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Oscar Nominees Honored at Luncheon

As Hollywood prepares for the annual Academy Awards, or Oscars, this year's nominees took some time Monday to reflect on the competition. Nominees gathered in Beverly Hills, California, for a luncheon in their honor, and many spoke beforehand with the news media. With the Oscar countdown under way, the performers and filmmakers talked about what it means to win an Oscar.

For actor Alan Alda, a longtime fixture on American television, even an Oscar nomination means a lot. He will compete for best supporting actor for his role as a corrupt US senator in the big screen spectacle The Aviator. The film tells the story of eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes.

"This nomination means so much for me, I can't tell you, especially coming at this point in my life. I was 69 a couple of days after I got the nomination, and I didn't expect it," he says.

Laura Linney is a nominee for her supporting role in Kinsey, in which she plays the wife of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey. She says the nomination provides a career boost and allows her to keep working.

She adds celebrations like this luncheon offer a break from making movies. "I enjoy this event particularly. This is really a lovely, lovely event, and allows all of us to take a bit of a deep breath and look around the room and congratulate each other and have a moment to
let it all sink in," she says.

Friends of director Martin Scorsese say an Oscar win is long overdue for the veteran filmmaker. His epic The Aviator is up for 11 Oscars, and Mr. Scorsese is a contender for best director. He has had four nominations in that category before, but has never won.

"To win would be really wonderful. If not, hopefully the picture could garner a few nods, which would help the picture. This is the main thing for me at this point," he says.

In the race for best director, however, filmmaker Clint Eastwood may have an edge. His Million Dollar Baby, the tale of a woman boxer, earned him the top award from the Directors Guild this year.

Actor Jamie Foxx is a double Oscar nominee, for his supporting role in Collateral, a tale about a hit-man, and his leading role in Ray, a film about music legend Ray Charles. Foxx's starring performance in Ray brought him the top award for actors from the Screen Actors Guild this
year, and he's happy to be competing for an Oscar.

It's a beautiful and a wonderful thing, this happening, and the most interesting thing is meeting all the people you've always looked up to, whether it be Clint Eastwood, whether it be Morgan Freeman, Denzel [Washington]. It's an amazing time," he says.

British performer Sophie Okonedo is a nominee for her supporting role in Hotel Rwanda, a story about the Rwandan genocide. She says the film tells a compelling tale about a shameful event, but offered a great opportunity for her as an actress.

"I mean, I'm not well known at all here. I've been a theater actress for 15 years, living my life in London, and to suddenly do my second or third movie, and the first time I've ever played a lead part in a movie and get nominated for an Oscar is wonderful, to say the least," she says.

Ms. Okonedo's costar in Hotel Rwanda, Don Cheadle, is a nominee for best actor. He faces tough competition, however, from Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays billionaire playboy Howard Hughes in The Aviator, and Jamie Foxx for his role as Ray Charles in Ray.

Hilary Swank, who earned the top award for actresses from the Screen Actors Guild, will also compete for an Oscar for her role as a woman boxer in Million Dollar Baby. She says the women whose story is told in the film provided her inspiration, and the movie allows viewers to see life through their eyes.

"And I think that's the great thing about art and movies, is that they make us thing about the world in different ways and how things can be done. That's just my job, is to service the story and to get out of its way, really," she says.

The stars will be in the spotlight February 27, when the Oscars will be presented in Hollywood.