January 24, 2012
Campaign Spending and the Oscars
Posted by Christine Hurt

According to my Facebook page, a lot of people I know seem to really hate the Citizens United decision.  On a daily basis.  I'm not that fascinated by the thought of corporations making unlimited campaign funding expenditures because I just don't see how the results will be any different.  (We can argue about it, but then I'll just get bored and try to change the subject.)  But, I understand that many folks this election season do not like the thought of tainting democracy with corporate dollars.

But what about art?  I love movies, and I see a lot of them, so I am usually at least somewhat interested in the Oscars.  Back BC (before children), we used to have Oscar parties and actually watch the award show.  Until the end.  So, today I was a little intrigued by the announcement of the nominees.  Here are the nine (yes, nine) nominees for Best Picture:  The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life and War Horse.  Other pictures picking up nominations in major categories are Beginners; A Better Life; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Warrior; Bridesmaids; Albert Nobbs; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; and A Week with Marilyn.

I have seen half of them, which is pretty good for an Oscar list.  (I actually haven't seen Hugo because none of my children wanted to go see it.)  I think in many years, audience goers are a little disappointed that the list is mostly made up of artsy movies that have either had limited release by January or are critic's darlings just not their cup of tea.  Blockbusters and comedies are often overlooked.  I think that's ok -- this isn't the All-Stars, it's an industry competition between folks in the industry.  If legal academics voted on Best Law Review Article (like business law professors do), then the result would probably be different than if the general public voted, or even the practicing bar.

But today's listings are even weirder.  Some of these are pictures that neither critics nor audiences liked (Iron Lady; Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close) or pictures that were mixed (Tree of Life).  It's almost as if a Republican who is polling third is suddenly named the nominee by the party.  So, why do these movies get nominated?  Maybe it's because their studios spent millions of dollars campaigning academy members to get them nominated.  Here are a few stories on oscar campaigns, one calling for a "luxury tax" on studio spending and one chronicling a campaign that was fruitless.

In fact, the Academy instituted new rules this year on studio campaigning, which take effect today.  After nominees are announced, the rules restrict appearances, panels, etc. where nominees might be able to sway academy members.  So, we are in the movie analogue to "the quiet period."

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