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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 February 2007, 09:24 GMT
Lunch with the Oscar nominees
By Peter Bowes
BBC News, Los Angeles

Stars of the big screen including Will Smith, Dame Helen Mirren and Penelope Cruz have attended the annual Oscar nominees luncheon in Los Angeles.

In keeping with tradition - at least for the past 26 years - the latest batch of Oscar nominees gathered at a Beverly Hills hotel to bask in their collective moment of glory.

Will Smith
Will Smith is nominated for his role in The Pursuit of Happyness

More than 140 nominees turned up to enjoy the hospitality. They dined on a menu of smoked salmon canape with dill mousse, Italian herb marinated breast of chicken and sorbets in a chocolate cup.

The luncheon, hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is designed to offer the stars a relaxing respite from the rigours of an awards season that focuses on campaigning and photo-ops.

At this stage in the game the nominees are all considered to be winners. They were all presented with a certificate marking their achievement.

Before sitting down at the gala lunch, the nominees were offered an opportunity to field a few questions from the media.

"This particular event is like the best one of all the things involved with the Oscars," said Will Smith, a second-time Academy Award nominee.

"It's so not competition, it's really celebration for me now," he explained.

Dame Helen Mirren
Dame Helen Mirren joked about voting for herself

Smith is one of the hopefuls in the best actor category for The Pursuit of Happyness.

Dame Helen Mirren reflected on the "awful moral dilemma" of being an Academy member with the ability to swing the vote in her own favour.

"You think, 'I can't vote for myself, that's outrageous', and then you think 'but maybe it's the one vote.''"

Asked how she resolved the dilemma, Dame Helen responded with a wry smile.

"You know what I did."

I still haven't completely assimilated and understood what's happening
Penelope Cruz

The 61-year old nominee has dominated the awards season with wins at almost every other ceremony for her role in The Queen.

She joked that she needed to create extra space at her home to accommodate all the prizes.

"I've decided to build an extension to my house. It's going to have a revolving plinth with special lights on it and there's going to be a loop of all my acceptance speeches."

Dame Helen is up against fellow British actresses Dame Judi Dench and Kate Winslet, who were both absent from the luncheon.

Penelope Cruz, another nominee in the best actress category, for Volver, said she was overwhelmed by the experience.

Jennifer Hudson
Oscar hopeful Jennifer Hudson said she felt 'like a Dreamgirl'

"I still haven't completely assimilated and understood what's happening. It's really exciting for me," she said.

"It's a huge honour to be nominated - to be in the company of these amazing actresses. It's such a strong year."

Familiar faces aside, the vast majority of the Oscar nominees are behind-the-scenes film-makers who rarely get to enjoy the limelight.

Kevin O'Connell, a sound-mixer, attended the luncheon to celebrate his 19th Oscar nomination. He has never won.

He said he had hung on to every nomination certificate and still held out hope of taking home a golden statue.

"I don't have any more room on the wall but I've got plenty of room on the mantel," said O'Connell, who is nominated for his work on Apocalypto.

"I've never given up and I keep a good attitude about it and it's an honour every year to be nominated."

One of this year's hot favourites, former American Idol contestant, Jennifer Hudson, is a first-time nominee for her role in the musical Dreamgirls.

"I feel like a true Dreamgirl today," she said.

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