Hype, hype, hurray for kudo contenders

This year’s Oscar campaign can best be described as manic, yet businesslike. Expectations are high; after all, the races are all wide open.

Big bucks are being spent — historic highs, to be sure. Schedules are bulging with parties, Q&A sessions and random celebrations, and the keepers of the Academy rules are so intent on looking the other way, they’re getting collective eyestrain.

Stars who once scoffed at proselytizing for a Golden Globe or SAG nomination are thrusting themselves into the fray.

“Standing back from the promotion machine used to be the thing to do,” says Dennis Quaid, who has two films teed up (“In Good Company” and “Flight of the Phoenix”) . “But this is part of the business. They don’t pay you to make the movie — that part is fun. They pay you to go to the award shows.”

Even as the publicists and party planners assume their battle stations, the wannabe nominees are intensely involved in the strategy.

Mindful that a few pundits suggest the prospects for “Fahrenheit 9/11” may have dimmed because of the Bush victory, Michael Moore and his planners are diligently working to reinforce their constituencies. Members of both the writers and documentary branches have previously demonstrated their fealty to the filmmaker, and the film continues to resonate at screenings. .

Moore’s polemic already has gleaned its financial rewards, to be sure, but for several other highly praised films, the award season spells the difference between ho-hum and substantial profits . “Kinsey,” “Sideways,” “Closer” and “Finding Neverland” have not truly broken out from their big-city support bases. Globes and Oscars hold the keys to the kingdom. And the dates are looming — Oscar ballots go out Dec. 27, and Globe nominations are announced Dec. 13. Then the war really begins.

* * *

The Eisner-Ovitz proceedings may seem as endless as an Oliver Stone scenario, but finally last week we gained some true insights. The ever-perceptive New Yorker reported that, contrary to earlier testimony, there were harsh words of dissent within the Disney family over the hiring of Michael Ovitz. Its lengthy piece disclosed that Pluto was especially despondent because of the ex-CAA agent’s close ties to rivals Goofy and Mickey Mouse. Ovitz was supportive to Goofy when he was trying to shake his Percodan habit, the story reported. The hope within the Disney animation family was that Donald Duck, who had the most influence with Eisner, would talk him out of the Ovitz appointment — Eisner had called him “one of the deepest ducks in the pond.” The effort failed, however.

The author of these revelations? Woody Allen.

* * *

This was the consensus: Arnold would enjoy a honeymoon with the press during his first months in office — and apres that, le deluge! Well here’s the reality: The Schwarzenegger parade has been marching briskly along for some 400 days now and, if anything, the honeymoon has never ended. Indeed, there is growing buzz, not about his evanescence, but about his long-term influence on the Republican Party.

Sure there have been glitches along the way. The groping stories have long since been side-tracked, but Arnold’s veto of a bill permitting older Californians to buy discounted Canadian drug products brought him some heat. So did his acquiescence to the removal of the fiery chief of CalPERS — a staunch shareholder advocate. A senior economist at UCLA last week commended the governor’s economic policies, but warned that his revenue projections were optimistic and that shortfalls would bring back big-time deficits.

And last week came a surprise bouquet — a huggy-kissy piece in Vanity Fair by the normally flinty Marie Brenner. Granted considerable sit-down time with Maria and Arnold, Brenner conveys a picture of a fiercely bonded couple — the force-of-nature Austrian whose bombast is softened by Shriver’s shrewdness.

Brenner tells us how Arnold became fixated on the stem cell issue in the middle of shooting “Terminator 3” — an amazing mental leap — but also advises us how Maria’s qualities as an “intuitively shrewd political insider” bring “the sheer Arnoldness” back to earth.

Maria apparently has helped Arnold greatly in digesting complex issues, just as she formerly read his scripts — “Arnold does not like to read,” Maria is quoted as saying.

But the Governor reads his poll results and approval ratings, and likes what he sees. His act is playing well, as Vanity Fair reminds us, but it’s actually, their act.

He keeps saying he’ll be back. But that’s become banal, because he clearly is not going away.

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