As the final phase of Oscar campaigning winds down--many of the Academy's 5700 voters have already mailed in their ballots, which are due on March 2--it's striking that while most categories have settled into clear-cut front-runners (except for foreign and some tech categories like editing) the best picture race is still on. (Check the Gurus 'O Gold final vote.) That's because the preferential balloting on the top ten makes that race tough to call with certainty. I've talked to a number of perfectly intelligent Academy voters who have no clue what's going on. They are planning to vote for their number one choice, like they always do, which is tantamount to throwing their vote away. (For what it's worth, I'm hearing a lot of love for Up.)
As long as Academy members vote for their top choices in order of preference their voices will be heard. We have to hope that those who rate their faves highly will far outweigh the ones who try to rig the system by throwing movies they want to lose to the bottom of the list, etc. Putting their outside choices at number one won't work, because the consensus titles will rise to the top. It's impure. When it comes to best picture, nobody really does know anything. I hope the Academy sees the wisdom of returning to the other system. This is a real headache.
Most people think Avatar and The Hurt Locker are in contention for the top spot--but there's enough doubt in campaigners' minds to make them think they still have a shot. In a year when Slumdog Millionaire was so clearly the voters' choice, rivals threw in the towel. But this year's campaigners are pushing press releases about charities for Haiti, stories about negative Hurt Locker reaction from troops or old news about buying a movie theater, or dive-bombing naive producer Nicolas Chartier of Voltage Pictures for sending out an email to his friends asking them to vote for The Hurt Locker and not Avatar.
Rival campaigners got on the phone to plant nasty nuggets of information about who did what to whom and who's going to get punished when the Academy meets over the weekend to decide if there has been unfair play. AMPAS rules dictate no direct mail campaigns to voters, and no dissing the competition either. And despite the whisper campaign against 42 West (which had done much to push Hurt Locker toward the winner's circle), Chartier did indeed act alone. Perhaps the Academy should hand out its rules and regulations to first-time nominees to prevent this sort of over-eager viral campaign.
At the Academy's behest, Chartier did write a retraction apology, below. It is unlikely that this will have any bearing on the Oscar outcome. But poor Chartier may miss his opportunity to step up to the podium and accept his Oscar on global television if the Academy takes his Oscar ticket away. Another possible punishment would be to never be accepted for Academy membership.
The other topic of speculation is the Oscarcast and the oil-and-water mix of cheery choreographer-director Adam Shankman and serious ex-studio chairman Bill Mechanic. They put on a united front for USA Today, which called them The Odd Couple. The team of bantering co-hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin looks promising, but it's Martin who is working with the Oscars writing staff, while Baldwin is so busy he'll have to land on his feet closer to Oscar night.
From: "Nicolas Chartier"
Date: Wed, 24 Feb 2010 16:21:33 -0800
Last week I emailed you regarding the Oscars next week, generally, and
"The Hurt Locker," in particular.
My email to you was out of line and not in the spirit of the celebration of
cinema that this acknowledgement is. I was even more wrong, both personally
and professionally, to ask for your help in encouraging others to vote for
the film and to comment on another movie. As passionate as I am about the
film we made, this was an extremely inappropriate email to send, and
something that the Academy strongly disapproves of in the rules.
My naivete, ignorance of the rules and plain stupidity as a first time
nominee is not an excuse for this behavior and I strongly regret it. Being
nominated for an Academy Award is the ultimate honor and I should have taken
the time to read the rules.
I am emailing each person this very same statement asking to retract my
previous email and requesting that you please disregard it.
I truly apologize to anyone I have offended.
Voltage Pictures, LLC