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Entertainment

2024 Oscar Nominees Luncheon: Best Looks and ‘Anatomy of a Fall Dog’

At the annual Oscar nominees luncheon, there’s always a front-runner that even a ballroom full of stars will be clamoring to meet. Last year, that honor went to “Top Gun: Maverick” producer Tom Cruise, a star so huge that the other nominees began circling around him, waiting for the moment they could rush to kiss the ring .

Monday afternoon’s luncheon at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif., initially seemed to lack that supernova presence, even though there were plenty of famous names there, including Robert Downey Jr., Emma Stone and Martin Scorsese. Yet they’re all too accustomed to each other to engage in any major genuflection: When you treat an awards campaign as a full-time job, the other contenders might as well be your colleagues.

Was there anyone who could revive this star-studded but dormant scene? I didn’t think so, until I saw supporting actress nominee America Ferrera turn to her left, look down and gasp.

“Oh my God!” she exclaimed. “It’s the actor dog!”

At his feet was Messi, the beautiful black-and-white Border Collie from the French legal drama “Anatomy of a Fall.” I gasped too, and not just because I’m a dog lover: It was Messi’s first major awards season appearance, although his star has been rising on social media for a performance comparable to that of some of the nominated humans.

As Snoop, the family pet who witnesses the controversial death at the heart of “Anatomy of a Fall,” Messi, 7, does things you wouldn’t believe a canine comedian is capable of, including an unnervingly executed fake death scene. aplomb. At the Cannes Film Festival, where “Anatomy of a Fall” won the prestigious Palme d’Or, Messi was even awarded the Palm Dog. What more could a dog want other than treats?

Although I’ve been to many awards season events where the stars were kept on a leash by their handlers, this luncheon was the first time it wasn’t metaphorical. “Can I say hello?” Ferrera asked Messi’s owner and trainer, Laura Martin Contini.

“Please!” Contini said.

Ferrera knelt down next to Messi and stroked his head. “You did a fabulous job,” she told the dog.

Gazing at us with a pair of impossibly human blue eyes, Messi happily accepted Ferrera’s praise and neck rubs, which his ‘Barbie’ colleagues were equally enamored with. Billie Eilish, nominated for her song “Barbie” “What Was I Made For?” », placed his Gucci bag on the ground to scratch Messi under his chin. Later, when Ryan Gosling was introduced to the dog, the nominated supporting actor put his hand over his heart and walked away for a moment, upset.

For once, the best dog at lunch was a real dog. “It’s crazy,” said Justine Triet, director of “Anatomy of a Fall.” “I think he is much more famous here than in France.”

Navigating the Hollywood scene for the first time, Messi handled the room like a pro, politely accepting hugs from everyone who passed him. Despite the fact that he wore a blue bow tie and nothing else – an award look that even Timothée Chalamet would find too intimidating to attempt – Messi acted well, at least until Contini offered me a toy bone emblazoned with the Beverly Hilton logo.

Messi, who was scanning the room for more people to pet him, suddenly locked onto this toy bone with laser focus. It was like I had waved a Best Director nomination in front of Bradley Cooper, and all the other noise in the room died away when Messi asked me to play with him. “Are you sure?” I asked. The damn dog nodded.

I threw the bone and Messi leapt to the left, caught it in midair and nearly collided with a melee of Champagne drinkers. Needless to say, it wasn’t the kind of scene you get with Meryl Streep.

Even though Messi proved to be the luncheon’s biggest draw, the event was still designed to encourage unusual connections, bringing together name actors, behind-the-scenes technicians and documentary subjects for an electric, egalitarian afternoon . In a corner of the room, I met director Sean Wang, nominated for the short documentary “Nai Nai & Wai Po,” about his elderly grandmothers, Chang Li Hua and Yi Yan Fuei. The two women had come with Wang to lunch.

“I can’t even express how happy I am to think that my grandson could be in a place like this,” Yi said.

Raney Aronson-Rath, who produced the nominated documentary “20 Days in Mariupol,” told me she ventured out of her comfort zone to ask for a photo with “Barbie” star Margot Robbie.

“My daughter literally thinks I’m walking on water because I was able to take a picture with her,” she said.

Robbie received one of the biggest rounds of applause of the afternoon, when she was summoned to the risers at the front of the room to pose for a class photo with her fellow nominees. In the running to produce “Barbie,” Robbie was still the subject of a headline-grabbing snub when she failed to win the best actress selection. A similarly enthusiastic wave of applause greeted Greta Gerwig, who received a nomination for adapted screenplay but was eliminated from the best director category.

As the nominees gathered and the photo was taken, I checked in with Messi, who had settled into a table in the back next to Contini as she enjoyed vegan scallops. Cleared of all attention, Messi had spent the last 20 minutes falling in and out of sleep.

Tom Quinn, whose Neon studio distributed “Anatomy of a Fall,” sat on the steps next to Messi, silently administering scratches and a shoulder massage. Was this the kind of treatment exhausted candidates could count on from him?

“Only those who deserve it,” he said.

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