If the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures award winners are the equivalent of the Iowa caucuses, then the New York and Los Angeles Film Critics awards represent the New Hampshire primary.
I confess that as I watched George Clooney work the circuit last year, suavely wooing star-struck journalists to build buzz for "Good Night, and Good Luck," the main thing going through my head was: Why is he wasting all that energy on a movie when he could be running for a Senate seat?
The two worlds are eerily similar. When it comes to winning an Oscar or an election, shrinking violets need not apply. In fact, it's gotten to the point that if you stay home instead of shamelessly showing up at every party in town, as Peter O'Toole has this year, the bloggers start speculating that something is amiss, as if you have to work the circuit to be taken seriously. God forbid anyone would allow a performance to speak for itself.
The only thing missing from the Oscar side of these twin worlds is negative advertising. And, let's be honest, all those "For your consideration" ads may make the studios feel as if they're doing their job, but they're so bland that no one even notices them anymore.
As any political consultant will tell you, negative ads, especially in the YouTube era, are what get people's attention. Coming at a time when everyone is already bored out of their skulls with the endless prognosticating about Oscar contenders, wouldn't a barrage of nasty TV ads liven things up, not to mention test our real feelings about a movie?
With that in mind, here are a few possible negative spots to get your attention:
"The Departed" — The spot opens with a burst of gunfire, followed by clips of virtually every actor in the movie dying in a hail of bullets. It then cuts to an Oscar statuette flecked in blood, with a narrator intoning: "Is this your idea of the highest form of cinema — sleazeballs killing other sleazeballs?"
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"The Queen" — We see Helen Mirren in scene after scene, frowning, looking aggravated and scowling at Tony Blair. An announcer, with a hint of irritation, says: "Is this really acting? Or just indigestion?"
"Letters From Iwo Jima" — Japanese soldiers are killing Marines left and right, leaving them to die in the black sand. A soothing voice says: "This was the last good war. Until Clint Eastwood got ahold of it."
"Dreamgirls" — We see scenes from the movie chronicling the singing group's rise and fall intercut with grainy old footage of the Supremes' career arc, with the admonition: "Shouldn't the 'O' in Oscar stand for originality?"
"The Good Shepherd" — After a series of shots of agency operatives wiretapping, torturing and overthrowing governments, we hear: "The CIA's caused enough trouble already. Don't give this film an Oscar. It will only encourage them!"
"World Trade Center" — We see the most cloying, sentimental family moments from the film, followed by this admonishment: "America has moved on. Isn't it time you did too?"