According to The New York Post—and Nikki Finke—this year is the "meanest Oscar season battle in memory." While there's evidence of a few petty attacks against the credibility and merits of some films, this is not the "meanest" Oscar season for anyone whose memory stretches beyond February 24, 2013.
The Post argues that this "bitter battle has seen some popular films slammed and some high-profile talent getting booed during public appearances." That bad press and bad treatment was engineered by studios, according to anonymous sources. Some examples:
- Some media reports argue that The Wolf of Wall Street celebrates Wall Street excess and ignores the victims of the crimes. But debate of this kind is neither novel nor is it particularly focused on the film's Oscar chances. For the most part, this is critics arguing over the merits of a movie they saw, which is about as normal/boring as it gets.
- One Oscar voter in a screening shouted "Shame on you!" at Scorsese because Wolf was too vulgar for him. As if Taxi Driver was well received (it wasn't).
- CBS Film's appropriation of critic A.O. Scott's Inside Llewyn Davis tweet about enjoying the film's soundtrack was a "controversy" because the original tweet somewhat negatively mentioned American Hustle and Wolf. The ad left mentions of the other films out. Some would see that as an attempt by CBS Films not to directly criticize its competitors, but apparently it was mean.
If that were all the meanness Hollywood could muster, Oscar bloggers would be in a bad way. Luckily, Tinseltown is capable of much worse, and fairly recently too.
The Miramax-led assault on A Beautiful Mind
Critics might disagree on whether Wolf is a subtle takedown of Wall Street's excesses, but that's nothing compared to claims that Universal's 2002 Oscar contender A Beautiful Mind downplayed the homosexuality and anti-semitism of the real life story. Rumors eventually linked Miramax to the campaign, and Harvey Weinstein said he'd "bury" the film if the rumors continued. Not that it mattered: A Beautiful Mind won Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actress and Screenplay.
The Zero Dark Thirty boycott
Members of the Academy didn't just heckle director Katherine Bigelow one time, they started a full-on campaign to boycott her movie. "I cannot vote for a film that makes heroes of Americans who commit the crime of torture," Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences member David Clennon said on Truthout.org, according to The Guardian. Sony, the studio behin the movie, was not pleased. "We are outraged that any responsible member of the Academy would use their voting status in Ampas as a platform to advance their own political agenda." Martin Sheen and former Screen Actor's Guild president Ed Asner joined the boycott.
The Hurt Locker, which won Best Picture in 2010, got its fair share of criticism, too. Indiewire pointed out that the Los Angeles Times wrote five takedowns of the film's supposed lack of realism, quoting actual bomb experts. The Associated Press and Newsweek also chimed in. Harvey Weinstein may or may not have been involved in that, too.
Miramax and Harvey Weinstein's advertising controversies
So far, CBS Film's tweet ad hasn't led to any Oscar campaign ad reforms. In 2003, however, former academy president Robert Wise wrote an op-ed praising Scorsese's Gangs of New York and arguing that it deserved an Oscar. Later it was revealed that a Miramax publicist actually wrote the piece, leading the academy to act. Now studios that violate campaign rules risk getting their films disqualified.
In 2012, TheWeinstein Company found a way to get around the code. While it's against academy rules to send out an email campaign in support of a film or actress, it's perfectly fine to send out such a campaign through a third party. The company sent an ad promoting Meryl Streep's performance in The Iron Lady through The Hollywood Reporter, which pissed everyone off, but wasn't technically against the rules.
Maybe a flagrant disregard for the rules isn't as mean as a tweet, but it speaks to how low some studios will sink for a trophy. And The Post story definitely gets one thing right. "The reason for the pre-Oscar battle is clear: money," The Post argued. "An Oscar win can add tens of millions of dollars to a studio’s coffers." But the studios aren't getting as down and dirty as they have in the past. At least not yet. There's still time.