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George Clooney says the best thing about Academy Awards nominations is not necessarily the prizes. It's hanging with old and new friends.
At the annual Oscar nominee luncheon Monday, Clooney said he's made new pals on the awards circuit this season and has been happy to catch up with longtime friends such as Viola Davis and Brad Pitt, his co-star in the "Ocean's Eleven" movies.
"A lot of people at home think we all hang out together. I think they think we're always at the Hilton drinking champagne. The truth is I hadn't seen Brad in about a year" until they crossed paths around the time of January's Golden Globes, Clooney told reporters before sitting down to lunch. "So it's fun to catch up, and it's fun to see people I like and haven't seen in a long time."
Both are up for the best-actor Oscar — Clooney for "The Descendants" and Pitt for "Moneyball."
Clooney said he also has had fun getting to know other nominees such as best-actor contenders Gary Oldman of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," Jean Dujardin of "The Artist" and Demian Bichir of "A Better Life."
Pitt joked that like Clooney, awards season has allowed him to make a lot of new acquaintances.
"I met this guy named George," Pitt said, stumbling over the pronunciation of the name, "G-g-george, Jorge Clooney. Very nice guy. Very personable and very nice guy."
Along with Clooney and Pitt, others among the 150 nominees at the luncheon included "The Help" co-stars Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer; "Albert Nobbs" co-stars Glenn Close and Janet McTeer; "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" star Rooney Mara; "My Week with Marilyn" co-stars Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh; "The Artist" co-star Berenice Bejo; and "Hugo" director Martin Scorsese.
Davis, who appeared in Clooney's "Out of Sight" and "Solaris," has been such good friends with the superstar that he invited her and her husband to spend their honeymoon at his villa in Italy. She recalled having four- and five-course meals a day as the only guests at his 22-room home. But Davis said such romantic getaways and the glamorous get-ups she puts on for awards shows are not part of her daily life.
"If you guys could see me when I'm at home with my cornrows," Davis said. "I am not a glam woman. This definitely is a mask I put on for the public. My biggest fear is that paparazzi with some, like, lens is going to come into my backyard and see me when I get in my pool. That would be very unfortunate."
Six-time nominee Close recalled coming to the Oscar luncheon when she was first nominated for 1982's "The World According to Garp" and "being astounded that I met some people who were really almost hyperventilating as to whether they were going to win or not. And I have never understood that, because you just do the simple math."
Close weighed being one of five best-actress nominees against the astronomical odds against success in show business, with the number of actors out of work at any given time and the sheer number of movies made each year.
"And then you're one of five," Close said. "How could you possibly think of yourself as a loser?"
Spencer, the supporting-actress front-runner, said she still remains star-struck being in the same room with superstars she has admired during a long career toiling in small TV and film roles before her breakout performance in "The Help."
"It's just a bunch of really normal people who happen to be named Glenn Close and George Clooney and Brad Pitt," Spencer said. "Sometimes, you just find yourself ogling them. I still do. I think I've kind of mauled everyone thus far."
Though she's new to the Oscars, Spencer has old friends herself among the field. She and fellow supporting-actress nominee Melissa McCarthy, a rare contender in a mainstream comedy for "Bridesmaids," have been pals for years.
McCarthy said the whirlwind of her Oscar success has made her reflect on her early career, struggling to land a TV commercial or two a year so she would not have to go back to waiting tables.
"It's been a pretty amazing, surreal year," McCarthy said. "I keep pinching myself, and I really hope I don't get the call where someone says, 'Kidding, kidding.'"
The menu for Hollywood's most-exclusive lunch included chopped vegetable salad; hors d'ouevres featuring Indochina spiced beef and roasted Asian barbecue duck; a main course of Atlantic salmon; and sorbet with mango sauce and berries for dessert.
Nominees also posed for a group photograph.
The next time the 2011 nominees will gather is on Oscar night Feb. 26. The 84th annual awards show will be televised live on ABC from Hollywood's Kodak Theatre.
Brian Grazer, a producer of the broadcast, told the luncheon crowd that the Kodak will be redesigned to look like "a timeless movie theater."
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