The Race: 5 Oscar Rivalries

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Kiss Kiss: Despite Hilary Swank (left) beating Annette Bening for best actress a second time in 2005, there is no animus between the two as they may go head-to-head again.

This time it's personal: How colorful histories could make for colossal matchups

This time it’s 
personal.

With millions of dollars at stake, not to mention contractual bonuses for actors that can top $500,000 for an Oscar win, it’s inevitable that individual rivalries will color every awards season.

At no time was that more apparent than in 1999, when bitterness between the DreamWorks camp, led by Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg, and the Miramax of Harvey Weinstein reached the boiling point over their respective nominees Saving Private Ryan and Shakespeare in Love.

Spielberg had categorically forbidden his marketing chief, Terry Press, from using dirty tactics like bad-mouthing the other contenders. (None of the awards campaigners is above hiring Academy insiders who get paid $3,000-plus a month for a “whisper” campaign, i.e., touting a film at Academy events.) Nonetheless, Spielberg could barely disguise his irritation when Weinstein, known for his aggressive campaigns, scooped the best picture Oscar.

Races like these leave bad blood for years, sometimes even among joint winners. Think Shakespeare producer Edward Zwick and three of his fellow producers were happy to be elbowed aside by Weinstein when they were interviewed backstage about their win?

This year’s race carries a slew of rivalries that are just as much personal as professional, no matter what the individuals might claim.

Here are a few to look out for:

1: Harvey Weinstein 
vs. Scott Rudin
Arguably the two most brilliant producer-executives of their generation, they also are throwbacks to an older time when outsized personalities — with outsized egos — dominated Hollywood. They’ve worked together with mounting hostility each time. When Weinstein got involved with 2002’s The Hours, he had countless battles with Rudin. But those paled in comparison to their warfare over whether The Reader was ready to be released in 2008, which led Rudin to pull his name from the credits. Now they’re spearheading the two leading contenders for best picture: Weinstein’s The King’s Speech and Rudin’s The Social Network. Insiders already are speculating about who encouraged the flood of press questioning the accuracy of Social’s portrayal of Facebook antihero Mark Zuckerberg. Just wait till someone digs up some dirt on Colin Firth’s King George VI: Did he truly have that stutter? Was his tutor a master or just an outback quack?

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2: David O. Russell 
vs. Christopher Nolan
When was the last time a contender was alleged to have held a rival in a headlock? Russell — the famously difficult helmer of IHuckabees and the upcoming The Fighter — is reported to have done that to British filmmaker Nolan, at least according to the New York Times. If Nolan — who enters the race with his summer blockbuster Inception and was notoriously overlooked during his last awards-season run with The Dark Knight — gets passed over again, and Russell gets nominated for his yet-unspooled Fighter, pity the studio teams who have to deal with the fallout.

3: Annette Bening vs. Hilary Swank
The media has been straining to turn a potential Bening/Swank matchup into a showdown. (For the record, they couldn’t have been more amicable to each other at a recent Hollywood Reporter roundtable.) The stage was set 10 years ago when Bening appeared to be cruising toward victory for American Beauty, the eventual best picture winner. Married to Warren Beatty, she was Hollywood royalty but saw her prize snatched away by newcomer Swank, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who couldn’t believe her good fortune when she won for Boys Don’t Cry. History repeated itself five years later when Swank scored for Million Dollar Baby versus Bening’s Being Julia. Still, another loss to Swank would have to be a hard pill for even the very gracious Bening to swallow. That’s if it happens: This year, she’s the front-runner for The Kids Are All Right. And Swank might be fighting an uphill battle with Conviction.

4: Jeffrey Katzenberg 
vs. John Lasseter
DreamWorks Animation, headed by CEO Katzenberg, may have won the inaugural animation Oscar when Shrek triumphed in 2002, but since then DreamWorks has had to settle for one more win while Disney-owned Pixar — where Lasseter is chief creative officer — has captured five, most recently for Up. The two companies have had plenty of dust-ups: In 1998, when DreamWorks released Antz, Lasseter said he felt “betrayed” that it so closely mirrored Pixar’s A Bug’s Life. Just months ago, Pixar and Disney withdrew support from animation’s prized Annie Awards, contending that they favor DWA. Now, Pixar’s Toy Story 3 and DWA’s How to Train Your Dragon aren’t just hoping to score in the Oscar animation category, they’re aiming for the big time as potential best picture nominees.

5: The consultants 
vs. one another
What happens when you used to be Miramax’s awards guy, but now you work for Universal? What about when your ex-colleague reps a different division of the studio you’re defending? That’s the case with Tony Angellotti, whose one-time staffer Karen Fried handles Focus Features, a Universal division. Their relationship is typical of the small world of awards consultants, which is full of former colleagues who now compete with one another. Major awards reps like Sony Pictures Classics’ Melody Korenbrot, the Weinstein Co.’s Lisa Taback, 42 West’s Leslee Dart and Cynthia Swartz and Warner Bros.’ Michele Robertson might not take the competition personally — if they didn’t have so much at stake. But with their respective companies guaranteed bonuses that range from $50,000 to the mid-six figures, the battle is intense.                                              

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