AFP

LOS ANGELES-US actor Jonah Hill joked that he would paint Martin Scorsese's house if the film legend asked him to, as he and "The Wolf of Wall Street" star Leonardo DiCaprio praised the veteran director.

Hill, who was paid only $60,000 for his role Scorsese's latest film, said he couldn't believe he had been nominated for an Oscar - but said he will have a speech ready just in case for the Academy Awards show on March 2.  Asked if he would negotiate a better deal with Scorsese next time, he said at a lunch for this year's Oscar nominees: "I wouldn't care, honestly.

"Martin Scorsese is my favorite filmmaker of all time. 'Goodfellas' is the reason I wanted to make movies and dedicate my life to that. I would paint his house if he asked me to," added Hill, nominated for best supporting actor. Scorsese himself was among the star-studded cast at Monday's annual Oscar Nominees Luncheon at the Beverly Hilton hotel, less than three weeks before the Academy Awards, the climax of Hollywood's annual awards season. DiCaprio, who plays real-life corporate raider Jordan Belfort in "The Wolf of Wall Street," said: "He's one of the first filmmakers as a young man that I became transfixed by. He inspired my whole generation.  "I suppose his relationship with me has to do with the fact that we share similar tastes, and I'm willing to do whatever it is he wants up there on the screen," the "Titanic" added the star, nominated for best actor Oscar.

Others at the pre-Oscars event included Lupita Nyong'o, nominated for her role in "12 Years a Slave" - who showed off her Spanish to reporters, when recalling her upbringing in Kenya and time spent in Mexico.  "I have a warm place in my heart for Mexico as I do for my other country as well, Kenya," she said with a perfect Spanish accent.

Bradley Cooper, nominated for "American Hustle," referred to one notably snub among this year's nominees: Tom Hanks, who failed to win a nod for his roles in either "Captain Phillips" or "Saving Mr Banks." "There's a lot of great people in this room. I wish Tom Hanks was in there," said Cooper, nominated last year for "Silver Linings Playbook." All eyes are now on March 2, at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. Hill, nominated two years ago for baseball movie "Moneyball," said he doesn't rate his chances of winning, but will write a speech just in case. "I figure I can just change a couple of names from the 'Moneyball' speech. "The possibility of winning is so insane to me that it seems indulgent to write a speech, but I guess I will just in the one-in-a-billion chance it happen, so I don't sound stupid."

This year's Oscars nominations reflect a field crowded with high-quality films and a large number of strong performances that resulted in notable exclusions.

At the luncheon, many attendees lamented that Tom Hanks was not there for his acclaimed role in the Somali piracy thriller "Captain Phillips."

For the nine films nominated in the best picture category, odds appear to be strongest for the brutal slavery drama "12 Years a Slave," space thriller "Gravity" and 1970s corruption caper "American Hustle," which have all won top prizes in the awards season and lead the Oscar nominations.

One challenge facing "12 Years a Slave," is the reputation it has earned as a film that is hard to watch. But British director Steve McQueen said he believed he was winning the battle against that notion. "It just shows you that audiences are interested in challenging films. Audiences are interested in films that give them a perspective of their history," said McQueen.

Actor nominees made a point of praising their directors for their good fortune, like best actor nominee Leonardo DiCaprio and best supporting actor nominee Jonah Hill, co-stars in Martin Scorsese's tale of financial greed "The Wolf of Wall Street." "Money is never a concern to work with people like Martin Scorsese," said Hill, who took a pay cut and worked for union scale wages for his role as a drug-addled swindling side-kick. "I would do whatever-I would paint his house if he asked me to." Producers for the 86th Academy Awards gave advice on acceptance speeches at the show, hosted this year by comedian Ellen DeGeneres: deliver something heartfelt and meaningful rather than a list of people to thank and make it quick.

At the lunch, though, nominees played it cool about their chances and what a win would mean for their careers. "Everybody regards the Oscars as the ultimate stamp of approval," said Nyong'o, the Kenyan actress nominated for her role as the hardworking slave Patsey. "I don't know. I guess, we'll see."