As he walked into the International Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton hotel earlier this afternoon, The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper looked around and said, “Now I guess it’s really happening. I really am a nominee.” This was a sentiment shared by more than a few who may have thought Oscar night came three weeks early as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences hauled out the giant Oscar statues and threw their 30th Annual Oscar Nominees Luncheon today. Clearly proud of the turnout (some nominees came from around the world to be there), Academy President Tom Sherak said a record 151 out of the 190 favored few showed up to lunch with fellow awardees and Academy officials as well as to receive their official certificate of nomination and the traditional sweatshirt with an Oscar logo on it. Sherak told the crowd that, after enduring months of pre-Oscar events and other awards shows, “the hardest thing you will have to do here is step on a riser and have your picture taken.” It’s definitely the feel-good event of the awards season. Everyone leaves still a winner with  none of the tension of Oscar night.

Shortly after the lunch started, the Academy’s Ric Robertson called on every nominee to go to the risers at the side of the room and line up for the class photo. Then he called out each one’s name to receive their certificate and take another photo with Sherak. Christopher Nolan interrupted his day of scouting locations for The Dark Knight Rises to attend. “It’s nice to break up the day for lunch,”  he told me before receiving two certificates for writing and producing Inception. Only Christian Bale among the 20 acting contenders was a no-show (he was filming in China), while five of the 6 directors  made it  (David Fincher was working on The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo). The majority of producers were also in attendance but one didn’t make it was Scott Rudin who had rare dual Best Picture nods for True Grit and The Social Network but was recovering from pneumonia. His co-producers Dana Brunetti and Michael DeLuca did make it, with DeLuca telling me, “This whole experience has been amazing. I don’t take it for granted. I may never get here again.” He was so excited to get his certificate that, when his name was called, he was the only nominee to actually climb over the back wall of the risers to get to the stage. (The rest just walked down the steps.)

It was like something out of a high school graduation lineup as each person was called alphabetically, beginning with Best Supporting Actress nominee Amy Adams and ending with True Grit costume designer Mary Zophres while friends and family crowded around to take photos with their cellphones. Javier Bardem stood next to Natalie Portman, David Seidler, and Mike Medavoy. Nicole Kidman and James Franco book-ended the big Oscar statue.  Geoffrey Rush stood next to Jesse Eisenberg, while Annette Bening sat on Jeff Bridges’ lap. Hard to tell this year who got the biggest applause from the Academy’s voter-heavy audience, but among those receiving the heartiest handclaps was Bardem, Bening (who seemed to get an even bigger boost from all her many fellow Academy Governors in the room), Portman, Colin Firth, Hailee Steinfeld, Michelle Williams, and Zophres who got a rousing ovation just for standing on those risers the longest time.

Sherak explained why there are no Black Swan or Social Network tables: everyone is seated randomly with nominees from different films. At my table (I drew #1 in the lottery at the press check-in) sat Black Swan Best Actress nominee Natalie Portman, True Grit sound mixer Gregory Orloff, Harry Potter Art Director Stuart Craig, The Wolfman’s 6-time Oscarwinning Makeup genius Rick Baker, and past Academy President Robert Rehme (one of several past presidents today) who told Orloff that he’d worked on the original True Grit marketing campaign 41 years ago and thought Jeff Bridges was even better than John Wayne. When I asked Portman what the difference was between this nomination and her only other in 2004 for Supporting Actress in Closer, she said, “I was studying in Israel then so it wasn’t crazy like it is now. It seemed more pure that way,” she recalled. Baker was asking her about her dance training since both his daughters are budding ballerinas themselves.

Bardem was sitting at the table next to us and brought his Biutiful director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu as his plus-one even though Inarritu is a potential Oscarwinner himself since the film is also up for Best Foreign Language Picture. Inarritu was happy to be there no matter how he got invited. The Academy doesn’t invite the foreign language nominees to the luncheon since technically it is the countries that are nominated even though it is the director that receives the Oscar. By the way, the Academy does a separate event just for those nominees on Oscar weekend.

Both composers, 19-time nominee and 8-time winner Alan Menken and two-time winner A.R. Rahman, told me they were thrilled that the nominated songs were going to be performed on the Oscar telecast again  this year after being bumped by last year’s producers. The duo will be accompanying their songs on the show. Speaking of the show, Oscarcast producers Don Mischer and Bruce Cohen spoke to the crowd at the end of the luncheon extolling them to be brief and heartfelt in their acceptance speeches. Mischer introduced a new graphic that will slowly wind down to a warning to “wrap it up” at the 45-second mark. He said they have done minute by minute research on past awards shows and discover they lose “hundreds of thousands” of viewers when winners rattle off a list that drags on to long.

The producers showed a specially produced DVD by Tom Hanks with instructions on how to make a speech at the Oscars and said it will be sent to all the nominees this year, complete with an interactive feature so they can practice at home. Bruce Cohen also said a questionnaire has been sent for’s Q&A’s. The pre-show will feature a “Mominees” segment in which mothers will tweet about their nominated kid. If the moms don’t know the technology required, Cohen said the Academy will teach them. (Natalie Portman leaned over to me at that point and said, “No way! My mother would be terrified”. She said she’s trying to get enough tickets so her parents and fiancée can all attend with her.) Finally, the producers noted they’ll play off this year’s Academy Awards mantra of “You’re Invited”  by making the worldwide audience feel part of the show more than ever before.

And, if they didn’t before getting to the Academy’s bash today, this year’s nominees certainly feel they are a part of it now. Big-time.