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Thinking, Talking, Breathing Oscar

December 27, 1987|JACK MATHEWS

After Morgan Freeman won the best supporting actor award from both the New York and Los Angeles critics' associations the other day for his role as a pimp in "Street Smart," a Calendar reporter called a Cannon publicist to see how the awards affected the studio's Oscar strategy.

"I think (Morgan's) performance stands for itself," said Cannon's Randall Barton. "It's obviously an outstanding performance and it doesn't require a lot of hype."

Two hours later, another Cannon publicist called a Times entertainment editor and offered to set up an interview with Freeman.

Since most members of the academy live in Los Angeles, the local media are inevitably included in the strategy of various Oscar campaigns, and articles such as this one become active participants in the process.

Will the above references hurt or help Morgan Freeman's chances? Will this sentence--where it is revealed that Sean Connery has hired an aggressive Hollywood PR firm to promote him even as he is being mentioned as a leading contender for a supporting actor award for "The Untouchables"--help or hurt his chances? Would the simple mention of a name in an Oscar story prompt a campaign, as one publicist interviewed last week suggested?

The only thing certain is that for the next few weeks, people in Hollywood will be sizing up and attempting to influence the Oscar nominations (to be announced Feb. 17) and the final awards (April 11).

To find out what the Oscar campaign issues are this season, Calendar reporters talked to dozens of studio executives, producers, agents and publicists, asking not who and what are being promoted, but who and what are considered serious contenders. By most accounts, 1987's Oscar picture is particularly unfocused.

"Right now, I don't see any clear front runners," said a studio marketing executive who is annually assigned the chores of Oscar campaigning. "There aren't the extraordinary films that have 'academy credentials.' "

Another veteran campaigner said: "If you had asked me three weeks ago which films I thought would be the ones to beat, I would have said 'Wall Street' and 'Empire of the Sun.' In the last week, 'Broadcast News' has become the clear favorite."

Several things have happened to push "Broadcast News" into the limelight, not least of which was the fact that it opened in New York and Los Angeles and people liked it. It also took five of the major awards--picture, director, screenplay, actor and actress--voted by the New York Film Critics Circle, a group generally resistant to such Hollywood seductions. And it landed on the cover of Newsweek magazine.

Happy New Year, 20th Century Fox.

What About 'Wall Street'?

The good news has bittersweet connotations for Fox. "Broadcast News" is humming an Oscar tune, but where does all this attention leave Fox's other big Christmas movie, "Wall Street"? Oliver Stone, who took no prisoners while sweeping the Academy Awards with "Platoon" last year, is a presence to be reckoned with, "this year's 800-pound gorilla," as one publicist put it.

Fox executives are so tight-lipped about their Oscar strategies, they wouldn't answer a question about them if Sam Donaldson shouted it while they were getting on a helicopter.

They did acknowledge that both films will be given dignified, enthusiastic Oscar support, but would reveal no specifics.

It was learned that at director James L. Brooks' request, Fox is positioning all three of "Broadcast News' " principal actors--William Hurt, Holly Hunter and Albert Brooks--for consideration in lead categories. Many people think Albert Brooks, who plays a smart field reporter to Hurt's airhead network anchorman, has a better chance of winning in the supporting actor category.

"From the beginning, (James Brooks) has said there are three leads of equivalent substance on the screen," a person close to the production said. "There is no other honest way to go than to promote (Albert) and Hurt in the same category."

Brooks may still end up being nominated as best supporting actor. The decision belongs to the actual voters. If so, he may be competing with another actor who is being promoted for the lead actor category.

Universal is suggesting Denzel Washington for a best actor nomination for anti-apartheid drama "Cry Freedom," even though his character--black activist Stephen Biko--dies before the film is half over.

'Hope' and Puttnam

One of the most interesting developments in the 1987 Oscar story occurred this week when Canadian-born producer Jake Eberts volunteered that David Puttnam did not launch John Boorman's "Hope and Glory" while chairman of Columbia Pictures.

Eberts said he wanted to clear the record on "Hope and Glory," the hit of the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. year-end awards voting, because he and Boorman feared "the Puttnam label" was preventing Columbia from giving their picture the kind of Oscar campaign it deserves.

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