Oscar On The Menu

In Beverly Hills Monday, the ladies - and gentlemen - who lunched were Oscar nominees.

The annual prelude to the Academy Award ceremony gathers as many nominees as possible together for a star-studed lunch.

Talk about an exclusive event. You have to earn an invitation to this luncheon, reports National Correspondent Hattie Kauffman reports for The Early Show.

The nominees were paraded before the press as well, and asked to make a comment or answer a question.

"I grew up knowing this is what I wanted to do," said Naomi Watts, best actress nominee for her "21 Grams" role. "I would dream that I would be a working actor and I would interview myself in the bathtub, and on toilet seats. Ha! But I was never thinking that it would turn into this."

Two former Oscar winners, Ben Kingsley and Benicio del Toro, have been to this lunch before. They're thrilled to be included again.

"Its very presidential, isn't this," Kingsley said as he stood at the podium. "I ought to bring my own crest." While del Toro makes sure everybody knows, "I'm collecting signatures, autographs."

Her role in "Whale Rider" earned Keisha Castle-Hughes an Oscar nod. At 13, Keisha's the youngest ever nominated in the best actress category. She said her teenage friends help keep it all in perspective.

"I was like, 'Oh my God, I can't believe it!' And they're like, 'It doesn't matter; you're still Keisha.' So they keep me just really grounded because sometimes I'm in magazines that we read all the time, I'm like, 'You'll never believe it.' They're like, 'So we just won't buy it.' I said, 'That's good." Making the crowd laugh.

The luncheon is a chance for the nominees to meet and mingle before the big competition. But in this shortened award season (the ceremony is in February this year, not March), tension is building.

Peter Weir, the director of "Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World" described the feeling this way:"In the final moments when the envelope's opened, some Stone Age thing comes out and you want to win. It's like an acid in your mouth, like a "ugh" horrible, and it's a relief."

Other nominated directors like Clint Eastwood and Sophia Coppola know their colleague Peter Jackson is the frontrunner. He's already won Best Director from the Director's Guild of America.

"I don't particularly feel like a favorite," Jackson said. "Favorites have a tendency to not win at the last minute. So I'm just going to wait and see."

Charlize Theron left her monstrous character behind and returned to the glamour of Hollywood, grateful for the role.

"Conflicted roles are very rare for women," she told the press. "And that was the first thing that really attracted me to this. This just felt like the kind of part that De Niro gets to do or Dustin Hoffman or Jack, you know."

Marcia Gay Harden is nominated as best supporting actress for her role in Clint Eastwood's "Mystic River." She arrived at the lunch seven months pregnant.

She said, "Babies are always a good sign, I mean, life and growth and hope. These guys are twins and I've heard that in other cultures, that is a sign of fame and fortune, so uhm, I'm waiting."

Everyone at the luncheon knows an Oscar nomination is a life-changing event.

"My mother makes it sink in more than anybody you know," Watts joked. "She calls me sort of on the hour, every day."

"The final priority is obviously here, " Harden said, patting her belly. "But I've been talking to my doc and he's said, 'You're going.' And I said, 'And I'm wearing heels.' So let's just stop right there. OK?"