian Tyree Henry (Causeway) – one of the best-dressed men in the room in a three-piece lavender crepe suit – who fist-pumped as he moved into position. Sprinting in his wake was former child performer and best supporting actor favourite Ke Huy Quan (Everything Everywhere All at Once), who had already charmed the room by holding up his orange phone for selfies, including with his Temple of Doom director Spielberg.

The first time Diane Warren took part in the portrait – in 1988, for the song Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now from Mannequin – she wore silver heels. Now, 14 nominations later, she’d chosen glittery silver sneakers. Warren has lost every time, though she did finally pick up an honorary Oscar last year. Undaunted, she predicted that even if she loses this year (for Applause from Tell It Like a Woman), odds are she might return in 2024 with the song Gonna Be You from 80 For Brady.

If the photo stretch of the luncheon had the feel of a high school graduation ceremony, Jamie Lee Curtis was head cheerleader. She was the first person ushered to stand at the very centre of the back rung and clapped until every one of the 182 nominees was in place. The honour – and the duty – suited the first-time nominee, not only because her frosty suit and matching cropped haircut gave Curtis the aura of a silver-dipped statuette, but because her parents Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh also received nods in 1959 and 1961 respectively.

Finally, del Toro took his spot next to Bill Nighy and the nominees were able to rest their wrists and relax. A few snuck sips of the pink champagne they’d been practical enough to bring over. With everyone there, the gravity of the ballroom tilted toward the stage and seemed to pull all the lights and chandeliers with it. Franklin told the nominees that the photographer would take five photos. Colin Farrell heckled back that he didn’t have five facial expressions. He favoured two: smile and smoulder. “I call this pose ‘the video game character,’” Rian Johnson, writer and director of Knives Out: Glass Onion, had said in preparation, holding his hands at his hips.

Another nominee having an out-of-body experience was Shane Boris, the producer of the documentaries Navalny and Fire of Love, who has found himself competing against himself. “It feels a bit like a blackout,” Boris said, taking in the star-studded room. As for which Boris might take home the award, he laughed. “I wish them both luck.”

Janet Yang at the Academy Awards nominations announcement in January.
Janet Yang at the Academy Awards nominations announcement in January. Photograph: Matt Baron/BEI/REX/Shutterstock

The vibe was so cosy that new Academy president Janet Yang didn’t dampen the mood even when she had to address the elephant absent from the room. “I’m sure you all remember we experienced an unprecedented event at the Oscars,” Yang said, alluding to last year’s slap without mentioning Will Smith by name. “What happened onstage was wholly unacceptable and the response from our organisation was inadequate.” Yang was elected in August, six months after that public relations crisis and the earlier burst of outrage that occurred when it was announced that ABC would not broadcast eight of the technical and short subject categories. This year, all awards will be televised – and in return, Yang, urged everyone to keep their acceptance speeches to 45 seconds.

“You gotta work with us,” Yang said, asking them to repeat the time limit. “Forty-five seconds,” the nominees chanted. Yang beamed. “You’re all winners,” she said. And in the moment, they all were.

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