Oscar campaigning gets downsized

Tue Dec 22, 2009 11:14pm EST
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By Alex Ben Block

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Forget lavish junkets and expensive gifts this awards season.

Whatever over-the-top campaigning Oscar organizers haven't managed to rein in, the recession and corporate downsizing have seen to: It's no longer cool to throw a splashy, public event to hype a contender.

Now, there are more-specialized gatherings for more select groups -- intimate parties at a restaurant or the home of a producer, studio chief or star. The sell is subtle. Elegantly catered, often with entertainment, these soirees celebrate the director or the stars, and many double as holiday functions.

Leonardo DiCaprio hosted a party for pal Tobey Maguire, underwritten by film financier Relativity Media, just before Maguire snagged a surprise best actor Golden Globe nomination for "Brothers." Fox co-chairman Jim Gianopulos threw a 60th birthday party for "Crazy Heart" star Jeff Bridges, who soon after became a Globe, Screen Actors Guild and Broadcast Critics nominee.

In New York, Gloria Steinem hosted a ladies-only party for "Amelia" director Mira Nair. Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson hosted a screening of "The Messenger," starring Woody Harrelson, for fellow actors including Sean Penn, who later hosted a screening in San Francisco.

Sometimes events target specific subgroups like guild members, many of whom also are Oscar voters. SAG's nominating committee this year got early looks at films ranging from "Invictus" to "The Lovely Bones," followed by Q&As with the actors involved.

Some events showcase the crafts, especially music. Peter Bogdanovich and Callie Khouri hosted a screening of "Crazy Heart," and then Willie Nelson performed music from the picture.

Other times it's a tribute at a film festival, where the timing is right and where potential voters just happen to live. Santa Barbara and Palm Springs in recent years have seen propitious visits from Penn ("Milk") and Daniel Day-Lewis ("There Will Be Blood"). This year's Palm Springs tribute lineup includes potential Oscar nominees Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and Jason Reitman.   Continued...