Oscar nominees meet the competition

— It's an annual ritual for Gil Cates. The producer of the Academy Awards ceremony begs nominees to please, please keep their acceptance speeches short.

"I've done this every year for 10 years," Cates told Oscar hopefuls at the Motion Picture Academy's annual pre-awards luncheon on Monday. "I've tried to be charming and humorous. I've tried persuasion and bribery. It all comes down to my belief that brevity is next to godliness."

Academy President Robert Rehme told the Beverly Hilton Hotel audience that when the gathering first was suggested in 1982, Academy officials said they were busy enough in March without it.

"But we had it anyway, and 40 nominees appeared at the first luncheon," Rehme said. "It has been a success, and today we have 100 nominees, the biggest turnout in the luncheon's 20-year history."

This year, a record number of acting nominees showed up � 15 out of 20.

The luncheons have become ritualistic after two decades: the class photo, the assurance by the academy president that the nomination was a victory in itself, then the nomination certificates and souvenir sweat shirts.

Acting nominees were generally modest during a news conference afterward.

Tom Hanks, who's up for best actor for "Cast Away," was asked what his chances were for winning the Oscar. "One in five," he answered.

Geoffrey Rush, nominated for playing the Marquis de Sade in "Quills," said he and Hanks agreed that the only fair measure of the best actor would be for the performers to exchange roles.

Both said their first choice would be Russell Crowe's character in "Gladiator." When a reporter asked how he would play the role, Rush replied: "First of all, I would require padding."

Kate Hudson, up for best supporting actress for "Almost Famous," told of growing up with an Oscar on her mantel, which her mother, Goldie Hawn, won for her supporting role in 1969's "Cactus Flower."

"One time when my parents were out of town, we had a party with about 500 people," Hudson said. "After it was all over, my brother and I wondered about the Oscar. We hurried downstairs and saw to our relief that it was still there."

The 73rd Academy Awards will be presented March 25 in a live broadcast on ABC-TV.

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