Critical condition

How important are reviews when mounting an Oscar campaign? Absolutely vital, marketers say.

When it comes to a successful Oscar campaign, film reviews play a very, um ... critical role. Any veteran campaigner or awards marketer will say that positive ink supplied by important publications from the media's most judgmental journalists can play a very important -- if not pivotal -- role in mounting a movie's play for Oscar gold. Not exactly a news flash, but film reviews remain a constant piece of the campaign puzzle.

Glowing pull quotes not only help fill up space in the "For Your Consideration" ads, but they serve another purpose: In an always crowded year-end marketplace and awards race, nice reviews pique the interest of members in seeing a given film. "In the glut of movies that come out at year's end, a good review makes people say, 'This is the picture I have to see,'" one veteran campaigner says. "If the reviews are strong enough, it will get them to watch your film."

Of course, "Not just any good review will help you get the message out," the campaigner says. "You need strong reviews from important publications, certain magazines and key newspapers and often known critics."

Being the sophisticated bunch that they are, members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences pay close attention to such top publications as the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, as well as magazines such as Time and Newsweek. But what happens when a critic at one of the aforementioned publications delivers a disastrous opinion of a picture that's pinned with plenty of Oscar hope? It might kick the campaigners into overdrive, but it doesn't mean that the film is dead in the water.

"There have been horrible reviews for films that went on to win best picture," another veteran Oscar guru says. "The New York Times had what remains to this day as one of the worst reviews I've ever read about (2001's) 'A Beautiful Mind,' and even (2002's) 'Chicago' got lacerated in some reviews.

"Ultimately, it is hard to overcome bad reviews in the aggregate, but individual reviews, not so much," he adds. "Both of those films got great reviews as a whole, so it's easy to overcome a bad one here or there."

Critical praise in print is not the only way reviewers help to push the cause. Year's end also comes with highly publicized top 10 lists from countless critics, which help to tighten the race and shed stronger light on select films. Additionally, top critics groups release their nominations or bestow their awards relatively early on, which can be "crucial" to a campaign, one campaigner says. The National Board of Review announces its 2006 award winners today, while the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. will announce its nods Sunday, and the New York Film Critics Circle votes Monday.

"Some people get very excited or even weirded out by a single review, but in fact, when it comes down to it, the Academy does decide for themselves what their picks are going to be," one campaign publicist says.

Enough said.