Oscar nominees trade quips at luncheon. The annual banquet was as friendly and casual as the awards night will be tense and serious

By Gary Susman
March 11, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

The frantic awards season enjoyed one of its lower-key moments on Monday with the 22nd annual Academy Awards nominees’ luncheon at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills. Some 99 Oscar hopefuls, including all the nominated actors save Meryl Streep and Paul Newman, schmoozed and joked in a way that they’ll not be able to when they’re on pins and needles during the awards ceremony on March 23.

”Chicago” nominee John C. Reilly noted the seemingly endless nature of the awards season by telling the Associated Press, ”It’s fun to celebrate for a living.” Double nominee Julianne Moore (for ”Far From Heaven” and ”The Hours,” in which Reilly plays her husband), agreed that awards season ”is fun, but sometimes it’s like a little too much candy,” USA Today reports.

There was little hint of competition at the event, at which AP reported seeing ”Hours” Best Actress nominee Nicole Kidman going around hugging her rivals, ”Unfaithful”’s Diane Lane and ”Chicago”’s Renée Zellweger (whom Kidman reportedly befriended on the set of the upcoming ”Cold Mountain”). ”Adaptation”’s Best Supporting Actor nominee Chris Cooper hinted to AP he was rooting for ”Catch Me if You Can”’s Christopher Walken to beat him (as he did at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday). ”I voted for another person in this category, because I like the other person’s performance,” Cooper said. ”I’ll say he has the same first name as I do.”

”Gangs of New York” nominee Daniel Day-Lewis even found something light and witty to say about all the discussion of war, and whether Oscar winners would speak out about it at the podim. Asked his opinion of the impending war with Iraq, he laughed and told USA Today, ”The media is sick and tired of people in my position giving their opinions, yet you ask for my opinion. And then when I give it, you’re going to say ‘Why doesn’t he shut up?”’

After all 99 nominees posed for a ”class photo,” they were handed certificates of nomination one by one, in alphabetical order. ”How did you like the spelling bee,” said Zellweger, who was second to last, followed by her eight-months-pregnant ”Chicago” co-star Catherine Zeta-Jones, who earned a round of applause just for being a trouper and standing up throughout the whole ceremony. She, too, joked about her pregnancy, telling USA Today that she was ”having an OB-GYN tucked into my dress on Oscar night. It’s certainly big enough, so it’s no problem.”