- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 26, 2004

No two people could be more different than Mel Gibson and Michael Moore.

Still, some in the media seem intent on matching up “The Passion of the Christ” filmmaker with the onewhofashioned “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Roger Friedman of Fox News reported that the Golden Globes asked Mr. Gibson to co-present an award with Mr. Moore at this year’s ceremonies.

Rumors ran rampant that a major national newsmagazine was attempting to feature the two together on its cover.

Many in the print media barely touched upon the inexplicable Golden Globe snub of Mr. Gibson and “ThePassionofthe Christ.” When mention of the slight was made, the name of Mr. Moore’s documentary often appeared inthesamesentence alongside it.

In a curious sort of linguistic coupling, the New York Post lumped the two together as “the year’s most controversial movies”; the DallasMorningNews dubbed them “the year’s mosthotlydiscussed movies”; and People magazine called them “the year’s two hot-button movies.” At the annual Gridiron dinner, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney went the opposite route, using a contrast of the two cinematic works as comedic political fodder. He said, “Going from conservative Utah to liberal Massachusetts was like buying a movie ticket for ‘The Passion of the Christ’ and seeing ‘Fahrenheit 9/11.’ ” As divergent as the films are from each other, so too are the filmmakers’ approaches to this year’s Oscar awards.

Over the past several years, the effort by studios and production houses to garner Oscar attention has grown to such an extent that it often involves multifaceted campaigns that include costly ads, parties, events and the like.

Apparently, Academy officials thought the situation had gotten so out of hand that in 2003 they decided to formacommitteeto strengthen the rules for promoting Oscar contenders.

However, recently some full-page ads appeared in Variety. One of the ads contained patriotic symbols, an image of Mr. Moore, the film title “Fahrenheit 9/11” and a slogan that read: “YOUR VOTE STILL COUNTS. Now more than ever.” Another had the Bush White House in the background along with the aforementioned caption.

Evidently, Mr. Moore and Miramax have decided to take an unusual and rather questionable approach in their Academy Award quest. They are essentiallyencouraging Academy members to use their vote as an act of political revenge rather than an acknowledgement of a film’s merit.

Mr. Moore has also failed to submit his film in the documentary category, which leaves only one option for Academy members who would be inclined to fall for his backlash pitch-vote for “Fahrenheit 9/11” in the Best Picture category.

Additionally, he showed up recently for a “Tonight Show” appearance with a clean-shaven face and a suit and tie to boot. He proceeded to acknowledge that the reason John Kerry lost the election was because “Bush got more votes.” “The Republicans? I’ll give them this, they had a story to tell,” the abnormally diplomatic Mr. Moore conceded. “The Democrats,oftentimes, aren’t very good at telling a story.” Mr. Moore went on to tell an uncharacteristically positive Bush story. “Out of the ashes of September 11 rose one man. And he stood on the rubble of lower Manhattan with a bullhorn and he said, ‘I will protect you’,” Mr. Moore intoned. “And he did,” Mr. Moore admitted as the audience began to applaud. “And we were never attacked again.”

Could the clean-shaven, showered and tailored new look of Mr. Moore be just another part of his Oscar promo? Well, let’s look at the approach of the filmmaker who is being mentioned so often in the same breath as Mr. Moore. With Academynominations right around the corner, Mr. Gibson, along with his company, Icon, has chosen not to engage in the conventional Oscar promo game, preferring instead, as sources close to Mr. Gibson indicate, to let the film speak for itself.

AcademyPresident Frank Pierson has commended Mr. Gibson for the civilized approach he is taking in handling the pre-Oscar promotion of his film, “The Passion of the Christ.” Mr. Pierson sees Mr. Gibson as helping to re-establish the Academy Awards as a “celebration and appreciation of excellence.” He is also applauding Mr. Gibson for avoiding the “crass commercialism that was threatening the integrity of the award.” Mr. Gibson and partnerBruceDavey haven’t purchased the usual advertisements that grace the pages of trade publications and entreat Academy members to consider the film for award nominations. “This film should be judged on its artistic merit, not on who spends more money for advertising. That’s really what the academy was meant to be and to celebrate,” Mr. Davey said in a written statement.

Academy members who care about the integrity of the Oscars are taking note.

Jim Hirsen is a Hollywood media critic and author of the New York Times bestseller “Tales from the Left Coast.”

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