The race to the Oscars is officially on. With less than three weeks to go, the 2014 Academy Award nominees flooded the International Ballroom at The Beverly Hilton Hotel for the 86th annual Oscar Nominees Luncheon hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Board of Governors. There, A-listers including Lupita Nyong’oCate BlanchettSandra BullockBradley Cooper, Matthew McConaughey, and more gathered for press interviews and – most gratifyingly — posed for their “class photo” as 2014’s Oscar hopefuls (a total number of 203 nominees!).

What makes this year’s awards ceremony thrilling is that not only are some of Hollywood’s most seasoned actors receiving Oscar recognition—see: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club), Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), and Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)—but this also marks a first for some of the industry’s newcomers, including Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) and Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips).

“Everybody regards the Oscars as the ultimate stamp of approval,”  Nyong’o says. “It’s a recognition of the highest.”

To go inside Hollywood’s annual Oscar luncheon, look through our gallery and see what your favorite actors had to say about their nominated roles. Then, tune in Sunday, March 2 at 7/6 c on ABC to see who will take home the gold! 

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Josephine Cusumano with reporting by Scott Huver