This Sunday will be the Academy Awards show that I never watch because not only do I hate awards shows in general but apart from everything else, the awards are often given to those films that have the biggest backing by their producers who spend a vast amount of energy and money promoting their films and undermining the competition. Marlow Stern and Kevin Fallon look back on the history of such vicious campaigns that were often successful in achieving their goals. They say that disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein was one of the worst culprits.
Marlow: Harvey Weinstein has been banished from Hollywood. Good riddance. And with the bully and serial sexual predator went cutthroat Oscar culture, replete with ruthless smear campaigns and the strong-arming of Academy members. Of course, Weinstein didn’t necessarily invent the Oscar smear campaign—he merely put his own, ugly spin on it. For a bit of context, the first major one came courtesy of William Randolph Hearst, the godfather of yellow journalism, who in ’41 launched an all-out assault against Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, a film based on the media titan.
Kevin: [Weinstein’s] now completely changed the Oscars and the way the awards season unfolds twice, albeit the second time unintentionally. The amount of bullying and muscle—not to mention money—he put into Oscars campaigns changed the industry completely, first with Shakespeare in Love’s surprise win over Saving Private Ryan in 1999, and then aggressive pushes on behalf of Chicago, The Aviator, The Reader, The King’s Speech, The Artist, and more.
Marlow: It’s fascinating how 20 years ago Weinstein’s Miramax infamously spent $15 million (about $23 million today) to push Shakespeare in Love past Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture, and this year Netflix reportedly shelled out just a tad more—$25 million—for the Oscar campaign to Roma, even though the film only cost $15 million to make. That gamble seems to have paid off, with the film receiving 10 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. And two years ago, Amazon is said to have spent over $10 million on the awards campaign for Manchester by the Sea (the same amount it cost to acquire it), which also worked, with the film earning four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture (becoming the first streaming service to get a Best Picture nod). So you’re still seeing nascent studios, in this case Netflix and Amazon, pay big money to get in the awards conversation. But yes, the ugliness is gone.
I thought Manchester by the Sea was utterly boring and pointless and while Shakespeare in Love was a fun film, it was hardly great. And I also was unimpressed by this year’s much ballyhooed nominee Roma.
So I do not put any stock in these awards as a measure of a film’s quality. A much better measure is obtained in hindsight, because after some time has passed, one gets a better sense of a film’s merits.
The people at Honest Trailers have given us a quick preview of this year’s nominees for Best Picture.