The Race: Now It’s Personal

10:46 PM PST 01/19/2011 by Stephen Galloway
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

“Social Network” won the battle against “King’s Speech” at the Globes, but Harvey can still win the Oscar war against his longtime rival.

In the ongoing rivalry between the industry’s two mastodons, Scott Rudin and Harvey Weinstein, chalk  one up for Rudin.

Well, more than one. Rudin’s The Social Network didn’t just triumph at the Golden Globes on Jan. 16; it pretty much picked up an awards season’s worth of baubles, leaving Weinstein’s The King’s Speech, uh, speechless, excepting Colin Firth’s best actor win.

For Rudin, this doesn’t just mean he’s poised to pick up his second Oscar in four years, after No Country for Old Men; it also means he’s managed to outplay the ultimate player, reversing a history in which Weinstein had elbowed him aside on The Hours and The Reader. As Billy Wilder said, winning is sweet, but watching others lose is even sweeter.

Mother of God, is this the end of Harvey? Does it mean his big comeback, following years when the Weinstein Co. was plagued by rumors of financial disarray, will sputter like his hero’s speech?

Don’t bet on it.

While Rudin has maneuvered his picture brilliantly, convincing audiences that this story of a glorified hacker is a modern-day Rashomon, it is not known if he has yet to sway the Academy, which unveils its nominations Jan. 25. That’s despite heaps of money Sony has lavished on the picture — its first real Oscar contender since Jerry Maguire and a box-office hit whose campaign ties in perfectly with its recent DVD release — equaled by the heaps of money coming from Weinstein, who has hosted individual events and bought countless ads, though he’s been less in your face than years past.

Given that Oscar balloting closed two days before the Globes took place, one won’t influence the other. Both Social and Speech are pretty much a lock for key nominations in such categories as picture, director (David Fincher and Tom Hooper, respectively) and lead actor (Jesse Eisenberg and Firth). Both also seem likely to scoop supporting nominations and a handful of others. But when it comes to winning the top prize — best picture — Harvey can still pull it off. Just.

With the hoopla surrounding the Globes, it’s easy to forget how rarely they and the Oscars align. During the past five years, the Globes’ batting average is .200 — even though it fields two best picture winners, for drama and comedy/musical. Which means there’s still room for Weinstein to work his magic, just as he did when Shakespeare in Love beat Saving Private Ryan in 1999 — if he plays hardball.

OK, so getting Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to launch a full-scale truth assault on Social looks slim. But Sean Parker — hello! The Napster co-founder, played by Justin Timberlake, seems like Mephistopheles compared to the saintly Eduardo Saverin in Rudin’s film and a long way from the hacker of legend.

Add to that the fact Zuckerberg is still with his Harvard girlfriend, Priscilla Chan — conveniently overlooked in the movie — and Weinstein has the kind of ammunition he needs, something that might account for writer Aaron Sorkin’s mollifying Zuckerberg in his speech at the Globes. Truth matters. Even in Hollywood. Sometimes.

Especially when it comes to the Academy’s 5,970 voting members, who hold their awards as a sacred trust. What was the last Academy scandal you can think of? This year’s Globes had three: publicist Mike Russell’s lawsuit, nominating The Tourist and Burlesque, and Ricky Gervais’ jibes.

Older and wiser than many of the awards groups that have feted Social so far, Academy members might yet be tempted by King’s Speech — if seeds of doubt about its main competitor can be sown.

The question is, does Weinstein have it in him to plant them? The man who once could twist any voter’s arm — hey, snap it off if he wanted to — has been a wee bit more constrained this year, despite his flamboyant spending. That’s good news for those who’ve been on the receiving end of his wrath, but bad for insiders who relish a rougher race. Enough with Mr. Nice Guy, Harvey! Bring back Tyrannosaurus rex.              

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