The Hollywood Foreign Press Association held its annual lunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel and presented a record $1,579,500 in financial grants to 46 film schools and nonprofit organizations. Over the past 17 years, the org best known for awarding Golden Globes in January has awarded $13.5 million through their grants program, according to newly elected HFPA president Aida Takla O’Reilly.

All this philanthropic activity comes even as the sometimes controversial group of foreign entertainment journalists remains embroiled in ongoing legal battles with their longtime Globes production company, Dick Clark Productions, over rights to their annual highly rated awards show on NBC (and an Emmy nominee this year) as well as another legal dust-up with former publicist Michael Russell.

Despite the legal woes and bad Wall Street news, the HFPA luncheon was an upbeat affair, drawing numerous entertainment execs like Fox’s Peter Rice, FX’s John Landgraf, Relativity’s Ryan Kavanaugh and Fox Searchlight’s Nancy Utley, among others. There was also the usual starry turnout to help hand out the checks including Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Walhberg, Gerard Butler, Kevin Bacon, Yoshiki Hayashi, Jessica Chastain, Hugh Dancy, Lea Michele, Taylor Lautner, Elizabeth Moss, Elizabeth Olsen, Jim Sturgess, Shohreh Aghdashloo and Gabriel Macht, who all took turns introducing each other in the fast-paced, breezy presentation.

Over the years, awards-season strategists have also seen the lunch as a great opportunity to get some of their potential awards contenders in front of a captive audience of HFPA voters, and it was no different this year as Butler, DiCaprio, Olsen and Chastain are all actors with upcoming releases expected to figure in year-end awards considerations. Last year at this lunch, for instance, I noticed Annette Bening and Nicole Kidman on the lineup, and both did end up with Globes (and Oscar) nods. The exposure certainly can’t hurt as they say, especially in the overly crowded fall field of contenders. At the very least, the luncheon sort of serves as one of those “unofficial” precursors of the impending season. “I guess it’s all starting all over again,” one awards consultant still suffering battle scars from last year wearily told me.

Still, the person getting the most attention in the room was one whose main awards haul has been only at fan-voted events like the MTV Movie Awards, Teen Choice and People’s Choice Awards, The Twilight Saga’s Taylor Lautner. Glee’s Lea Michele met him onstage like a drooling fan, “Oh my God, it’s Taylor Lautner”, she shrieked. And presenter Mark Wahlberg had words of warning about Lautner for fellow presenter DiCaprio. “Leo, I’m sitting at a table with a guy who’s better looking than you and in better shape than me. Boogie Nights and Titanic were a long time ago, pal. It’s over,” he said, pointing to the Twilight werewolf hunk who was on hand to accept a check for the Sundance Institute.

DiCaprio, an HFPA favorite who has been nominated seven times, won once for The Aviator and now stars in the upcoming Clint Eastwood drama J.Edgar, just announced for a Nov. 9 opening, was first up to accept the annual check on behalf of the Film Foundation, one of Martin Scorsese’s passion projects. “For Steven (Spielberg), Marty, Clint and all directors, I accept this on behalf of the partnership between the Film Foundation and the HFPA, which has donated $3 million over the last 15 years for our preservation and film restoration projects,” he said, noting that this year’s check would go to the restoration of The Tales Of Hoffman, Death of a Salesman and Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion. He also noted that previous HFPA grants helped restore such classics as the 1933 King Kong, How Green Was My Valley, The River, Paths of Glory, The Red Shoes and many others.