Image Credit: Rhythm & Hues
December 02, 2012 at 10:13 AM EST

Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic; Krista Kennell/AFP/Getty Images[/caption]

“This is kind of amazing,” legendary documentarian D.A. Pennebaker said, looking down at his honorary Oscar. “I mean, everybody here probably has one of these already.”

A nervous ripple of laughter went through the ballroom.  Actually, many people were at the Academy’s Governors Awards because they don’t — but want one.

The four-year-old event, which presents lifetime achievement Oscars to deserving individuals, has become a prime campaign spot for those hoping to persuade members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to vote for them.

In addition to Pennebaker, the recipients of the Governors Awards included American Film Institute founder George Stevens, Jr., DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg, and stuntman Hal Needham.

But the crowd of nearly 600 gathered at the Hollywood & Highland complex was an unabashed cavalcade of awards contenders: Lincoln director Steven Spielberg stood talking with Les Miserables filmmaker Tom Hooper; Zero Dark Thirty director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal attended with cast members Edgar Ramirez and Jason Clarke; Christopher Nolan was the standard-bearer for The Dark Knight Rises, and Quentin Tarantino was there, hot off the debut screening of Django Unchained hours earlier at the Directors Guild of America.

Among the potential Best Actors in the crowd were The Sessions’ John Hawkes and Silver Linings Playbook’s Bradley Cooper, while Ewan McGregor from The Impossible and Emayatzy Corinealdi from Middle of Nowhere also made the rounds, and even 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis stayed up late for the event with her Beasts of the Southern Wild co-star Dwight Henry.

Lincoln screenwriter Tony Kushner chatted with The Perks of Being a Wallflower author/screenwriter/director Stephen Chbosky, and The Master’s Amy Adams and On The Road’s Kristen Stewart were there among the possible supporting actresses. There almost seemed to be more wannabe nominees than voters – which led to the nervous chuckles when Pennebaker assumed most of the room had already won one of those golden statuettes.

Although movie fans have been seriously talking Oscars since September, this evening is like Academy Award speed-dating, with wannabe nominees doing their best to meet and greet members before nominations voting begins Dec. 17.

Talking to voters tonight, there seems to be a consensus on at least six sure-things for Best Picture: Argo, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty.

The room was buzzing over Django Unchained. Few at the Governors Awards had seen it, but everyone wanted to know what the word was on Tarantino’s southern-fried vengeance tale. (Early reaction from those who were at the DGA showing seems strong.) As it begins screening this coming week, we’ll get a better sense of where it stands.

The big, unresolved question is what could be the bottom four? The Academy’s rules allow for as few as five or as many as 10 Best Picture contenders, depending on how many get enough No. 1 votes.

The Impossible? The Master? Flight? Perhaps some offbeat darling such as Moonrise Kingdom or Beasts of the Southern Wild? Or maybe one of the big studio crowdpleasers: The Hobbit or The Dark Knight Rises?

Ask a different person and you’d get a different answer. Voters are all over the map on those choices, but the top six – those are definite. Where they rank… ?  That also changes with each voter.

Of course, they came not just to schmooze, but to pay tribute to the four honorees.

NEXT PAGE: Details on the presentations for Pennebaker,  Stevens, Needham, and Katzenberg

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