How can you tell when Harvey Weinstein is really serious about an awards campaign?
When that campaign finds new messages along the way, shifting gears as it unfolds.
That’s what’s happening this week with the Weinstein Company’s push on behalf of “The Imitation Game,” the World War II-era drama that has become one of the top contenders for Best Picture in a wide-open year.
What’s curious here is that the new message of the ads shifts the focus completely away from the movie itself and onto the subject of the film. Instead of finding a new way to tell voters why Morten Tyldum’s movie is great, they’re telling us why Alan Turing, the British mathematician and codebreaker played by Benedict Cumberbatch, was great.
In the past, Weinstein has been a master at finding a resonant message in the later days of a campaign, positioning “The King’s Speech” as a universal story about finding your voice, turning “The Artist” into a grander statement than it initially seemed and repositioning “Silver Linings Playbook” from a crowd-pleasing comedy to a highly personal drama about mental illness.
The new message of the “Imitation Game” campaign: Alan Turing was a wronged genius, and we all owe him.
(They don’t come out and say we owe him an Oscar or boffo boxoffice, but, you know, how else can we pay our debt these days?)
The “Imitation Game” campaign initially did what almost all campaigns do, using quotes from critics to applaud the movie and its performances. But in recent days, Weinstein has shifted from quoting Rex Reed and Leonard Maltin about the movie to quoting tech executives about the man.
Current ads feature Google chairman Eric Schmidt, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, PayPal co-founder Max Levchin and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, all of whom laud Turing and none of whom say a word about “The Imitation Game.”
A typical quote comes from Schmidt: “Every time you use a phone or a computer, you use the ideas that Alan Turing invented. Alan discovered intelligence in computers, and today he surrounds us. A true hero of mankind.”
Upcoming ads will reportedly feature gay leaders and military figures praising Turing.
The tactic hasn’t been universally applauded. “Oscar overreach and a vulgar pander: The Weinstein Co. is apparently campaigning for Alan Turing to win Best Martyr,” wrote Grantland Oscar watcher Mark Harris on Twitter.
And it came on the heels of a lengthy piece in the New York Review of Books that blasted the film and said, essentially, that Turing was indeed a wronged genius, but that “Imitation Game” was one more way in which he’s been wronged, by being misrepresented in a number of different ways.
By contrast, recent Los Angeles Times ads for Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” feature quotes about the movie without even mentioning its subject, Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle.
Ads for Universal’s “Unbroken” include a mention of its subject (“In honoring Louis Zamperini, Angelina Jolie does herself proud”), but focus on the film, as do ads for Paramount’s Martin Luther King Jr. story “Selma” and Focus Features’ “The Theory of Everything.”
And Weinstein’s ads about the fact-based “Big Eyes” mention the film, actors Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz, director Tim Burton, screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski and songwriter Lana Del Rey, as well as the costume designer, production designer and cinematographer — but never mention the movie’s subjects by name.
In the current Best Picture rankings at GoldDerby.com, “The Imitation Game” is in fourth place, behind “Boyhood,” “Selma” and “Birdman”; in the current Gurus of Gold chart at Movie City news, it ranks third.
Oscar ballots, by the way, are due back at the Academy by next Thursday; nominations will be announced Jan. 15. It’s safe to assume that “The Imitation Game” will be a nominee, and that the Weinstein campaign will find a new twist or two along the way.