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Steven Spielberg praises stellar year of cinema as Oscar nominees converge

LOS ANGELES, United States — Steven Spielberg praised a stellar year for cinema as Oscars rivals gathered in a packed Beverly Hills ballroom for the Academy's annual nominee luncheon.

The event brought together A-list stars, directors, producers and behind-the-scenes artists, offering them a chance to meet the competition and charm a few voters over champagne and canapes ahead of next month's awards.

"Oppenheimer" is widely thought to be leading the race for best picture at the Academy Awards on March 10, but Spielberg — a producer on rival movie "Maestro" — said it had also been a banner year beyond Christopher Nolan's atomic age drama.

"This has been a great and eclectic year for films — one of the best years in terms of high quality, in my opinion, of the past decade," he said.

"Maestro," Bradley Cooper's biopic of legendary conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein, "is Bradley's triumph," said Spielberg.

The two movies are part of a widely acclaimed and wildly diverse best picture shortlist, spanning from the billion dollar-grossing "Barbie" to festival hits such as "American Fiction," "The Holdovers," "Past Lives," and "The Zone of Interest."

Any potential hostilities or tensions between rivals were absent at the gala on Monday.

Emma Stone and Lily Gladstone — the two frontrunners for best actress with "Poor Things" and "Killers of the Flower Moon," respectively, who have both been campaigning hard for months — shared a long private chat and emotional hug before heading off to mingle.

Robert Downey Jr, the best supporting actor favorite for "Oppenheimer," kept his fellow nominees entertained with a joke while a giant "class photo" of the hundreds of nominees had to be retaken.

And while Margot Robbie and Greta Gerwig may have been  "snubbed," according to some, in the Oscars' best actress and best director categories, both attended on behalf of the blockbuster movie anyway.

Related:  'Oppenheimer,' 'Poor Things' lead Oscars 2024 nominations as 'Barbie' gets snubs

Gerwig received perhaps the loudest cheer of the day as her nomination for writing the film's screenplay was announced, while pink-clad Robbie — a producer of "Barbie" — was a popular figure in