In the months leading up the Academy Awards every February, the race to win Oscar statuettes begins to feel like an election.
By the time the ballots closed last week before Monday’s ceremony, film studios and independent distributors will have spent collectively more than $US100 million on Oscar campaigns. Even low budget films spend an average of $US5 million – including travel for their stars, throwing events, sending screeners and advertising.
For The Wolf Of Wall Street, Leonardo DiCaprio screened the film for President Obama.
Directors and actors vying for consideration have spent months going to an endless merry-go-round of luncheons, parties, and meet-and-greet screenings for Academy members. Some foreign contenders even move to Los Angeles to schmooze.
Film studios take out full page ads in major newspapers and billboards in Los Angeles begging “For your consideration”.
Hit or Miss
This year, Hollywood heavyweight Harvey Weinstein – who practically invented the modern era of Oscar campaigns – went so far as to arrange for Philomena Lee – the real life subject of Philomena – to lobby for adoption rights in Washington and meet Pope Francis. For The Wolf Of Wall Street, Leonardo DiCaprio screened the film for President Obama.
The lobbying doesn’t always work. The teams behind Inside Llewyn Davis and Saving Mr Banks threw concerts, but, despite this, both films were almost completely overlooked.
All of this fuss is intended to lure the votes of the 6068 members of the Academy. The Academy membership is a closely guarded secret, but a Los Angeles Times poll last year found Oscar voters were 94 per cent white, 77 per cent male and have an average age of 62, a demographic which explains many of the more idiosyncratic Oscar decisions.
The hoopla is solely intended to boost the bottom line and, in turn, bring a winning boost at the box office.
Many have asked whether the costs of campaigns – which equate to the entire budget of an art house movie like Dallas Buyers Club – is no longer worth the pay off. (After all, nearly two-thirds of Americans hadn’t seen any of the Best Picture nominees a week before the ceremony.)
The politics of the Academy Awards has a dark side, too. Hollywood publicists routinely try to push negative stories smearing rival films. Films based on true events are often the most scrutinised for being factually inaccurate. Last year’s Oscars were one of the nastiest in recent memory, as Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty was attacked by US Senators for misrepresenting the role of torture in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
Despite the intensity of Oscar season, this year’s race has been refreshingly free of mudslinging. There have been allegations 12 Years a Slave embellished the truth, that the real Ron Woodroof was most likely bisexual rather than straight as he is portrayed in Dallas Buyers Club and that The Wolf Of Wall Street was glamourising the white collar criminals, but none of these smears got much traction.
The Woody factor
In fact, the biggest controversy had nothing to do with the Academy, rather it was when 20-year-old sex abuse allegations against Woody Allen resurfaced. This occurred after his adopted daughter Dylan wrote a graphic account of being molested by Allen when she was seven-years-old in the The New York Times, just weeks before Allen’s film Blue Jasmine was vying for three Oscars.
Although Allen has always vigorously denied any wrongdoing, some speculated the scandal would blow the film’s chances – and with it those of Cate Blanchett, the strong favourite to win Best Actress.
So will this – or indeed any of the campaigning – determine whose name is called out in the envelope on Monday? We still think Cate will win.
The worst Oscar smear campaigns
Smear campaigns are nearly as old as the Oscars themselves. Here are four of the worst worst:
4. High Noon (1953)
Nominated for seven Academy Awards at the height of the McCarthy era, rival studios accused the western of being un-American over statements about the Hollywood blacklist and the Korean War. The film ultimately lost to Cecil B. Demille’s The Greatest Show On Earth.
3. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
The Steven Spielberg film received 11 nominations but lost to Shakespeare In Love after an aggressive campaign by Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax, which included placing stories accusing the WWII epic of being historically inaccurate.
2. A Beautiful Mind (2002)
One of the nastiest campaigns in living memory involved a drive to stop A Beautiful Mind from winning. Soon after nominations came out The Drudge Report and other news outlets began running allegations that the real John Nash was a closeted homosexual and an anti-Semite. Oscar “strategists” from a rival studio even called reporters from the Los Angeles Times to ensure they had seen the story. The dirty tactics didn’t stop the film from scoring Best Picture and Best Director.
1. Citizen Kane (1942)
The very first smear campaign was orchestrated by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst against Orson Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane (which was inspired by Hearst). Hearst implemented a newspaper blackout banning his papers from publishing any mention of the film. In what still must be the biggest upset of all time, Citizen Kane went on to lose to How Green Is My Valley, and the crowd reportedly booed when Welles was mentioned.