Oscar Politics: Campaigns–New Tools, New Methods

The key to Academy nominations is getting a picture seen by as many voters as possible before the nomination season–that’s the only justification for the ad campaigns. All the studios schedule free screenings for those films they believe hold strong Oscar potential. There are also free screenings arranged by the various guilds.

The studios try to boost the profile of their prestigious pictures. The common practice now is to send out video cassettes, making it convenient for Academy members who otherwise might not opt to attend special Oscar screenings. Despite rapid and vast changes in movie technology (the use of VCR, the ascent of DVD), the Academy’s official line is that there is no substitute for viewing a movie in the theater on the bigscreen, though everyone realizes how indispensable videos and DVDs are nowadays.

Screenwriter William Goldman has observed that if videocassettes had existed before, movies that had been overlooked would have been honored. Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country, Scorsese’s Mean Streets, and Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat would have likely garnered Best Director and acting nominations, if not Best Picture.

In recent years, Edward Norton in American History X, Nick Nolte in Affliction, and Ian McKellen in Gods and Monsters, to mention just a few distinguished performances in small, indie films, would not have been nominated for Best Actor without the benefit of videocassettes. How else would Julie Christie be nominated for a tiny picture like Afterglow, which opened in December and barely grossed two million dollars Academy members are not youths brimming with vitality–they don’t venture out of their houses to see small pictures.