Adventures in Barrywood: Could we have a repeat of Shakespeare in Love’s upset at this year’s Oscars?

February 18, 2013

By Barry Koltnowin The Orange County Register

For the sake of discussion, let’s just say that Shakespeare in Love stole the 1999 best picture Oscar from Saving Private Ryan.

I’m not accusing anybody of anything, but I am suggesting that a theft might have occurred.

As a result of that travesty of justice more than a decade ago, I am suspicious whenever it comes to the Academy Awards. All I’m saying is that the best picture of the year doesn’t always win the best picture Oscar. This year is shaping up to be another potentially suspicious year, although I am not pointing fingers.

In 1999, there was speculation among fellow Oscar conspiracy nuts that a clever marketing campaign worked some kind of voodoo curse against Saving Private Ryan, which won five Oscars, including one for Steven Spielberg’s direction. Shakespeare in Love won seven Oscars, including the big one.

Many pundits dismiss conspiracy theories concerning that particular Oscar race, insisting that both films received rave reviews, won their fair share of pre-Oscar awards and, most important, were the subject of enthusiastic marketing campaigns.

This year’s Oscar campaigns are quite lively, with nine films vying for the top prize. Although there is a clear favorite — Argo — I believe at least three or four other nominated films have an outside shot at winning the best picture Oscar.

Most of the nominated films have been the beneficiaries of intense marketing campaigns that kicked into high gear on Feb. 8, the day nearly 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences began voting in all Oscar categories. Some studios have bought local TV time for half-hour infomercials.

It is possible that academy members will cast their votes based on the movies and performances they watched, but it also is possible that they will be influenced by the marketing campaigns.

Just to prepare you for any surprises or disappointment when the best picture is named, I will give you an idea of how each of the nominated films has been sold to the academy membership. Perhaps it will insulate you from “Saving Private Ryan Syndrome.”

I am not questioning the quality or worthiness of any nominated film. I’m just offering a possible reason behind whoever wins on Feb. 24. As far as I’m concerned, they’re all Shakespeare in Love.

Argo — It is no accident that former CIA agent Tony Mendez (played by Ben Affleck) has been featured prominently in this film’s marketing campaign. It is a swipe at former frontrunner Zero Dark Thirty, which could not put its own CIA agent on display because she (played in the film by Jessica Chastain) is an active field agent whose life would be jeopardized if she were identified. But playing the Mendez card was unnecessary since this film is benefitting from an obvious spite vote based on Affleck’s snub in the directing category. It was a disgrace, which many voters feel will be rectified only if his film wins the top award.

Lincoln — Former President Bill Clinton’s public support tells you everything you need to know about this campaign. They’re taking the high road, giving the impression that this is the only film that fits the best picture tradition. Once again, I would remind them of Shakespeare in Love.

Zero Dark Thirty — It’s been an uphill battle since director Kathryn Bigelow was snubbed, and certain politicians decided to make this film a talking point about torture. Although the film seems to have a happy ending, if you consider the death of Osama bin Laden a happy ending, it can’t compare with Argo’s” happy ending, in which Americans didn’t torture or kill anyone.

Silver Linings Playbook — This could be the Shakespeare in Love of 2013, only because the marketing campaign has been similarly relentless. The focal point of the campaign has been non-cinematic. They have been pushing the healing and spiritual aspects of the film, although they probably could have done just as well promoting the nominations of all four actors and actresses.

Les Miserables — The frontrunner for about two seconds, it has been playing catch-up with a campaign pushing the performances, while trying to get voters to forget all the singing.

Life of Pi — A campaign has swung into high-gear citing the technical achievement of director Ang Lee. It’s inconceivable that they believe it has a chance at winning the best-picture Oscar, so I can only assume that they’re hoping for a lot of technical Oscars to help sell the film in the home video market (“WINNER OF SIX ACADEMY AWARDS!’)

Django Unchained — They’re not even trying anymore. The campaign was strictly an attempt to soothe the ego of director Quentin Tarantino.

Amour — It has almost no chance whatsoever for best picture, so they’re pulling for a best actress award for Emmanuelle Riva, who is also a long shot.

Beasts of the Southern Wild — Is there a campaign?


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