A nasty side of Oscars
Anonymous mudslinging slams nominees
Is 12 Years a Slave the “literal truth?” Did Captain Phillips put his crew at risk? Does Gravity defy the laws of physics?
When an avalanche of damning questions surfaces almost simultaneously it’s a sign the Oscar dirty tricks season is in full swing.
With the campaigning period for Sunday’s awards extended because of the Winter Olympics, and with rules on contacting Oscar voters tighter than ever, the dark arts of award winning are being deployed to full effect in what has been called the nastiest race yet.
Amid the sniping, directors have been heckled, lawsuits have been filed and stars have been out in force defending their movies. Some actors have been so busy rebutting suggestions of inaccuracy that they are said to be exhausted and suffering from “campaign fatigue.”
Perhaps hardest hit has been The Wolf of Wall Street, considered Leonardo DiCaprio’s best shot so far at an Oscar for best actor, which has been fending off a mini-avalanche of bad publicity. Around the time members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences were deciding which films should be nominated last month, a video of DiCaprio surfaced on the Internet. In it he offers praise for Jordan Belfort, the drug-addled convicted swindler he plays. Belfort is now a motivational speaker.
One of Belfort’s victims accused DiCaprio and director Martin Scorsese of “glorifying greed and psychopathic behaviour.”
Hollywood’s whisper campaigns go back to at least 1941, when behind-the-scenes skulduggery by the news baron William Randolph Hearst ensured that Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, which was based partly on Hearst, lost to How Green Was My Valley.
In recent years, the Academy has introduced tighter restrictions on campaigning, which many felt was becoming distasteful. The marketing machines behind Oscar hopefuls still pour millions of dollars into billboard and newspaper advertisements, but there are no lavish parties for academy members.
Studios are allowed to hold five screening events for their films. They are not allowed to give Oscar voters food.
Anonymous, often Internet-driven mudslinging has to some extent filled the vacuum.
This year’s favourite for best picture, 12 Years a Slave, fended off an early controversy when the historical accuracy of the 1853 memoir of Solomon Northup, on which it is based, was questioned. Authoritative experts soon queued up to reject the allegations.
Another contender, Captain Phillips, in which Tom Hanks plays the skipper of a ship attacked by pirates off the Somali coast, faced claims that it exaggerated his heroism. A lawsuit filed five years ago, in which some of the crew claimed Phillips put their lives in danger, began receiving a lot of attention.
Gravity, in which Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are marooned in space, has been accused of scientific inaccuracy. Charges included that the orbits of the International Space Station and the Hubble telescope were wrong, and that the actress should have been wearing a blue astronaut’s nappy instead of figure hugging shorts. A scientific adviser on the film complained it was being “nitpicked to death.”