What could be better than Martin Scorsese, in search of his first ever Oscar, receiving the plaudits of a four-time Oscar-winning legend? At this point, just about anything.
Don't get Scorsese wrong: He's "touched" by the nice things director Robert Wise wrote about him in a newspaper last month. But the Gangs of New York gang leader is "not happy" that Miramax, the studio behind his latest opus, turned the nice things into an Oscar ad campaign.
Make that, a potentially disastrous Oscar ad campaign.
According to today's Los Angeles Times, Academy officials are steamed, members are ticked, and some voters are asking for their ballots back so they can X-out Scorsese's name. All because Miramax reprinted in full Wise's column, originally published March 6 in the Los Angeles Daily News, as an ad in the L.A. Times, New York Times and Hollywood trade papers.
The offending headline: "Two-time Academy Award Winner Robert Wise (news) declares Scorsese deserves the Oscar for Gangs of New York." (Actually, Wise, a former Academy president, has four Oscars (news - web sites)--two for directing West Side Story and The Sound of Music; two for producing the Best Picture winners.)
The Wise ad ran six times--long enough to cause "real dismay, anger and outrage" among his membership, Academy president Frank Pierson tells the Times.
The problem: Academy rules dictate Academy members are not to divulge their Oscar picks.
And while Academy members aren't always known for their mole-like devotion to secrecy (Best Actor nominee Jack Nicholson (news) reportedly has made it a habit this season to proclaim he's voting for The Pianist's Adrien Brody (news)), Miramax's breach is viewed as something beyond the usual blabbing.
"You look at an ad like that and say, 'My God, why don't we just give money to people and tell them how to vote?,' " rails director Barry Levinson (news), an Oscar winner for Rain Man, in the Times.
Declares Pierson: "[The ad is] an outright violation of Academy rules."
No word from the Academy on Friday if Miramax, led by love-him, hate-him or really-hate-him Harvey Weinstein, had been hit with sanctions (like, having their allotment of coveted Oscar-night tickets reduced). But apparently stern words were enough to rein in the mogul's minions.
The Wise ad has been pulled by Miramax, with the studio saying in a statement, it was "completely unaware" the plug would be "offensive" to voters, or that it was a violation of rules. (Miramax maintains there's nothing about a mum's-the-word edict in the Academy's marketing guidelines.)
In principle, the studio is defending Wise's right to talk up Scorsese, and, in turn, its right to talk up Wise talking up of Scorsese.
"Last year Julia Roberts (news) endorsed Denzel Washington (news). Warren Beatty (news) endorsed Halle Barry. Robert Wise and Stanley Donen (news) endorsed Moulin Rouge," Miramax's chief operating officer Rick Sands says in the statement. "Most recently, Elizabeth Taylor (news) endorsed The Pianist. Steven Spielberg (news) endorsed Marty Scorsese. Frances Ford Coppola endorsed Diane Lane (news)."
For his part, Wise has said he wrote the column, originally drafted by an assistant, to help boost Gangs at the box office. (The $97 million movie has yet to break even in U.S. theaters.) Others have suggested Wise wanted to take up Scorsese's cause after screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) blasted the Oscar nominee in a Variety article for his "mess" of a film.
While Wise, in the column, heaps praise on Scorsese and Gangs ("[I]t's a film that is, for me, both a remarkable movie in its own right, and in many ways a summation of his entire body of work"), he never outright says he's voting for Scorsese or declares that Academy members should vote for Scorsese.
Wise's column does end, though, with an arguably loaded question: "Could this be the year that Oscar catches up with the rest of us and recognizes the wonderful body of work of this great director, and the huge achievement that is Gangs of New York?"
Awards-show expert Tom O'Neil sees the resulting controversy as "more Gangs bashing." He says West Coast voters, in particular, have been waiting to pounce on Weinstein, with a hand in four of this year's five Best Picture nominees.
"Harvey and Miramax have never been known for subtlety," says O'Neil, author of the book, Movie Awards: The Ultimate, Unofficial Guide to the Oscars, Golden Globes, Critics, Guild and Indie Honors.
Goldman, in his Variety piece, declared he, for one, will never forgive Miramax for its campaign to bring Roberto Benigni (news) the Best Actor Oscar for Life Is Beautiful. Or, as Goldman called it, "the scummiest award in the Academy's history."
Oscar balloting for the 75th Annual Academy Awards (news - web sites) ends Monday. O'Neil says he doesn't suspect the Scorsese/Wise/Miramax flap will affect the outcome of the Best Director race.
For one thing, the Academy isn't returning ballots to voters, no matter how angry they are. For another thing, according to O'Neil, Rob Marshall (news), the Directors Guild of America winner, has been the frontrunner since the day his Chicago hauled in 13 nominations.
Seemingly making Marshall's position more secure was an especially bad PR week for another of his chief competitors: The Pianist's Roman Polanski (news).
The graphic 1977 grand jury testimony of the 13-year-old girl whom Polanski pleaded guilty to having unlawful sex with, before fleeing California for France, was published online Tuesday by the Smoking Gun.
The seamy allegations of Polanski's drugging and sodomizing of Samantha Gailey--who, as the adult Samantha Geimer has all but lobbied Oscar votes for the exiled filmmaker--are proving "very damaging," O'Neil says.
"It's more shocking than [voters] had thought," he says of the rape case.
In London's Daily Mail, an unnamed Hollywood insider says the release of the transcripts looks like "a deliberate act to sabotage Polanski's chance of getting the Oscar."
That's news to the Smoking Gun's Daniel Green. He says his site saw interest in the Polanski case, looked around to see what was out there, and came back with the transcripts--nothing more nefarious than that.
"This is typical in the course of the business we do," Green says.