Meet the class of 2017.
This year’s Oscars hopefuls gathered on Monday for the annual Nominees Luncheon in Los Angeles. The star-studded event saw a bevy of nominees attend, including Natalie Portman, Viola Davis, Michelle Williams, Matt Damon, Octavia Spencer, Nicole Kidman, Dev Patel and Emma Stone, among others.
The event offered a relatively low-key environment in which the stars could mingle, dine and enjoy drinks ahead of the big night.
In welcoming this year’s nominees, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs paid tribute to their collective achievement while also speaking out about the importance of diversity following last year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy.
“This luncheon is a tradition and a chance to spend an hour to relax and reflect. The photo is more than a snapshot. It is a signature milestone ensuring your place in movie history,” she said. “What a difference a year makes. Real progress has been made. When we expand our membership and reach out to be inclusive, we set a shiny example.”
“You may notice a few empty seats here today,” she said. “Art has no borders and doesn’t belong to a single faith. Strong societies don’t censor art, they celebrate it. America should always be not a barrier but a beacon. All creative artist around the world are connected. Our work does not stop at borders, and borders cannot stop any of us.”
More than 165 nominees were expected to show up on Monday to raise a group toast, pick up their official certificates of nomination and pose for a keepsake “class of 2017 photo” on a dais packed with A-listers at the Beverly Hilton.
Here’s a behind a behind-the-scenes look at the coolest lunch in town:
- Dev Patel and Octavia Spencer were the first celebs to arrive, followed by Mel Gibson and a very pregnant Natalie Portman wearing flats and a black dress.
- Justin Timberlake made his entrance and high-fived Matt Damon, who later photo-bombed a picture of Timberlake and Casey Affleck.
- Laura Dern caught up with Nicole Kidman after telling the Lion actress, “You look gorgeous!”
- Spencer told PEOPLE about the lunch, “This is so fun. It’s like graduation day. You get to see everyone!”
- The Help reunion! Emma Stone, who brought her mom as her date, caught up with Octavia Spencer, and the two later walked over to Viola Davis’ table, where Stone gave Davis a big hug.
- Guests dined on Chilean sea bass with couscous, which was followed by fresh banana cream and cinnamon graham tart for dessert.
- Attendees are treated to a video starring Kate McKinnon as an old, fictitious movie star named Gloria Concave. In the video, Concave explains the do’s and don’ts of being a nominee, complete with examples of what happens to those who don’t follow the rules. “Be concise — you only have 45 seconds before being pelted by cured meats by some Italians,” McKinnon explains.
The 89th Academy Awards, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, will air live on ABC at 8:30 p.m. ET on Feb. 26.