Whether or not because of the furor over the Murray Weissman-Robert Wise (photo) ad, despite its ten nominations Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York failed to win a single Academy Award on Oscar night 2003. But if there was any ill will against Harvey Weinstein and Miramax’s heavy-handed Oscar tactics, that certainly didn’t prevent another Miramax release, Rob Marshall’s musical Chicago, from winning that year’s Best Picture Oscar.
Things were different the following year, when Miramax’s Anthony Minghella-directed Cold Mountain wasn’t shortlisted in the Best Picture category. Whether because of the previous year’s flap or because of Nicole Kidman’s poor makeup job, that marked the first time in 11 years that a Miramax production wasn’t in the running for the Best Picture Oscar — though Cold Mountain did at least earn Renée Zellweger a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, in addition to six other nominations, including Best Actor for Jude Law and Best Cinematography for John Seale. (As per "a source on the film," there was "intense debate involving Anthony and executive producer Harvey Weinstein about digitally smudging Nicole’s appearance, roughing up her cheeks, that sort of thing. In the end, time and cost ruled it out. Nicole’s appearance dents the credibility of the film and may have cost it Best Picture.")
Following the Robert Wise-Miramax-Gangs of New York firestorm, Academy President Frank Pierson said in a statement that "there will now be personal consequences to improper campaigning.” According to the Academy’s new rules, “Any Academy member who has authorized, approved or executed a campaign activity that is determined by the Board of Governors to have undermined the letter or spirit of these regulations will be subject to suspension of membership or expulsion from the Academy," while those violations deemed truly serious “could result in a film losing its eligibility for Awards consideration.”
Not that such threats have prevented Oscar campaigners from taking "the letter or spirit" of the Academy regulations to the limit — and beyond — with little, if any, consequences, while Academy members continue to campaign for their favorites.
The Hollywood Reporter lists 28 actors — including 11 Oscar winners and 10 Oscar nominees — who participated in this year’s edition of Variety’s annual "Actors on Actors: SAG Preview." Among those were Julia Roberts praising Viola Davis (The Help); Kate Winslet praising her Mildred Pierce co-star Evan Rachel Wood (The Ides of March); Marion Cotillard on Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn); Julianne Moore on Ellen Barkin (Another Happy Day); Anthony Hopkins on his The Silence of the Lambs‘ co-star Jodie Foster (Carnage); James Franco on Michael Fassbender (Shame); Bette Midler on Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs); and Jane Fonda and Diane Keaton on, respectively, Martha Marcy May Marlene’s actresses Elizabeth Olsen and Sarah Paulson.
Now, should there be consequences for endorsements by Academy members used as de facto (or subtle) Oscar campaigns? What about consequences for an Academy member like William Goldman penning or voicing a gratuitous public attack against a nominee?
Feinberg, for one, thinks not — at least when it comes to "positive campaigning." In his THR piece, he asks: "Why shouldn’t an Academy member be able to publicly express his or her affection for a film or performance like anyone else can? And why shouldn’t a studio be permitted to quote them if they wish to?"
Note: A version of this three-part Miramax/Robert Wise/Gangs of New York article was initially posted in March 2010.