OSCAR: Now Every Campaign Enters Crucial Final Stretch

The Oscar ballots went into the mail today and should be in every one of the 5,755 voting members’ hands by tomorrow, or at least by the weekend depending on how long it takes some of them to travel to snowbound or far-flung places. The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has set a due date of February 22nd, which could be a lifetime considering the ever-changing twists and turns of this surprising awards season. That’s why no major Academy Awards campaign seems willing to give up the hunt for gold quite yet.

For this second phase of Oscar campaigning, studios have tweaked, or in some cases completely retooled, their advertising to incorporate catch phrases and/or images they hope the Academy will notice. Warner Bros has noticeably increased its Inception buys on TV and in print and online. With its 10 nominations, True Grit is now suddenly “the most honored American movie of the year” (a not-so-subtle dig at the very British King’s Speech). While Paramount’s other contender, The Fighter, has new fighting words saying that “Nothing can stop an underdog whose time has come”.  Disney wants voters to know “the most successful animated film in history” (Toy Story 3 in case you live in a cave) is now nominated for Best Picture. While  Fox Searchlight has changed up their Black Swan poster with a highly dramatic pose by Natalie Portman surrounded by several flying black tutu feathers and Best Actress accolades in the background with the new tagline, “Dare To Be Bold”.

As for The Social Network, their ads continue to emphasize the overwhelming critical support and Best Picture awards it has received so far. The new tagline  somewhat wistfully says “Look Forward”, something clearly Sony wants to do after getting broadsided by the PGA, DGA, and SAG. And  they can look forward to a certain WGA win for Aaron Sorkin this Saturday. My sources say spirits definitely hit a low at the studio this weekend after repeated recent  losses. But producer Scott Rudin has gone on record saying there is plenty of time left for a turnaround. A studio spokesperson says “many events around the city are planned” to get that momentum going again. The January 29th Saturday Night Live hosting gig by star Jesse Eisenberg was a plus in that regard. His  appearance  alongside the real Mark Zuckerberg was a coup for a lot of talk and YouTube action. The film is still favored by numerous  pundits  to take home Oscars in key categories including Adapted Screenplay, Music Score, and even Director for David Fincher, despite his loss last weekend at the DGA to The King’s Speech helmer Tom Hooper.

Oscar consultants have been revving up for this and, believe it or not, they have been finding inventive ways to keep the contenders on the Q&A circuit even though all the major Guild contests are over. The WGA awards are this weekend but voting closed last week. And most Q&As are done since Academy rules prohibit studios from staging these sessions directly for AMPAS voters (who have a large crossover membership in the guilds, of course). American Cinematheque helps to fill the void. The Social Network has already done an event for American Cinematheque and now its competitors are playing catch-up there.

That’s where Inception‘s Christopher Nolan will be this Friday night, obstensibly  for a Memento Blu-Ray launch screening at Hollywood’s Egyptian theatre. Or The Fighter‘s David O. Russell chatting it up there Saturday night after a screening of his Oscar contender. At another American Cinematheque event at the Westside’s Aero, Tom Hooper and Colin Firth appear Thursday after The King’s Speech screening while Darren Aronofsky shows up February 7th after Black Swan reels. The next night, 127 Hours nominees like screenwriter Simon Beaufoy and composer AR Rahman appear during a double feature of that Danny Boyle film and their big 2008 winner, Slumdog Millionaire.

February 7th is the Oscar nominees luncheon and a lot of them are in town. Warner Bros is throwing a reception and discussion session that evening with the “below the line” contenders from Inception at the Landmark. While Focus Features launches a heavily advertised two-day retrospective of Annette Bening films at the Beverly Hills Music Hall. It salutes “one of the greatest ever American film actors”, and subtly reminding voters of her many  Oscar nominated – but never winning (yet) –  performances, including American Beauty, Being Julia, The Grifters, and, of course, The Kids Are All Right. Bening will appear for a Q&A. It isn’t lost on Focus that the Music Hall marquee with Bening all over it will be seen by lots of voters as it is in a prime location almost directly across from the Academy on heavily travelled Wilshire Blvd.

Meanwhile, Social Network nominees Sorkin and co-producer Michael DeLuca were among the many Oscar nominees on view at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival since it began a week ago. There were so many newly minted Oscar hopefuls there they were practically tripping over each other at nightly on-stage career  tributes to Annette Bening, James Franco, Christopher Nolan, and Geoffrey Rush held at the massive 2,000 seat Arlington Theatre  Friday through Monday evenings, all of them near-sellouts. Coming up this weekend is another tribute to Best Actress nominee Nicole Kidman and “Virtuoso” awards to other noms like John Hawkes, Hailee Steinfeld, and Jacki Weaver along with Social Network’s Andrew Garfield and Another Year’s Lesley Manville.

Why the contender crush at this fest? It goes back to those ballots that went out today. At least 100 of them are sent to Academy members who live in the cushy Santa Barbara/Montecito area considered by awards consultants a voter-rich region. And in a close race, every ballot can make a big difference, even a small fest because it’s scheduled at awards time and the local press makes such a big deal of it. So even though Oscar host/nominee James Franco was knee-deep in rehearsals all day Saturday, he made the trek up north, late for his tribute but there nonetheless. Bening and husband Warren Beatty stayed at the post tribute-party at SBIFF Board Chairman (and former MGM-UA head) Jeffrey Barbakow’s sprawling Montecito estate past 1 AM on Friday. (As Barbakow told me, “How do you tell Warren Beatty it’s time to leave your house?”)

I moderated the tributes to Nolan and Rush. Nolan opened up about his career even though he remained customarily coy when I tried to get news out of him regarding his upcoming Dark Knight Rises (which he’s co-writing and directing and producing) and Superman reboot (which he’s producing). His Inception star Leonardo DiCaprio delivered a heartfelt speech before presenting Nolan with the “Modern Master” award. Nolan later at his post-party remained sanguine when I asked how he felt about his latest snub from the Academy’s Directors branch even though he has two other Inception nominations for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. But after three DGA nominations in 10 years, and no corresponding Oscar nods for directing, it’s clearly frustrating. The snub has received more Internet protest than anything else regarding Oscar this season. Nolan, though, is staying above the fray.  “Fortunately  I am in a 12-week prep for Dark Knight Rises so that’s keeping me concentrated through all of this. The thing I was most surprised about was no film editing nomination for Lee Smith. I thought he was a sure thing to win. I asked both Lee and [composer] Hans Zimmer to do things that had not been done before,” he  told me.

Tuesday night, Nolan was back on the circuit accepting the Visionary Award from the Visual Effects Society which also gave their top prize to Inception, certainly the Oscar favorite in that category.

Rush had flown in Sunday from Sydney where he is doing a play, Diary Of a Madman, and, no pun intended, had to rush to the airport immediately following his Monday night tribute to head back to Sydney. Then it’s back to LA for the nominees lunch Monday and on to New York where he will be appearing in the same play. He’ll have Oscar night off on February 27th. Earlier in the day he was feted at a Peninsula Hotel luncheon hosted by his Pirates of the Caribbean producer Jerry Bruckheimer that drew lots of fellow actors. He and his castmates, Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter along with director Tom Hooper and co-producer Gareth Unwin, then made the trip to Santa Barara, still reeling from weekend victories at the DGA and SAG. SBIFF handed them another Ensemble award (presented by Hooper) in addition to Rush’s Montecito award (presented by Firth).

In the Green Room before the show, Unwin told me any decision about cutting a special PG or PG-13 version of the film instead of the current R would not be made until closer to the DVD release and certainly not before the Oscars. It’s a delicate issue, particularly for Hooper who has previously told me the scene in question where the King uses a series of expletives as a stuttering exercise is crucial to the movie.

  1. Inception was an awful movie. The Juno girl was way too young for her role and the film was average

    1. @The Truth Maybe you just didn’t get all the great things that were happening visually and mentally (no pun intended). I’m not being smug and saying I got it the first time around, but the more times you watch it the more you appreciate another detail or the way a scene is edited. Plus the Score by Zimmer is truly epic! While I understand your opinion since some of my friends feel the same way, I encourage you to watch it again because some truly great films are misunderstood with one viewing. But this comes from a Nolan fanboy of course!

      1. Actually, Inception is lackluster at best but more accurately just a really bad movie. The cinema is about moving pictures that tell a story, not characters who spend a good 80-90% of the movie explaining the logistics of these neat-o dream worlds that nestle into each other like Russian dolls.

        Though I rarely agree with the Academy, I’d concur with the “snubbing” of Nolan in Directing Oscar because he’s not a very good director. He’s a good creator of spectacle which is a very different thing from telling a coherent, compelling story. A truck flipping over in The Dark Knight? Sure, I guess that’s pretty cool – but that whole scene is poorly shot and edited with no real momentum, pace or story sense. Don’t even get me started on Inception…

  2. I really wish that Annette Bening would get best actress — she gives a great performance — she has long deserved it but has always gotten sidelined by hilary swank! Just one look at Bugsy just proves what a superb actress she is. Natalie Portman is good but she has so many chances to get nominated, how much longer do they have to wait to give it to Annette?

    Just remember that scene at the dinner table after she has just come from the bathroom — all the inner turmoil going on in the kids are alright.

    The Academy should be bold and make different choices and annette is very deserving.

    1. I also hope Bening pulls the upset. But Portman will win. They always go with the babe in Best Actress over the veteran.

      1. I know even if the performance of the veteran is better than the babe — just typical older members of hollywood. Just look at reese witherspoon — as much as i like her as an actress, she was not deserving. And do people really like black swan that much?

        1. Yes, despite her reputation and two distant wins, Meryl Streep has lost more often than any other actor/actress. She has had to sit on her hands a whopping 14 out of 16 times while other actresses have claimed an oscar. No actor or actress has even been nominated 14 times. Maybe next year she’ll get her LONG overdue 3rd oscar.

  3. Go Nicole Kidman. Even though she already has a statue for ‘The Hours’ she deserves another one for her amazing work in ‘Rabbit Hole’. I’m sure if more Academy voters WATCHED the film they would have also nominated the film for Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress, and Adapted Screenplay.

    One of the most overlooked filmed of 2010.

    1. Couldn’t agree more, I would also add best supporting actor (Miles Teller). Rabbit Hole was probably my favourite 2010-film.

    2. Ya i definitely agree.
      She gave the best performance of year.

      @phantom i agree regarding the 6 noms it deserved.

    3. I do agree that Nicole kidman gave the performance of the year — that scene with the tape getting accidentally erased has me so moved every time i think about it. the problem is that lionsgate is only playing it in 100 theaters — the same studio that didn’t release the hurt locker — so it’s just not gonna get any buzz and it is definitely the most overlooked movie — but go over to goldderby.latimes.com and they had predicted an upset. but really i think the only upset that could possibly happen right now is annette bening. natalie portman does not give the performance of the year.

  4. No sorry. Nicole Kidman is not allowed to win another Oscar after the crime she commited against Julianne Moore in 2002 to win her first.

    1. Nicole kidman deserved that oscar for the hours and she deserves it for rabbit hole. If julianne moore had listened to tom o’neill and put herself in the supporting category, she would be the front runner.

  5. How many of the 5,755 voters actually do not turn in their ballots?
    I’d be interested to know the number of ballots that actually determine the winner(s).
    I know that the producers don’t really want that to happen, but with this ranking system for Best Picture especially, I think it might get those of us who are uninvolved more interested if we could see how much everything else lost by too. I know, an old, stupid idea…

  6. It’s a good year for the Aussies, but over here the sentimental favourite is Jacki Weaver, who trully is amazing!!! Geoffrey and Nicole have theirs, now let Jacki join the winning contingent. PLEASE!!

  7. I just hope Natalie Portman does not win.

    Best Actress is a STRONG category, so any of the other actresses are deserving.

    Portman’s acting was good, but it was not nuanced and layered like the other brilliant performances. Portman keeps complimenting Darren because, with his direction, editing, make-up, music, special effects, she came out looking pretty good. But strip it all away, her acting is not that special.

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