Before the annual Oscar luncheon Monday in Beverly Hills, the acting nominees stopped off at a little area to meet the press. The actors stood at a podium before two large replicas of the award for which they are in contention.

The odds that they would be any more forthcoming than the golden statues was, at best, negligible, but that didn't stop them from being charming - and even witty at times.

First up was George Clooney, looking elegant and relaxed (doesn't he always).

"I thought I'd get here early - free booze," quipped the actor, who has been nominated twice - for best actor for his role in Alexander Payne's "The Descendants" and for the adapted screenplay to "Ides of March."

Winners of the 84th annual Academy Awards will be announced Feb. 26 at the ceremony to be televised live on ABC from Hollywood's Kodak Theatre.

One reason Clooney says he enjoys the awards season is seeing old friends such as fellow nominee/competitor Brad Pitt, who is up for his lead role in "Moneyball."

"I know some of you think we all hang together but until recently I hadn't seen Brad in a year," Clooney said.

"I know they are constantly pitting Brad and me against each other," he said, eliciting a groan.

Then the actor/writer/director uttered a sentiment many would later echo - that essentially it was an honor to be nominated, adding that he would be happy if Payne - who has three nominations - won.

Pitt, who came to the podium with "Moneyball" co-star Jonah Hill (up for a best supporting actor award), later joked when asked about meeting new people this awards season. "I met this guy named G-g-george, Jorge." Then, looking quizzical, he added, "Clooney. Very nice guy. Very personable."

The actor then got a bit more serious when asked about the philanthropic and charitable works, like Clooney, that he's involved in.

"There's no question that we won the lottery," he said about his superstar status. "I feel very fortunate that I can pass that on in a way."

It wasn't all the George and Brad show, however, at the 31st annual Oscar luncheon, which like all those that preceded it was held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Some 150 of this year's 188 Academy Award nominees were in attendance.

Prior to the luncheon they mingled with friends and cohorts, before sitting down for a meal of Atlantic salmon.

The nominees posed on bleachers for their "class picture," received a certificate acknowledging their achievements, and were lectured on being brief in their acceptance speech if they happen to be a lucky winner.

The Oscar campaign, of course, is in full gear. Monday night Pitt and Clooney were to take part in question-and-answer sessions for screenings of their respective films, "Moneyball" and "The Descendants."

"I love how they take your glass away before you come in," said a smiling Glenn Close, who received her sixth nomination for her lead role in "Albert Nobbs." "A lot of us are having champagne."

The actress says she did the math the first time she was nominated, in 1983 for "The World According to Garp," and realized then the long odds of getting recognized. "You're one of five. How could you ever think of yourself as a loser?" she said.

Best actress nominee Viola Davis of "The Help," wearing a hot-pink sleeveless dress, was asked about all the fashions involved during the awards season.

Michelle Williams, a Best Actress nominee for "My Week with Marilyn,"poses at the 31st Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon in Beverly Hills,Calif.,
Michelle Williams, a Best Actress nominee for "My Week with Marilyn," poses at the 31st Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon in Beverly Hills, Calif., Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. The 84th Academy Awards will be held in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 26. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
She just laughed and said, "If you guys could see me at home with my cornrows."

The questions, as might be expected being it was an international crowd, were all over the place, some in French and Spanish. Demi n Bichir of "A Better Life" was born in Mexico and Jean Dujardin of "The Artist" is French.

While Meryl Streep, who received her 17th nomination - a record for actors - for her role in "The Iron Lady" did not stop by to talk to the press, Gary Oldman ("Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"), did.

"I'm having the time of my life. ... With just a shift of perception you can embrace it or be overwhelmed by it," he said about the process. 

He was joined in the press room by Octavia Spencer ("The Help"), Janet McTeer ("Albert Nobbs"), Max von Sydow ("Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"), Rooney Mara ("The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"), Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh (both of "My Week with Marilyn") and Berenice Bejo ("The Artist").

Bichir, a relative unknown before the release of "A Better Life" - the story of an illegal immigrant in Los Angeles trying to provide for his son who was born in this country - said it was a bit surreal hanging out with Clooney and Pitt. But he said he hopes the film will open up a dialogue in this country.

"It could help a lot if the right people see the film and are touched by it," he said.

robert.lowman@dailynews.com

818-713-3687