BEVERLY HILLS, California – Optimism reigned among Academy Awards nominees — both on their films' prospects and the chances that Hollywood's crippling writers strike will end in time for the Oscar show to go on as planned.
"I'm a positive individual. I think the sun will come up tomorrow," said Viggo Mortensen, a best-actor contender for the crime tale "Eastern Promises," who was among about 120 nominees attending the annual Oscar luncheon on Monday. "I think that there will be a proper Oscars, and I think that `Eastern Promises' has a good chance to win an award."
The fate of the Oscars on Feb. 24 remains uncertain but looks brighter as the Writers Guild of America makes progress on a new contract with producers that would end the union's three-month-old strike.
Insiders say writers and producers made a breakthrough on negotiations late last week that has left everyone in Hollywood hopeful that the labor quarrel would be settled. That would allow the Oscars to avoid the fate that has been looming since the Golden Globes, whose glitzy telecast was scrapped after stars made it clear they would stay away in honor of writers' picket lines.
"I don't think it's looming any more," said Brad Bird, an Oscar winner for best animated film with "The Incredibles" who is nominated in the same category for "Ratatouille." "I think it's more like, hiding in the bushes."
George Clooney, a supporting-actor winner for "Syriana" who is nominated as best actor this time for the legal drama "Michael Clayton," repeated his vow that he would not attend the Oscars if it meant crossing picket lines. But he said the deal in the works between writers and producers has a good shot at success.
Nominees said they would be thrilled if the Oscars can go on, though it was more important that hardships be resolved for writers and others in Hollywood left unemployed by the strike, which has shut down TV productions and delayed some movies.
"It's my absolute hope we get to go and get dressed up, but I think in the framework of all the people who have been out of work and all the economics that has wreaked such havoc in so many people's lives, I think that whether I want to get dressed up and go to a party is a little bit less important," said Tony Gilroy, a best-director nominee for "Michael Clayton."
The lunch menu included salad with goat cheese and walnuts, a main course of salmon fillet and chocolate mousse for dessert.
Oscar organizers, insisting that the show will go on with or without writers and stars, have made contingency plans for a ceremony that would include extensive film clips and history.
Sid Ganis, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, told nominees at the luncheon that Oscar planners hope "all of us can be gathered in a room together that night."
"The Oscar exists to shine the brightest possible light on you and your work," Ganis said. "It would be such a terrible shame through no fault of yours and no fault of ours if the current conditions prevented us from shining that brightest possible light."
Strike talk took a backseat to backslapping at the luncheon, a loose gathering where nominees come together to congratulate one another, celebrate the year's film achievements and poke some fun.
Of his "Michael Clayton" star Clooney, writer-director Gilroy said: "He's better at the job of being a movie star than I think anybody who's ever done it. ... He really is the Michael Jordan of movie stars."
When he heard about the remark, Clooney joked that Gilroy "plays a drunken writer better than anybody."
Asked about her outfit, a black-and-white striped dress, best-actress nominee Ellen Page of the teen pregnancy comedy "Juno" wisecracked that "I took my old prison uniform and then just learned how to sew, and I made it into a dress."
Page, a first-time nominee for what has proved her breakout role, said the Oscar experience has been surreal.
"It doesn't always feel right when you're being associated with four women and just a group of people who I have so much respect for and so much admiration for," Page said. "It feels like, are you sure? Do you want to double-check that?"
Amy Ryan, a first-time nominee as supporting actress for the missing-child drama "Gone Baby Gone," said she had not yet chosen what to wear at the Oscars but had a notion to keep it simple.
"Less is more. I'm thinking more Princess Grace, Grace Kelly," Ryan said. "I want to look back on photos 20 years from now, and I want it to be timeless."