EW Online joins Hilary Swank and Tom Cruise at the annual luncheon

By Liane Bonin
March 15, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST
Steve Granitz

In two weeks Hollywood will be breaking out the tuxes and the party gowns. In the meantime, this year’s Oscar contenders gathered on Monday at the Beverly Hilton to chow down, pick up a commemorative gray Oscar 2000 sweatshirt, and chat up the competition at the Academy’s annual nominees luncheon. Though the event is touted as an informal affair, it was no pizza-and-beer fest. Nominees dined on filet mignon and grilled shrimp (with baked Alaska to finish things off) as they tried not to worry about taking home a shiny gold statuette.

”I have no expectation of winning,” said Best Actress nominee Julianne Moore (”The End of the Affair”). ”I think Hilary or Annette will win, don’t you? Anyway, for me it’s always fun to watch. You forget that when you were 9 years old you sat in front of the TV and said, ‘I hope so-and-so wins.’ And then you realize, Wow, I get to be one of those people on TV!”

Not everyone is quite as thrilled to be one of those people on TV. Russell Crowe (”The Insider”) admitted, ”I’m not sure I’ve ever done the ‘holding the hairbrush in front of the mirror’ speech trick.” And Tom Cruise (”Magnolia”) was equally low-key: ”It’s exciting to be nominated, but right now I’m in postproduction on another movie.”

As for ”South Park” creator Trey Parker, he was just interested in finding out if his expletive-packed nominated song, ”Blame Canada,” will be performed at the ceremony. ”I’m really not sure if they’re going to do it or not,” he said. ”They said we can’t say ‘fart’ on network TV. But hey, I think there’s a shot.” Finding someone to perform the song is another hurdle, since no celebrities have offered their services. Still, Parker has some ideas: ”I want Jewel to do it acoustic.”

Parker wasn’t the only lunch guest who was there for laughs. Producers Richard D. and Lili Fini Zanuck stuttered through a jokey speech about yanking winners off stage if their weepy thank-yous extend past the 45-second time limit, and ceremony scribe Bruce Vilanch warned ”The Green Mile” producer David Valdes to brace himself for a juicy mouse punchline or two when the Best Picture nominees are skewered.

A few stars took a serious moment to pay their respects to the golden guy. Though Richard Farnsworth (”The Straight Story”) admitted that he was having his first tux made in 20 years for the big event, Hilary Swank (”Boys Don’t Cry”) tried not to get overwhelmed by the fashion brouhaha. ”It’s all fun, especially all the fuss over what dress to wear. But I really try to remember why I’m here. Being recognized for your work is really important to me.”

Finally, four-time nominee Denzel Washington (”The Hurricane”) managed to put all the hype, nervousness, and angst in perspective. ”I don’t call it a competition, because it’s not,” he said. ”We’ve done everything we can do as actors, then a lot of other people step in as business people to sell and promote it. I think everybody should be proud to even be here today.” And the baked Alaska didn’t hurt, either.