Parties are rampant as usual at this point in awards season but the biggest new trend, or so it seems at least, is the number of publicized hosted screenings and endorsements for various contenders. There was a time when it was thought the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences officially frowned on having their members come out and “host” or introduce events aimed at getting attention for actors, directors etc who are in contention for Oscar nominations. But it doesn’t seem like that is keeping voting members of the Academy (or even the Board) from playing favorites or giving hints on where their sentiments lie at this crucial time in Oscar campaigning before the January 25th nominations. With the races so tight, Oscar consultants are feeling the need to do anything they can now to get a leg up on the competition. So having highly visible support from previous Oscar winners or prominent Academy members is one way to do it, or so the thinking goes. Although one person who works in this game told me they wouldn’t be surprised if the Academy started cracking down on the practice again since it seems to be mushrooming – at least in the press.

Kathryn Bigelow, last year’s Best Director winner and a new member of the Academy’s Board of Governors, was out and about this week at private screenings virtually endorsing director Debra Granik and her film Winter’s Bone. At a Roadside Attractions party honoring that film and Biutiful also held Thursday night (and full of Academy voters), Granik told me she was curious as to what exactly touched Bigelow about the film even though Granik was very pleased by Bigelow’s public support and wanting to do whatever she could to bring attention their way.

Martha Coolidge, a former DGA President and, like Bigelow also an Academy Governor of the director’s branch, is likewise out urging friends who are fellow Academy members to catch Halle Berry’s performance in Frankie & Alice as is apparent by an email dated January 6th forwarded to Deadline from a publicist for the film. The email from Coolidge says in part, “Friends, I’m writing a note to recommend that if you have not voted yet you make sure you have seen Halle Berry in Frankie & Alice. I worry because I didn’t receive a screener and missed the screenings… She is rightfully nominated for a Golden Globe. I urge you to make sure you consider this film and in particular this excellent performance.” Coolidge directed Berry to an Emmy for her performance in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge in 1999. The Frankie & Alice publicist even sent a note with news that former Paramount head Sherry Lansing had Jane Fonda, Sidney Poitier, Michael Keaton, Anjelica Huston, and Candice Bergen to her house Wednesday night to watch the movie, adding “and they all loved it”. Oh , and Halle was there too.

Also this week Oscar winner Julia Roberts was hosting a CAA screening of her Eat Pray Love co-star Javier Bardem’s Biutiful in an effort to boost Bardem’s Best Actor campaign which has so far failed to ignite in precursor races. Roberts’ very public praise and “exclusive” mag interview promoting Bardem could be an important boost in getting her fellow Academy voters to take a look at the dark and demanding film. Sean Penn had done a similar screening/endorsement for Bardem earlier this season at the DGA. Speaking of Penn, he too was at CAA the next night introducing a screening of Fox Searchlight’s Conviction and praising stars Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell, even posing for (campaign?) photos with them which were then sent to Deadline.

While these kinds of private screenings are rampant in Hollywood and on the so-called Bel-Air circuit at awards time, they aren’t usually publicized in such a big way. That’s why Sony Pictures pulled out all the stops Thursday night with a massive “DVD release launch party” for one of the frontrunners, their The Social Network. Producers Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael DeLuca, Cean Chaffin, director David Fincher, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, and stars Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Armie Hammer were surrounded by the Oscar blogosphere at the packed Spago Beverly Hills bash. When I told studio head Amy Pascal this looked like a really hot ticket party, she replied, “That’s what I hoped it would be”. Not to be outdone, The Weinstein Company is having a Cecconi’s reception for The King’s Speech gang Friday.

Not everyone promoting one another has a personal connection; sometimes it’s all about a professional questions. For instance, earlier this season a publicist for Michelle Williams sent Deadline a complete copy of remarks Oscar winner Kate Winslet delivered by way of introduction at a private NY screening of Williams’ new film, Blue Valentine that read in part: “I have no personal connection with Michelle. In fact until tonight we met only once but from a distance. I feel as though I have been having a secret love affair with her.” Winslet went on to laud Williams’ performance before the crowd which included several voting members of the actors branch and the film’s distributor Harvey Weinstein who (coincidentally?) also distributed The Reader, the film that won Winslet her Oscar a couple of years ago.

Robert Duvall, a Best Actor hopeful for Sony Picture Classic’s Get Low, was the beneficiary of three ringing endorsements this week at his well-publicized hand and footprint ceremony Wednesday at Grauman’s Chinese on a day that also happened to be his 80th birthday. Academy members and past nominees James Caan, Andy Garcia, and Billy Bob Thornton all spoke warmly before the ceremony about Duvall’s brilliance as an actor. These hand and footprint honors are increasingly rare, usually only two a year, and are almost always done in conjunction with the release of a new movie such as the Ocean’s 13 gang of George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Brad Pitt, or most recently, Cher just before the opening of Burlesque. This is the first time I can remember one of these ceremonies coinciding with an Oscar campaign. But it was a smart move and received a bonanza of publicity just as voting is going on.

At the private luncheon afterwards, I asked Duvall inbetween a slew of Q&As and interviews how he’s feeling about his SAG nomination and the awards season in general. “It’s a lot of politics but we’ll see what happens,” the 1983 Tender Mercies Best Actor winner told me with his usual candor. He gets the career achievement award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival this weekend as the campaign beat goes on.