With its multimillion-dollar campaign ads, crafty consultants, shoot-from-the-lip pundits and grueling "Survivor"-style fight to the finish, is it any wonder the Oscar race often feels like a presidential election campaign? Just as this was the year of the blogger in presidential politics, the Oscar campaign is being dominated by Internet blogmeisters offering sometimes sophisticated, sometimes crackpot predictions about how various awards will play out.
This past week offered a typical Web viewpoint of the emerging Oscar race. If you turned to GoldDerby.com, you could find raves about "The Aviator" from the site's platoon of spies, with one claiming the film was "a strong contender for every award out there," saying it offered "superb" performances, starting with Leonardo DiCaprio, "who confirms he could do 'Hamlet' if he so chose."
At Oscarrace.com, there was a link to Net columnist Jeffrey Wells, who offered hosannas for Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby," writing, "Trust me, it's a multi-Oscar nominee -- Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress.... " Over at Foxnews.com, columnist Roger Friedman gave a rave to "The Aviator" and touted "The Woodsman," writing, "add the underrated Kevin Bacon to this year's list of potential Best Actor Oscar nominees."
What's fascinating about all these huzzahs is that it will be weeks before any of these films actually arrive in theaters. But the same movie studios that used to weep and wail when Ain't It Cool News would post early reviews have no complaints about Oscar bloggers jumping the gun with a raft of superlatives about their Oscar contenders. It just goes to show that no one gets upset about people breaking embargoes as long as they write glowing blurbs. In fact, studios often invite bloggers to see key Oscar films before they show the pictures to the mainstream press.
It simply demonstrates what a key role bloggers now play in the insanely competitive Oscar race, where a best picture or best actor nomination is often worth millions, if not tens of millions, in extra box-office grosses for a serious film. The blogs are the leading indicators of early buzz for an Oscar picture: the initial upbeat word-of-mouth on the upcoming Joel Schumacher adaptation of "The Phantom of the Opera" (now quieted by less-than-adulatory reports) was driven by positive blog postings.
The blogs themselves are a mixed bag, some offering sober commentary, others spouting theories that would be right at home at a UFO conspiracy fest. The most cerebral blog is Emanuellevy.com, hosted by Levy, an erudite critic and author whose site recently had a lively dissertation on how a disproportionate amount of Oscar winners played parts in which they suffered from various afflictions, illnesses and disabilities. On the other hand, there's moviecitynews.com's David Poland, who recently made the argument that "The Passion of the Christ" would be hurt by the academy's preponderance of Jewish voters. Poland wrote: "If you start with only 60% of the academy being non-Jewish, with few Jews willing to support the film for awards, you need 37.5% of those non-Jews to vote the film highly. If you figure that half of the non-Jews never saw the film and ... " Well, you get the drift.
While bloggers sometimes trash movies, most of their vituperativeness is directed at each other. Tom O'Neil, who hosts GoldDerby.com, dismisses Poland as "a terrible Oscar forecaster. He said the only movie that could beat 'Aviator' was 'Phantom of the Opera,' which is ridiculous -- 'Phantom' isn't even a player in the race." Poland argues that O'Neil's record as an Oscar seer "is no better than mine"; Poland says he was the first pundit to identify Charlize Theron as a serious best actress contender for "Monster" last year. However, Poland in turn regularly vilifies Friedman, calling him a Miramax "stooge," a reference to the fact that Friedman unfailingly touts Miramax's top Oscar hopefuls, rarely mentioning that he has written for Miramax-owned magazines and was a producer of a film Miramax released. In fairness to Friedman, he is perhaps the best showbiz columnist on the Net. Unlike most of his peers, he actually does real reporting, including an expose of the questionable credentials of the people who make up the National Board of Review, whose awards -- due Wednesday -- are nonetheless treated as an important barometer by the media and studios, who will blurb them incessantly in upcoming Oscar ads.
The blogs consistently beat the old media on Oscar scoops. But they also are littered with dubious opinions. As O'Neil puts it: "You should take most of what you read with a grain of salt the size of the Kodak Theatre."