An Oscar Season Without Sabotage or Smear Campaigns is Pretty Nice
by Joey Magidson
February 17, 2014
During the vast majority of awards seasons, there's this dastardly little thing that goes on as the Oscar ceremony gets closer and closer. Almost without a fail, a major contender is hit with a smear campaign that seeks to damage or destroy their chances of taking home a prize. They're not always successful, but they always seek to make life harder for a frontrunner, or any contender really. Thankfully, this year there's a refreshing lack of sabotage. And having no shenanigans has made for the closest Best Picture race in recent memory. While we're still in this relatively innocent time, I wanted to bask in this smear-less season a bit.
In the battle for Best Picture between 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, and Gravity, we haven't seen any real low blows, and that's awesome to me. Sure, there was a very brief rumbling about the Solomon Northrup memoir being potentially embellished, but it was gone before ever making an impact. Aside from that, it's really been all quiet on this front. The only one really of note has been about if The Wolf of Wall Street glorifies the bad behavior it depicts, but that's such a silly issue we've all mostly been successful in pretending that it never came up. Plus, it's helped it become a financial hit. However, not all Oscar seasons play so nicely.
Last year, for example, there was an unsuccessful smear attempted against Argo for playing fast and loose with the truth, in addition to an at least somewhat successful controversy about torture brought out for Zero Dark Thirty. The former didn't suffer one bit, but the latter lost a lot of its buzz and wound up doing poorer than expected when the Oscar ceremony came around. That torture debate was more about politics than the film, but it took its toll nonetheless, preventing it from really being a legitimate player for Best Picture and maybe even costing Mark Boal the Best Original Screenplay victory.
In the past, there have been smear campaigns attempted against films like A Beautiful Mind (what kind of a guy John Nash really was), Good Will Hunting (if Ben Affleck and Matt Damon actually wrote the screenplay or not), The Hurt Locker (if it glorified or politicized war), The King's Speech (if the royals placated the Nazis), Million Dollar Baby (politics of the film's twist), and Slumdog Millionaire (the treatment of the child actors). As you can see, they don't usually work, considering how many of those flicks are Best Picture winners, but it doesn't stop whomever is behind them from launching them anyway.
It's always fascinated me that these sabotage attempts are launched even without a high rate of success, but I suppose all's fair in love, war, and Oscar campaigning, right? We might get to a point one day where these are abandoned, but it won't be anytime soon, so this break in the action is a nice change of pace, since trust me, there are plenty more examples of this sort of behavior besides the ones I listed above. Don't get me wrong, I love a good debate as much as the next person, but I'd rather discuss the merits of a movie, not its politics. The former is a no lose situation for cinema lovers by and large, while the latter is often just a no win situation for all involved.
We're going to get more of these before long, mark my words, but it's so refreshing to not have to deal with it this year. Partially, this was due to a lack of films to really make a stink over (American Hustle and Gravity don't really lend themselves to artificial controversy), but sometimes even the people behind smear campaigns don't have it in them for the fight. They will be back for sure though, at least in part due to how close this year's race is and the desire to have a leg up, but right now, we can all take a deep breath and enjoy a relatively controversy/smear campaign free season. Who knows, next year may be a bloodbath.