The Publicist:

As Oscars near, Hollywood's publicists take center stage

As Oscars near, Hollywood's publicists take center stage

Once more I accurately predicted all five Best Picture and Best Actor Oscar nominees, with one exception. I thought Paul Giamatti would get the nod instead of Clint Eastwood. The Academy likes to honor lifetime achievement, however, so I should have seen it coming. (Best Actresses are always too difficult to peg.) Forecasting the Best Picture nominees is no great trick, I just try to keep my ear to the ground. If you listen, it will speak. One of the leading entertainment magazines, apparently aware of my finely tuned Oscar prescience, contacted me, in top secrecy, to glean some early handicapping. I told them I considered this year's picks fairly obvious. Several good pictures, no great ones. In typical mixed-bag fashion, Academy voters went for an epic (The Aviator), a Hollywood royalty salute (Million Dollar Baby), a "small personal film" (Sideways), a departed idol tribute (Ray), and a "quirky, off-beat treat" (Finding Neverland). I think The Incredibles was the year's most enjoyable film, but it's relegated to the Best Animated Feature category. Now comes the real contest: the "spin to win" cycle generated by publicists to position their movie as the front-runner (The Aviator) or, conversely, to deliver an "aw-shucks-we're-just-thrilled-to-be-nominated" admission their film has no shot to win (Finding Neverland). The Academy has cracked down on studio Oscar politicking, but there's still a fair amount of behind-the-scenes maneuvering. Always present is the habitual tug-of-war between sentimental favorites (Eastwood) versus the most-deserving choices (Jamie Foxx). Double-truck ads in trade titles (Daily Variety, Hollywood Reporter) are mandatory, as are fully loaded publicity schedules for nominees. Trust me, you'll see Foxx everywhere in the coming weeks, maybe even your local PTA meeting. By process of elimination, one can whittle down the field to the clear-cut favorite: Sideways is too small, insufficiently Hollywood; Ray is a biopic, which are seldom winners; Million Dollar Baby is contrived, heavy-handed, derivative, and utterly predictable, rescued only by Morgan Freeman's voice-over; Finding Neverland is too obscure. The easy pick: Aviator. But wait. Aviator is a biopic, too. Darn. OK. The winner is Neverland. For sure. Unless it's Sideways. Just bet the bank on Million Dollar Baby. Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer

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