November 21, 2008 / 6:55 AM / 10 years ago

Cross currents buffet Oscar campaigns

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Awards season can sometimes feel like Thanksgiving dinner: it brings people together, but it’s fraught with competing allegiances.

An Oscar statue stands on the red carpet during preparations for the 80th annual Academy Awards in Hollywood February 23, 2008. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

This year, the campaign could feature some especially knotty entanglements. With directors increasingly detouring to other lots and a dissolved relationship between two companies, the race is shaping up as a showcase for Hollywood politics almost as much as it is a place to honor movies.

Two studios will of course be competing to share the limelight with Clint Eastwood. One Eastwood contender, “Gran Torino,” comes from Warners, a studio that does a lot of Clint business and thus has incentive to show him support. That partly explains why the studio has taken out best picture ads even before most voters have seen the movie.

But it doesn’t end there. Eastwood’s other film, “Changeling,” comes from Universal, where he doesn’t typically work. But the studio won’t shortchange the film — it comes from Universal uber-producer Imagine, which the studio also has an interest in keeping happy. And if that’s not complicated enough, Universal has to balance its “Changeling” efforts with those for another strong contender, “Frost/Nixon,” which likewise is produced by — guess who — Imagine.

Across town, another plotline is developing.

Paramount has a pair of major contenders in David Fincher’s romantic-fable “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and in Sam Mendes’ broken-marriage drama “Revolutionary Road” (released under its Paramount Vantage label). Over the past week, both films have begun rolling out to voters and tastemakers. (Q&As and guild screenings began last weekend for “Revolutionary Road”; “Button” was unveiled Thursday at an L.A. screening in which Fincher participated.)

But the movies have very different histories. “Button” was cultivated on the Paramount lot, with a director and a star (Brad Pitt) who have ongoing Paramount relationships. “Road” is a DreamWorks project; that studio jumpstarted it and Mendes, a director associated with DreamWorks, directed it.

The recent DreamWorks-Paramount separation could leave Paramount in a tricky spot. Like all studios, it wants to deploy its resources on movies with the best chance to win. At the same time, it will also have to avoid any perception that it is favoring the home-grown “Button” over DreamWorks’ “Road” (and “Road” producer Scott Rudin is sure to be watching carefully).

If “Road” demonstrates early awards potential, the problem probably won’t present itself, and Paramount will remain firmly behind the movie. If it doesn’t, there’s a question: How much should Paramount continue spending to avoid the perception that it’s throwing its support to “Button?”

And “Button,” a project close to Paramount toppers’ hearts, brings its own dilemma: If the movie meets awards expectations, great. But if it doesn’t, how hard should Paramount keep pushing?

This would hardly be the first year that campaigns come with a corporate subplot.

In 1994, Disney’s “The Lion King” was feted with four nominations (and heaps of box-office) even though its champion, Jeffrey Katzenberg, had left the studio and was both revving up rival DreamWorks and prepping a lawsuit against Disney, proving vindication for the former studio boss.

With its many cross-currents, awards season can be tricky even in a stable, two-parent situation. When divorce enters the picture, it can make for one long holiday dinner.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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