EXCLUSIVE: We all know that tensions rise during those final weeks leading up to the Academy Awards as media outlets decide who’s worthy and who’s not. So this begs the question: with so much money and prestige at stake, is it possible for even major and reputable media outlets to voice any negativel opinions while Oscar campaigning is underway? Especially if they want Academy Award contenders to take out ads and sit for interviews and come to parties? Increasingly, no.
It’s well known that The Hollywood Reporter and Variety cravenly promise Oscar hopefuls flattering coverage. But Vanity Fair? Granted, its year-round showbiz coverage has all the heft of a marshmallow. But its Deputy Editor Bruce Handy this Oscar season wrote for the magazine’s website one brief but hardly brutal column dissecting Jessica Chastain‘s body of work. This wasn’t some freelancer: this was the magazine’s #2 who dared to express mild criticism about the Best Actress Oscar nominee for Zero Dark Thirty. “I’m surprised it’s being hailed as one of the year’s great performances, and that it has earned her an Oscar nomination for best actress,” Handy opined. “It’s not the sort of flashy thing, like playing a transgendered murder victim or quadriplegic boxer, that the Academy normally rewards.” He included much praise but also said Chastain was an “empty vessel”‘ and “recessive presence” who doesn’t “quite hold your eye”.
The piece posted on the VF website January 25th at a pivotal point in Oscar campaigning: just before final paper ballots went out and online voting began. Within a day, the analysis was gone. Not just gone from the VF website but really really really erased from the Internet at large. (Replaced by this sassy VF error message flaunting top editor Graydon Carter.) Publicists for Sony Pictures and Chastain’s BNC flackery told me it was “not true” that VF deleted the article. But, to its credit, Vanity Fair owned up to it. Explained VF spokeswoman Beth Kseniak: “We took it down because it ran counter to what a number of people at the magazine believed.”
Ran counter to what? Its 19th annual Vanity Fair Hollywood issue whose centerpiece was a 44-page Bruce Weber portfolio completed over 8 days photographing 125 people including 75+ actors? Or this year’s crop of invitations to the VF Hollywood party? (Actual attendees, who haven’t been diissed by the magazine in decades, included Ben Affleck, Daniel Day-Lewis, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Lawrence, Anne Hathaway, Ang Lee, Chris Terrio, Quentin Tarantino, Amy Adams, Jennifer Aniston, Elizabeth Banks, Jason Bateman, Kate Beckinsale, Len Wiseman, Halle Berry, Orlando Bloom, Kate Bosworth, Russell Brand, Adrien Brody, Sandra Bullock, Gerard Butler, Sacha Baron Cohen, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chris Evans, Jane Fonda, Jamie Foxx, Richard Gere, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jon Hamm, Armie Hammer, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Hugh Jackman, Tommy Lee Jones, Taylor Lautner, Michael Pena, Chris Pine, Natalie Portman, Daniel Radcliffe, Jeremy Renner, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, Amanda Seyfried, Hilary Swank, Channing Tatum, Marisa Tomei, Chris Tucker, Naomi Watts, Liev Schreiber, Reese Witherspoon, Judd Apatow, Steve Martin, Melissa McCarthy, JJ Abrams, Jerry Bruckheimer, Tim Burton, Helena Bonham Carter, Cameron Crowe, Tom Hooper, Ron Howard, Penny Marshall, Brett Ratner, David O. Russell, Bryan Singer, Steven Spielberg, Aaron Sorkin, Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz, Barbara Broccoli, Brian Grazer, Kathleen Kennedy, Graham King, Jane Rosenthal, Megan Ellison, Jim Berkus, Ari Emanuel, Kevin Huvane, Bryan Lourd, Richard Lovett, Patrick Whitesell, Michael Barker, Tom Bernard, Rob Friedman, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Donna Langley, John Lasseter, Jeff Robinov, Sir Howard Stringer, Harvey Weinstein?)
Here’s the article which Vanity Fair worked so hard to erase. Judge for yourself:
The Jessica Chastain Conundrum: Greatest Actress of Her Generation or Found Art?
By Bruce Handy
Movie acting is a strange, alchemic art. This weekend, for instance, you can go to your local multiplex and see Jessica Chastain play a credibly fierce C.I.A. officer in Zero Dark Thirty. Then you can go next door and see Mama, in which Chastain plays the least fierce, least credible punk rocker in the history of film. Maggie Smith could have done it with more edge and nerve. (more…)