Rambling preamble to my upcoming Oscar predictions

Negative ads. Smear campaigns. Glad-handing voters. Intimidation. Piles of money. And the cold dead hand of a master manipulator behind the scenes. Yes, it's Oscar campaign season again. Not nearly as entertaining as the donnybrook for the Republican Presidential nomination, but in many ways involving the same tactics, dynamics, frustrations, and likely outcome.

For the Republicans, that outcome is Romney, inevitable but unlikable. You might say the same about "The Artist," which has swept through all the critics awards, the Golden Globes, the Directors Guild, the Screen Actors Guild, the Directors Guild -- a string of Oscar primaries far more impressive than Romney's erratic track record. And though many have proclaimed their adoration for the movie, it remains a kind of bauble, tough to get excited about. 

For me the most impressive thing about the movie is how far it's come: a Black and White, "silent," French-made trifle from a little known Gallic director with a no-name cast. Are we that desperate for nostalgia, for reassurances about the glory and value of cinema history and tradition, that this is the best the Academy can do? And unlike Mitt, "The Artist" has some legitimate competition - "The Descendants," "Moneyball," even the kooky "The Tree of Life." So what's the deal?

As Hadley Freeman points out in her illuminating and amusing "Running for president or for an Oscar - which is the bigger waste of money?" article in the January 31 "Guardian," the key to any film's success, like that of a candidate, lies in the skills of the kingmaker behind the scenes. And the Hollywood equivalent of the Koch Brothers or Karl Rove


is Harvey Weinstein.


You need look no further back than last year when Harvey shoved the nondescript "The King's Speech" past the hip "Social Network" to pick up Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Best Supporting Actor Awards. This year, in addition to Best Picture, he has "The Artist" up for Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actress. And no one will be surprised if he wins all of them.

Well, maybe not Best Supporting Actress. If there's anything that the Academy is a sucker for more than falling in line with Harvey Weinstein, it's bestowing honors on films that superficially have a righteous political message but actually are toothless and pandering. Like 2009's "The Blind Side."

This year "The Help" plays that role, a rousing takedown of racism in which a perky white college girl decides to write a book exposing the unjust treatment of African-American domestics in the Jim Crow South. Her goal: to prevent an ordinance that requires the black maids to have a separate bathroom from their white employers.

That's change we can believe in.

Now the performances by "The Help's" Viola Davis, nominated for Best Actress, and Octavia Spencer, for Best Supporting Actress (although both roles were pretty much the same size), certainly are deserving of praise. But I'm surprised that no one seems troubled that it's been 73 years since Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar playing a maid in "Gone With the Wind." Surely we've progressed beyond that.

But that concern will have nothing to do with the success or failure of the two nominees, both of whom have already won SAG awards, which usually means Oscar certainty. What matters is that Harvey has at least one horse in each race.

I don't think he has any expectations that "The Artist's" Bérénice Bejo can beat Spencer for Best Supporting Actress. But he has two candidates in the Best Actress race, Michelle Williams in "My Week With Marilyn" (also with Kenneth Branagh up against Christopher Plummer in "Beginners;" good luck with that) and Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady." It looks like he's putting his money on Streep (the campaign: "she hasn't won an Oscar in 29 years!"). The movie sucks, and everyone in Hollywood hates Thatcher, but nobody in the Academy loved George VI, either. So don't count the iron lady out, and certainly not, as Streep referred to Weinstein in her acceptance speech for the Golden Globe, "the punisher."

On the other hand, there may be one likely Weinstein winner that might come up short. Nominated for Best Director for "The Artist," Michel Hazanavicius has already won a Golden Globe and a Directors Guild Award, the latter being even more a harbinger of Oscar success than a SAG. But here I'm wondering if the bane of recent Presidential candidates might prove to be a liability.Not only does Hazanavicius speak French, he is French. And bear in mind that in the whole history of Oscars only one foreign director from a non-Anglophone country ever won for Best Director. That was Bernardo Bertolucci for "The Last Emperor" in 1987. And in his Acceptance speech he called Hollywood "The Big Nipple."

Would they risk that again? Instead, why not choose a director who, being from New York, is almost as exotic as a French guy, but not associated with freedom fries? Someone with lovable bushy eyebrows. One whose film is as retrospective and nostalgic as "The Artist," and is in fact set in France. And is forward looking enough to be in 3D?


Though he just won an Oscar a few years ago for "The Departed," Martin Scorsese might just get another one for "Hugo." To make up maybe for "Taxi Driver," "Raging Bull," "GoodFellas" and all the other deserving movies that got away.

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