Monday, 3 January 2011

Vote for me

Hurrah, it's almost Oscar season again. That means Hollywood's finest will be appearing on every talk-show imaginable to sing the praises of their most recent output. He was a pleasure to work with, she's the kindest soul imaginable, it all starts with the script, blah blah blah.

As Joan Rivers' crypt door opens, and a bony hand reaches out to stick a cordless microphone on its charging station, the gliteratti are all hitting the campaign trail. Because although they might claim through gritted veneers that "It's an honour just to be nominated", they all know that the little bald guy translates into cold hard cash. And possibly your name above the film's title on the poster.

It used to be just the actors who had to press the flesh in order to court those all important votes. Now everyone involved in a production can be found canvassing Academy approval. But sadly, not everyone understands the subtlety required when it comes to promoting a picture.

Screenwriter Chris Sparling is learning the hard way, having sent a letter to the writers' branch of the Academy, singing the praises of his own film, Buried. In case you missed it, this was the harrowing tale of a man buried alive in the Iraq desert, with only a mobile phone and a limited supply of oxygen.

Critics originally doubted the suitability of Ryan Reynolds in the starring role. Could the artist formerly known as Van Wilder really pull off the kind of meaty dramatics needed to sell such a stark concept. It seemed to make about as much sense as auditioning Rob Schneider as Hannibal Lecter.

Despite the reservations, Ryan surprised everyone with a gritty and harrowing turn. Audiences left the cinema claiming to feel breathless and anxious, like Rosie O'Donnell getting a gym induction.

To be fair to Sparling, writing an entire film set in a 2' by 7' box, with only one on-screen actor is a considerable achievement. However, writing a letter to other screenwriters, claiming "no film this year — or ever — has done so much with so little" is perhaps overstating the claim a little. And although he attempts to sound magnanimous by acknowledging the "hard work of so many people", it's clear that he's the only one who'll be getting the credit if he manages to get the film on the ballot for Best Original Screenplay.

Despite his best intentions, it's looking increasingly likely that the only consideration taking place where Buried is concerned, is whether or not to disqualify the film. The Academy takes a dim view of any active solicitation of voting, its rules clearly stating: “Mailings that extol the merits of a film, an achievement or an individual are not permitted. Mailings containing quotes from reviews about a film or achievement are not permitted, nor should they refer to other honors or awards, past or present, that have been received by either the film or those involved in the production or distribution of the film.”

This is one Oscar bid that can reasonably be considered dead and buried.

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