This story first appeared in the Feb. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Academy members tend to vote for movies that scream "important," so Oscar seekers increasingly court public endorsements -- often from "important" people who might have little to do with the film they're embracing.
In recent years, Harvey Weinstein has rallied rabbis (who suggested Inglourious Basterds is a modern version of the Purim story), Queen Elizabeth II (for whom he screened The King's Speech and then shared with reporters that she was very moved by it) and Charlie Chaplin's granddaughters (who said The Artist would have made their silent-clown grandpa proud). In 2012, Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, stumped for DreamWorks' The Help.
This season, the game has been taken to a new level. DreamWorks, after screening Lincoln for President Obama and the Senate, recruited Bill Clinton to the Golden Globes to introduce the film, which Clinton called "extraordinary." That same night, Tony Mendez, the former CIA spy played by Ben Affleck in Warner Bros.' Argo, put on a tux and introduced that film. James Cameron, the godfather of modern 3D, taped a featurette championing the artistry of Fox's 3D film Life of Pi. And Weinstein has begun circulating op-eds about Silver Linings Playbook penned by TV personality Mehmet Oz, who praises its portrayal of mental illness and connects it to the shooting in Newtown, Conn. Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who suffers from bipolar disorder, also wrote that it portrays his illness "with compassion" and is "the most worthy contender" of the nominees.
Not to be outdone, Sony's Zero Dark Thirty is countering the criticism of its portrayal of torture with endorsements from filmmaker Michael Moore, family members of 9/11 victims and even former CIA chief Leon Panetta, who is portrayed in the film. One studio awards strategist blames the endorsement rush on the lack of a clear front-runner: "When people begin to see a race widen, they open up their meetings to all kinds of [ideas]."