On March 21, the Academy Awards won't be given to the best actors, actresses and films of the year. Some actors receive nominations because they deserve them (Anthony Hopkins in "Remains of the Day" and "Shadowlands" will be in that category this year). Some nominees are habitual; they get nominated every year (Jack Lemmon used to be an annual shoo-in). Sometimes, sentimental reasons come into play (being the widow of Laurence Olivier has really paid off for Joan Plowright). Sometimes, critics' associations anoint nominees (winning all four major critics' awards has virtually assured Holly Hunter of a shiny new knickknack come Oscar night). And, sometimes, actors are nominated because they finance a shameless, unremitting public-relations campaign that cannot be ignored (Sally Kirkland picked up a 1987 nomination for "Anna," a movie virtually no one had seen).
Ms. Kirkland clearly mounted Oscar's most brazen campaign -- she hired two publicists, made appearances on every talk show, sent letters to every voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, placed personal phone calls and took out full-page ads to ensure herself a nomination. No one can hold a klieg light to Ms. Kirkland this year, but hundreds of showbiz types are vying to make sure their names are on the list of nominees announced Feb. 9.
Who's in the hunt? One good way to find out is to watch the evening talk shows. Usually, if stars show up next to Jay or Dave or Arsenio, it's because they're pushing a new movie. About this time of year, though, actors are suddenly willing to shoot the breeze even if they don't have current projects.
Rosie Perez and Martin Scorsese unofficially kicked off the Oscar hunt the first week of December with appearances on the "Tonight" show. Ms. Perez was seen as a potential best-supporting-actress nominee for her performance in "Fearless," but the movie crashed on takeoff, so a lot of Oscar voters probably missed her performance. Checking in with Jay reminded folks that she'd earned good reviews, and Mr. Leno made the reason for her visit official, closing by saying, "I hope you win an award for it." She did -- less than a week later, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association named her best supporting actress.
Ms. Perez is at the beginning of her career, but Mr. Scorsese is in another category -- the fact that he still hasn't taken home one of the shiny goodfellas is an Oscar embarrassment. For a while, 1994 looked like the year he'd get his due on the basis of a prestigious, well-received project, "The Age of Innocence." But it's beginning to seem that the movie came out too long ago and, besides, if the Academy is going to honor a long-overlooked director, that director will be Steven Spielberg.
If Mr. Scorsese wants a nomination, he may need to put in a little more time with the talking heads.
"Clearly, the show is such a focal point now that appearing on it can't hurt (a chance at a nomination)," says Dana McClintock, who works in the talent office for "The Late Show With David Letterman."
No one at the "Tonight" show would go on the record, but a talent booker agreed the Leno and Letterman shows are good places to catch Hollywood's attention.
Last year, after Al Pacino won a best-actor Golden Globe (an important Oscar bellwether), it was revealed that he had given a buffet for Golden Globe voters. Previously interview-shy, he also did talk shows and danced a shaky tango with Barbara Walters on one of her specials.
There are plenty of others who could use that kind of exposure. This year, the actors in the movies "Short Cuts" and "The Joy Luck Club" are at a particular disadvantage because they're competing with each other. "Joy Luck" has eight potential best-supporting-actress contenders, Robert Altman's "Short Cuts" has two dozen contenders in supporting roles, including Lily Tomlin.
Ms. Tomlin has been there before; among two dozen supporting players in Mr. Altman's "Nashville" in 1975, she was one of just two to earn nominations. (Presumably she would have improved her 1994 chances by sinking into Jay Leno's couch Monday night, but the Los Angeles earthquake sank the entire show.) Others scheduled for night-time Oscar pleas in the coming weeks include Isabella Rossellini ("Fearless"), Rosie O'Donnell ("Sleepless in Seattle") and Emma Thompson ("Much Ado About Nothing," "Remains of the Day," "In the Name of the Father").
Also, there's a string of "For Your Consideration" advertisements in the Hollywood trade papers, trawling for Oscar nominations. This year's ads suggest nominees ranging from the ridiculous -- Tom Hanks will get an Oscar nomination, but it won't be for "Sleepless in Seattle" -- to the really ridiculous -- does anyone in their right mind think Sylvester Stallone's performance in "Cliffhanger" merits a best-actor nomination? Or that those lame mutton chops in "Gettysburg" are the year's best makeup?
Probably not -- many of the ads are "attaboys!" rather than serious attempts to earn nominations. Seeing the ad lets Sly know TriStar Pictures appreciates his efforts. Of course, the biggies ("In the Name of the Father," "The Piano," "Remains of the Day") are well-represented with full-page ads touting their performers and artists. But "Cliffhanger" isn't the only surprising inclusion (or omission) in the ads.
Rita Wilson, for instance. "Sleepless in Seattle" is touting her for a nomination, despite the fact that she has just one scene (she's the woman who explains the appeal of "An Affair to Remember"). On the other hand, she is Tom Hanks' wife, and TriStar would undoubtedly like to remain on good terms with him.
The producers of "The Piano" took out an ad listing all of the movie's stars and creative participants and the categories to which they belong. In addition, there's a full-page ad with photos of stars Harvey Keitel (best actor) and Sam Neill (best supporting actor). Coming a week after both actors failed to snag expected Golden Globe nominations, the ad is an attempt to make sure Oscar voters know in which categories the actors belong. (It could backfire; Mr. Keitel probably has a better shot in the supporting category, which is where Oscar voters have been inclined to place him in previous years.)
The ads for "Wrestling Ernest Hemingway," "Into the West" and "A Perfect World" mention nearly everyone involved with both films, except Shirley MacLaine, Ellen Barkin and Laura Dern, respectively. Did the producers think the actresses were bad? More likely, none of the actresses wished to be cited for supporting roles in movies which are not about their characters.
Ms. Dern gets slighted again in the "Jurassic Park" ads, which list all of the performers without offering help on the categories in which they should be nominated -- she'd probably be in best supporting actress, although "Jurassic Park" is a long-shot for acting awards. But that's not the strangest thing about the "Jurassic Park" ad. Although it draws Oscar voters' attention to the work of 24 people who toiled on the movie, it does not even mention the man who made it all happen -- director Steven Spielberg.
"Jurassic Park" was produced by Universal, the studio which also released "Schindler's List," so they're probably attempting to make sure all of the Spielberg attention is focused on the latter film. But the fact that no "For Your Consideration" ads were placed in weekly Variety for "Schindler's List" may mean Universal thinks movies most likely to be nominated are the ones whose quality speaks for itself. When's the last time you heard of Sally Kirkland, anyway?