Roeper: Politically Charged Oscars Sign of the Times

Whatever happened to the best movie wins?

Welcome to the Academy Awards in the 21st century, when a film’s fidelity to the truth, adherence to certain ideological positions and other tangential topics influence Oscar’s biggest prizes.

REELZ movie expert Richard Roeper says it’s a sign of our media-saturated times.

The cultural forces impacting Oscar winners is a “relatively new phenomena,” Roeper tells

Movies have always reflected real stories, but when they do so now without documentary-style fidelity the blowback can be massive.

“It’s just because there’s so much media now. Everything gets under the microscope,” he says. Consider how “Selma” suffered from what many claim is its unfair treatment of President Lyndon B. Johnson regarding the civil rights battle in the 1960s. Or, years ago, how some squawked over the artistic license taken in bringing John Nash’s story to life in 2001’s “A Beautiful Mind.”

That “whispering campaign” threatened to derail director Ron Howard’s Oscar hopes. The veteran ended up winning Best Director and Best Picture on Oscar’s big night all the same. Had that campaign started earlier things might have ended differently, he says.

Partisan Media Stokes the Fire

Roeper, who shared a balcony with the late Roger Ebert on the duo’s movie review show, says classic movies might get grilled had they hit theaters today. Ideologically based outlets from the left and right would surely weigh in on the films in question.

“Fox News would be calling [‘All the President’s Men’] some sort of Communist screed,” he says.

Another tweak to today’s Oscar season is the intense campaigning that goes on each winter. Actors press the flesh like politicians in the final hours before Election Day. Each acceptance speech during the protracted awards season is considered an audition for Oscar night.

Flub a line, or act too selfish while hoisting the trophy high, and your Oscar chances just took a hit.

Millions are spent on screeners for critics and voters alike, while industry trade magazines explode with “For Your Consideration” ads.

Roeper says Oscar campaigning isn’t new, especially when recalling how less spectacular films like 1941’s “How Green Was My Valley” have walked off with Best Picture honors. He says Harvey Weinstein is renowned for his Oscar season tactics. And, given how often films from The Weinstein Company enter the Oscar discussion, the results speak for themselves.

Weinstein recently switched strategies for his studio’s Oscar-nominated “The Imitation Game,” focusing less on the period thrills and more on the movie’s part in the gay rights struggle.

Could that help star Benedict Cumberbatch earn a Best Actor Oscar? Or, perhaps help it defeat Best Picture favorites like “Boyhood” and “Birdman?”

Anything is possible this time of year, Roeper says.

“Campaigns are a lot more sophisticated now,” he says. “It does make a difference.”

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