By Gregg Kilday
Promising an Oscar show that will be "truly different," Academy president Sid Ganis used the annual Nominees Luncheon to put this year's awards hopefuls on notice.
Teasingly withholding actual specifics, Ganis on Monday warned that "it's going to be a show that takes some risks." Speaking directly to the actors, he warned, "Your categories are being presented in a completely different way. Heads up."
Turning to the entire room full of 112 nominees gathered at the Beverly Hilton's International Ballroom, he added, "Cinematographers, editors, composers. All of you guys. You're in for a big surprise."
In hopes of stemming a ratings decline, the Academy has enlisted a new team, headed by producer Laurence Mark and exec producer Bill Condon, to give the 81st annual Academy Awards a makeover. ABC will broadcast the show live from the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood on Feb. 22.
In an effort to build suspense, the producers are attempting to withhold details about the event, which will be hosted by Hugh Jackman. This year, for example, the names of the celebrity presenters are not being announced ahead of the broadcast in hopes of piquing viewers' interest.
Traditionally, the show's producer speaks at the luncheon, usually exhorting the eventual winners to avoid reading lists of thank yous. But while Mark and Condon mingled with the guests, they avoided the podium, leaving it to Ganis to make the annual appeal.
"If you insist on reading from a list, Larry and Bill just hope you're going to cry while you do it," he joked.
The luncheon, at which the nominees are presented certificates marking their nominations as well as commemorative sweatshirts, is one of the awards' seasons few non-competitive events.
And so, as the nominees gathered for a group portrait, best actor rivals Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke were virtually arm-in-arm, while best actress nominee Kate Winslet whispered to supporting actress nominee Marisa Tomei, who giggled in return.
While Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as well as Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman did not drop by for lunch, the other acting nominees were all front and center as the Oscar countdown continues.