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US actor Will Smith and US actress Aunjanue Ellis arrive for the 94th Annual Oscars Nominees Luncheon at the Fairmont Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, March 7, 2022. Image Credit: AFP

The Oscar race may be heating up, but you wouldn’t know it to peek in on the nominees luncheon Monday in Los Angeles.

Attendees packed into a ballroom at the Fairmont Century City for the annual luncheon, where nominees get to mingle and celebrate. It was a long awaited homecoming for many after a year away due to the pandemic.

Before the lunch, nominees excitedly greeted one another. Will Smith and Denzel Washington, both best actor nominees this year, smiled and grabbed each other’s hands. ‘CODA’ Star Emilia Jones was signing with co-star Daniel Durant, who plays her brother in the movie.

Kristen Stewart arrived with her fiance Dylan Meyer, circling the room in her Chanel outfit, while Netflix exec Ted Sarandos shook hands with Questlove, whose documentary ‘Summer of Soul’ is nominated. Benedict Cumberbatch made his way around holding hands with wife Sophie Hunter.

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Kristen Stewart. Image Credit: AFP

Nominees continued mingling, ignoring the pleas to be seated.

“Just being back together without a hazmat suit is cause for celebration,” said Will Packer, who is producing the show this year. “This is a year like no other, this is THE year.”

During lunch most chose to ignore their quinoa salad. Bradley Cooper made sure to say hello to Questlove. Steven Spielberg was deep in conversation Paul Thomas Anderson. Both are nominated for best director.

The luncheon was a first for many including Andrew Garfield, a best actor nominee for ‘tick, tick.Boom.’ He said it was a “special moment” to be among fellow nominees like ‘PTA and Ariana,’ referring to Anderson and best supporting actress front-runner Ariana DeBose from ‘West Side Story’ who were standing close by.

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Andrew Garfield. Image Credit: AFP

Kim Morgan, the ‘Nightmare Alley’ screenwriter, was a little overwhelmed by the experience which was also her first time. “I’m a writer,” she said.

Osnat Shurer, an animation nominee for ‘Raya and the Last Dragon,’ said it was a joy to be at the luncheon. She was excited to tell Jessica Chastain that she loved her performance in ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye.’ What she didn’t expect was that Chastain was also a fan and frequent watcher of ‘Raya,’ thanks to her children.

Top of mind for many were the changes to the broadcast, in which eight categories are going to be presented off air before the show. While many have spoken out against the decision, some are supportive too.

Bill Corso, an Oscar winning hair and makeup artist, is one who was on the committee that made the decision. In 2004, he was given his Oscar in the aisle, another attempt to streamline the broadcast and, he said, it felt like he didn’t get his moment.

This change he hopes will let the winners have that moment on stage at the podium, which will be edited into the broadcast in a way that won’t be obvious to the viewing audience.