BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – Some are old hands at Hollywood's big night, where they have come away triumphant. Some are veterans who have gone home empty-handed year after year. Others are brand new to the party.
About 115 nominees came together Monday for a lunch honoring contenders at the77th Academy Awards (search). All said breaking bread together brings a spirit of camaraderie rather than competition.
Four-time nominee Kate Winslet (search), a best-actress contender this year for the offbeat romance "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," said the group met as friends, not Oscar rivals.
"It doesn't feel competitive. It really doesn't," Winslet said. "It's like you're all going through this thing together, and it's just so kind of exciting and mysterious and strange and glorious. And you're all sort of in the bubble together."
Dual nominee Jamie Foxx (search), the best-actor front-runner for the title role in the Ray Charles tale "Ray," said though he's been busy making acceptance speeches for the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards and other film honors, he hasn't run out of steam.
"There are so many things that I want to say, I could never run out of things," said Foxx, also nominated as supporting actor for the hitman thriller "Collateral." "Like I've always said to my friends, even when we dreamt of what we want to be, we never dreamt this."
One of the big questions for Feb. 27 is whether Martin Scorsese (search) finally will come away with the best-director prize after four previous losses. The man who made such modern classics as "Raging Bull" and "GoodFellas" said maybe it was better to lose earlier in his career.
"It would be wonderful to win, I think," said Scorsese, nominated for the Howard Hughes epic "The Aviator," which leads the field with 11 nominations and is in a two-horse race for best picture with the boxing drama "Million Dollar Baby." "It probably is better I didn't win in the '70s or mid '80s or something."
Winning then, Scorsese said, is something "maybe I was not able to handle at the time."
Scorsese is going against director Clint Eastwood, whose "Million Dollar Baby" star Hilary Swank also finds herself in a two-woman contest for best actress against Annette Bening, nominated for the theater farce "Being Julia."
Five years ago, Bening was the best-actress favorite for "American Beauty," but relative unknown Swank pulled an upset win for "Boy's Don't Cry." At the Oscar lunch, someone asked Bening if the rematch against Swank was an instance of "cosmic humor."
"Cosmic humor, that's a great way of putting it. It's just a fun coincidence. She's a great actress and she's great in the picture," Bening said. "It's just one of those coincidences, and it's a good story, I guess."
Swank said the awards are equally nerve-racking, even after her previous Oscar.
"I'm just as in awe and humbled and speechless that I am in this position again," Swank said. "And it's certainly not any easier. You're still just as nervous, you still can't believe it. So I'm just trying to be in the moment and appreciate it."
Sophie Okonedo's supporting actress nomination for the genocide drama "Hotel Rwanda" has been an abrupt shift into Hollywood's limelight for 15-year British stage veteran who's relatively new to film.
"My life is unrecognizable to what it was before. I'm not well known at all here," Okonedo said. "I haven't had quite time to adjust. I'm not used to having so much attention, so that's quite shocking."
Virginia Madsen, nominated for supporting actress for the road-trip romance "Sideways," said she now has opportunities to work on big movies with major actors and filmmakers. Before her Oscar nomination, Madsen would periodically call her agent and meekly ask, "You got anything for me?"
"Everything's changed in my career," Madsen said. "I was just writing a letter to someone today who I couldn't believe I was writing a letter to, who was saying, `Have you read my script yet?' And I was saying I can't believe that there's so much interest out there now in me and that I have this stack of scripts for budgets that are over $1 million. That's new for my career."