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Oscar Roundtable: EmailGate Edition

Before we get to our roundtable, Nikki Finke’s post from today:

Summit through its flacks have asked LA Times blogger Pete Hammond to forward even one of the emails mentioned today, but the blogger has refused. His reason? It would “violate the confidentiality” of the recipient who is the producer’s personal acquaintance “so Chartier would know who it is” if¬†made public.¬†I have not seen¬†these personal emails myself. I do think, however, that¬†the Los Angeles Times should have explained in its posting that there was no other mass mailing to Oscar voters by Chartier.¬†It makes a difference. Because can you imagine¬†if Hollywood’s private correspondence about the Oscar pics were monitored by the Academy Awards rules police?

By the way, Summit expects that, if Chartier is to be disciplined by the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for that February 19th mass mailing email, it won’t happen until after the voting period ends. (See my previous, Academy May Discipline ‘The Hurt Locker’)

I don’t think Pete should have to reveal his sources, but I do think everyone should be aware that someone gave him that information for maximum embarrassment.

Meanwhile, I sent out an email to our wise roundtable crew. I did extend one to Pete Hammond, but he has not responded yet. Here are the participants:

Damien Bona, Inside Oscar
Steve Pond, The Wrap

Anne Thompson, Indiewire, Thompson on Hollywood
Mark Harris, New York Magazine, Pictures at a Revolution
Jeff Wells, Hollywood-Elsewhere
Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today
Craig Kennedy, Living in Cinema
Ryan Adams, Awards Daily

1. With one week to go it seemed a little too quiet. Something told me there was going to be trouble. Nothing is ever this easy. Do you think Chartier has damaged esteem for The Hurt Locker by sending out that email? Do you think it’s just not that big of a deal and it won’t affect the race at all?

Bona: I think anyone who was going to vote for The Hurt Locker as his or her number one film will still do so — after all, why hurt Kathryn Bigelow. Mark Boal, etc. because a financial guy did something stupid. However, the use of weighted ballots is where things might get dicey.¬† Voters who have The Hurt Locker at or near the top are unlikely to change, but those not over-enthused with it might want to dish out some punishment and could knock it down from, say, 5 to 8.

Pond: Chartier has damaged whatever esteem existed for Charier by revealing himself as a fucking idiot. It ought to be a non-story, an AMPAS slap on the wrist at the end of a fun season that turned real ugly, real fast. But yes, it’s affecting the race, because all the also-rans are now really excited and thinking they can turn this into something, especially with the L.A. Times squarely on their side. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to change the outcome, because it isn’t.

Thompson: At the Academy’s behest, Chartier did write a retraction apology. It is unlikely that this will have any bearing on the Oscar outcome. Rival campaigners have been taking advantage of the situation to plant nasty nuggets of information about who did what to whom and who’s going to get punished when the Academy meets over the weekend to decide if there has been unfair play. AMPAS rules dictate no direct mail campaigns to voters, and no dissing the competition either. And despite the anti-Hurt Locker whisper campaign, Chartier did act alone, and targeted friends, not Academy members. Perhaps the Academy should hand out its rules and regulations to first-time nominees to prevent this sort of over-eager viral campaign. Poor Chartier may miss his opportunity to step up to the podium and accept his Oscar on global television if the Academy takes his Oscar ticket away. Another possible punishment would be to never be accepted for Academy membership.

Anybody who would change their vote because of something this completely unrelated to the merits of a movie shouldn’t be allowed to vote in the first place.

Wells: It’s a small-change story. Obviously a simple blunder made by a way-out-of-towner who wrote the email from his gut without consulting his head. I’ve said it all in my piece, The Story That Wasn’t There.

Wloszczyna: It won’t affect much. Unless all the voters wait till the last minute, I would guess most of the ballots have already been sent in since they are due March 2. So I would doubt it would change much. It seems like the producer was simply clueless, not devious when he sent the email and his actions apparently weren’t sanctioned by Bigelow, Boal or Renner or any of the tech folks up for honors, so why should they suffer? The email leaker? That person was devious as well as desperate.

Kennedy: At the very worst it makes Chartier look like kind of a dope who cluelessly trampled on the rules. It doesn’t touch the film. Had it been the other way around and the $2 billion giant was lording it over the little indie war picture, it might be different. Move along people, there’s nothing to see here. It’s a made-up wrinkle in the Oscar season doldrums by people with too much time on their hands.

Adams: Any voter who’s rational and wasn’t already grinding an axe should see that Chartier has only damaged his own esteem. This feels like much hullabaloo about nothing, and my long-range radar is picking up more shrugs than raised eyebrows. What kind of spiteful fickle Academy member would change his opinion of The Hurt Locker in a huff over something like this? If we found out John Houseman was prone to clumsy blunders would we all turn against Citizen Kane?

2. Do you think these dirty campaign tricks can work? Clearly, the film’s rivals were behind the publicity of the email getting out to the public. Did they succeed in maybe helping their own films while bringing The Hurt Locker down a notch?

Bona: Unfortunately, unless it goes too far, dirty campaigning works in Oscar races just as it does in politics, and we all know how aggressive Oscar publicists can be. But this case is probably an instance of too little, too late.  To me, what Chartier did was stupid, but publiicizing the email was sleazy. Interesting that the mogul most associated with, um, intense campaigning does have a film in the race.

Pond: The original emails certainly wouldn’t have worked, because I can’t imagine anybody taking that joker seriously. The eager dissemination of the story by rivals has worked, to a certain degree: it has put the frontrunner in a completely defensive position and changed the final-weekend narrative from “Hurt Locker is really on a roll!” to “Hurt Locker broke the rules!”

Thompson: At this late stage when most of the ballots are already in, this kerfuffle is unlikely to have any bearing on the race. What it reveals is that a number of campaigners believe they still have a chance to win. Need I suggest that Harvey Weinstein is in the race –with a great investment in winning, not losing–and that this campaign bears some of his signature? It’s fun to see him in action, in many ways, but not always. This reminds me of some of the die-hard DreamWorks vs. Miramax campaigns, like Saving Private Ryan and Shakespeare in Love.

Harris: I’m confused–which is the dirty trick, sending out a dumb letter saying “Vote for my movie, not the other guy’s,” or making sure that said letter is made hugely public in order to discredit The Hurt Locker? It’s hard to claim the moral high ground when everybody’s hip-deep in the same swamp. I have heard and seen far nastier and more insidious examples of negative campaigning this season, and I bet everyone else who has covered the race feels the same way.

Wells: Nope — “The Hurt Locker” is almost certainly going to take the Best Picture Oscar. Everyone agrees on this point. This chickenshit little story will perhaps nudge four or five people toward “Avatar” or “Up in the Air,” but that’s it. Dirty campaigns have arguably worked in the past, such as the “Beautiful Mind” anti-semitism story. I think most people recognize these maneuvers as desperation moves by second-or third-place competitors, and pay them little mind. They sure as hell are paying this one little mind you bet.

Wloszczyna: Not really. No one actually wins with these sort of tactics anymore. A Beautiful Mind still won best pic during that era of dirty tricks — and Crowe did himself in and lost best actor mostly because of his own behavior.

Not in this case. It’s not like The Hurt Locker set a busload of nuns, kittens and dolphins on fire or something. Seriously. Imagine you’re a voter. Are you really going to let some toolish behavior by a producer change your mind?

Adams: As many people who might want to wallow in the schadenfreude, I imagine an equal number would rally in support of any movie they perceived as victim of dirty tricks. I’m counting on the antischadenfreudinistas to restore balance.

3. Of the films vying for the prize, which film do you think benefits, if any do at all?

Bona: Since the race seems to be between The Hurt Locker and Avatar, if the former does lose support in this homestretch, then Avatar is the most likely beneficiary.

Avatar benefits because if Hurt Locker doesn’t win, it will. And Avatar benefits because in any instance in which rivals appear to be capitalizing on or disseminating negative information about another film, people will blame Harvey Weinstein if he’s anywhere in the neighborhood. Even when Harvey’s not the guilty party.

Wells: As I said, maybe “Avatar” or “Up in the Air” have gotten four or five votes out of it, if that.

I can’t imagine it matters.

None. It seems too late to do harm or help.

Kennedy: If anything, Avatar can only benefit a little by keeping quiet and acting magnanimous about it and even then they’re only benefiting by not hurting themselves.

Adams: If any Academy member is feeble-minded enough switch horses over a little splatter of mud, the benefactor of their wishywashiness could be any of the other 9 films they imagine is still a vestal virgin. But any old-maid voters who tsk-tsk is such strident terms of Old Testament retribution already had The Blind Slide in slot #1 anyway.

4. Were you planning on predicting Avatar to win anyway? Are you thinking of changing your prediction to Avatar? Or do you think the story broke too late and most ballots are already in?

Bona: I haven’t made my final decision, but I’ll most likely be sticking with Avatar.

I was planning on predicting The Hurt Locker. I’m still picking The Hurt Locker. I think the story broke too late. I think most voters know that the actions of one moron are not reflective of the other filmmakers. And I think the zeal with which certain people are pursuing this story (now they’re going after private emails, not mass mailings) is really disturbing.

And by the way, LAT: going on the front page with a story that’s already been covered, pretending it’s breaking news, and including an explosive but unsubstantiated charge because you heard it from a guy in Washington who says he heard it from a guy in Jordan, without even running the flat denial you were given, is complete bullshit. But now I’m getting off-topic.

Harris: To me it feels 50/50 right now (sorry to equivocate but I’m not much of a predictor). But whatever finally tips the scale, I don’t think it will be either Nicholas
Chartier or his enemies.

Wells: It not only broke too late — it doesn’t fucking matter. The Hurty-Gurty gang will almost certainly triumph on Oscar night … Although Chartier may not be there to celebrate due to his ticket being revoked.

No, not changing my prediction of a Hurt Locker win at all. And for some reason, maybe since Cameron has been so vocally supportive of Bigelow, I doubt the Avatar people were behind this anyway.

Kennedy: My money is still on The Hurt Locker, though I continue to waffle toward a last minute change. If I do make one, it won’t be because of email-gate. It will be an irrational decision and it won’t be in favor of Avatar.

Adams: Am I “thinking of changing my prediction to Avatar?” See my answer to question #3. Do I look like a wishywashy mud-fearing tsk-tsking Old Testament old-maid? Anyway, why would anybody with their bonnet ribbons in a knot automatically gravitate to Avatar? (You can see the Na’vi buttcracks!) Nope, Avatar is coming in 3rd. Inglourious Basterds is coming in 2nd. The Hurt Locker wins. That’s how it is, that’s how it stays.