Awards take on air of dirty politics

HOLLYWOOD — There was mud-slinging in the U.S. presidential campaign, the SAG election and even Olympic judging, so why should Oscar be exempt?

Universal Pics chairman Stacey Snider first sounded the alarm, saying unnamed rivals were responsible for negative stories about “A Beautiful Mind” that were cropping up in newspapers, magazines and Web sites.

Everyone in Hollywood is convinced they know the culprit(s), but nobody has offered any proof.

Rival studios privately insist “It wasn’t us!” Journalists are loath to admit they might have been manipulated, but don’t want to confess, “Hey, I came up with that vicious idea all by myself!”

It’s a bigger whodunit than “Gosford Park.”

The sniping has gotten worse this year — really, attacking the moral fiber of 73-year-old schizophrenic John Nash is pretty low — but it’s not new. And it’s not unique to the Academy Awards.

When a film wins the Oscar, rivals always nod cynically that the studio “bought” the award. But when “Harry Potter” opened to $93 million last November, nobody accused Warner Bros. of “buying” that record haul. WB simply spent a lot of money promoting its product.

That’s what happens with the Oscar race: Studios promote films they believe can win.

This year, pulses are running high because there is potential for a surprise winner in virtually every race. In the year of “Titanic,” studios weren’t gunning for one another because they knew they didn’t have a chance against it.

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