Movieline blogger S.T. VanAirsdale has brought up the curious timing of several articles that discuss two mini-scandals surrounding the Oscar frontrunner, one having to do with a 'Hurt Locker' producer's e-mail that contained a dig at rival 'Avatar' and may face penalties from the Academy as a result, and a more serious one involving veterans who are coming forward and disparaging the movie for its inaccuracies. VanAirsdale wonders why these articles are being published in the days just before Oscar ballots are due (voters have to submit them by Tuesday, March 2). Could it be the heavy hand of Harvey?
That'd be Harvey Weinstein, the hard-knuckled master of Oscar campaigning, who'd like to see The Weinstein Company's 'Inglourious Basterds' upset 'Avatar' and 'Hurt Locker' for Best Picture. My take: there may indeed be an unacknowledged anti-'Hurt Locker' campaign, but it's not coming from where Movieline thinks it is. In the world of 'The Hurt Locker,' the paranoia is palpable, as any civilian on the streets of Baghdad or looking out from a nearby window could be a potential insurgent bomber or sniper. In the world of Oscar campaigning, it also seems that any bystander could be a secret enemy.
Movieline blogger S.T. VanAirsdale has brought up the curious timing of several articles that discuss two mini-scandals surrounding the Oscar frontrunner, one having to do with a 'Hurt Locker' producer's e-mail that contained a dig at rival 'Avatar' and may face penalties from the Academy as a result (read the email in full here), and a more serious one involving veterans who are coming forward and disparaging the movie for its inaccuracies. VanAirsdale wonders why these articles are being published in the days just before Oscar ballots are due (voters had to submit them by Tuesday, March 2). Could it be the heavy hand of Harvey?
That'd be Harvey Weinstein, the hard-knuckled master of Oscar campaigning, who'd like to see The Weinstein Company's 'Inglourious Basterds' upset 'Avatar' and 'Hurt Locker' for Best Picture. My take: there may indeed be an unacknowledged anti-'Hurt Locker' campaign, but it's not coming from where Movieline thinks it is.
The story about the producer's churlish e-mail isn't likely to cost 'Hurt Locker' too many votes. At most, it could result in the Academy penalizing the film by taking away some of its makers' tickets to the March 7 awards ceremony, but the modest dig at 'Avatar' for being the Goliath in the competition isn't going to shock or offend anyone who votes, since that's just stating the obvious. But the veterans' complaints, which have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, the Associated Press and USA Today, could do serious damage. The complaints of those who actually fought in Iraq and Afghanistan may well resonate with voters, who would defer to them as experts.
Complaints about accuracy have surfaced in awards season whisper campaigns before. Such complaints are widely believed to have hurt the Oscar chances for 1999's Rubin Carter biopic 'The Hurricane,' and they posed a threat to 2001's John Nash biopic 'A Beautiful Mind,' though the film went on to win Best Picture anyway. It certainly seems silly to complain about 'Hurt Locker's' accuracy when it's up against the historically revisionist 'Basterds' or such sci-fi films as 'Avatar' and 'District 9.'
There are a couple of obvious, benign reasons why 'Hurt Locker' might be receiving negative attention now, as opposed to back in June when it was released in theaters. Back then, it was just another Iraq War movie that failed to make a dent at the box office; now, it's an Oscar frontrunner that's bound to get lots of attention, good and bad. Also, it came out on DVD in January, enabling a lot more soldiers serving overseas or back at home to see it than when it was playing in a handful of theaters scattered across America. The New York Times' Carpetbagger awards blog speculates that veterans may be inflamed by a hint of anti-war sentiment that's crept into recent acceptance speeches by 'Hurt Locker' director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, but it seems unlikely that veterans have been paying close attention to what was said at relatively obscure awards ceremonies like the Producers Guild and Writers Guild Awards. It's kind of insulting to veterans to suggest that their beefs with 'Hurt Locker' are the result of Harvey Weinstein (or anyone else) pulling their strings.
It's true that Weinstein has been campaigning relentlessly for a Best Picture win for 'Basterds' and a Best Director or Original Screenplay win for Quentin Tarantino. He's held lavish banquets for voters in Los Angeles and New York and multiple screenings of the film for voters, and he bought an eight-page ad spread in the Los Angeles Times. The Weinstein Company isn't too cash-rich these days, but it's been spending freely on behalf of 'Basterds.' (According to the Daily Beast, Tarantino and producer Lawrence Bender may be footing some of the campaign bill.) None of this is unprecedented for Weinstein, who famously pulled off an upset win for 'Shakespeare in Love' over 'Saving Private Ryan' in 1999. None of this 'Basterds'-boosting is against Academy rules, either, and none of it is evidence that he has anything to do with the negative press for 'Hurt Locker.'
It's also not clear that Weinstein's open campaigning is even working this time. A 'Basterds' upset is still unlikely, says Moviefone's Oscarologist, Jack Mathews. Besides, if Weinstein still had the Oscar pull he used to have, his movie 'Nine' would have done a lot better than the four mostly minor Oscar nominations it earned.
A better question for Movieline to ask would be: What does the Los Angeles Times have against 'Hurt Locker'? As VanAirsdale notes, the paper has run at least five recent negative articles about the movie, and it broke the story about the controversial e-mail. Maybe one could chalk up the paper's animosity to the film's outsider status. That is, it was made largely by Hollywood outsiders, and it's the chief Oscar rival of 'Avatar,' a thoroughly insider-made movie and one that points the way towards the industry's future -- issues of concern at the Times, essentially a company paper in a company town.
Certainly, the Times' articles about 'Avatar' have almost all been positive, putting an upbeat spin even on aspects of the movie that others have criticized. A piece about how actors (the largest bloc of Academy voters) are leery of the film because it seems to render them superfluous is full of counter-spin from James Cameron about how much he respects actors, needs them for motion-capture work, and thinks his 'Avatar' stars should have been nominated for major prizes this season. An article noting that Matt Damon and Jake Gyllenhaal turned down the lead in the movie (that went to little-known Sam Worthington), perhaps because they thought the green-screen work beneath them, cattily notes that both A-listers are starring in 3-D or CGI-heavy movies this year. An article about the political controversies the movie has stirred is really more of an attack on critics for reading too much into the movie. The only negative piece we found at the Times was one noting that as many as 20 percent of moviegoers find 3-D movies make them queasy or can't process the visual information to see the movies properly.
That doesn't mean there's some pro-'Avatar', anti-'Hurt Locker' conspiracy at the Times, or that there's any secret quid pro quo. Truth is, it doesn't take explicit orders from on high for groupthink to take hold among journalists, who are perfectly capable of unconsciously swallowing pre-existing narratives all on their own. Still, it'll be interesting, whether 'Avatar,' 'Hurt Locker' or even 'Basterds' wins Best Picture on Sunday, to read the Times' post-game analysis to see whether the paper thinks 'Avatar' deserved its win or got robbed.