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Academy Awards: Planning for the Long Term

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Do Academy Award voters all have short-term memory loss? You’d think so from the way Hollywood honchos gripe about how tough it is to win nominations for movies released in the first half of the year. But maybe it’s time to forget the brief-attention-span theory: All five of last year’s Best Picture contenders were, in fact, released before the peak fall movie season. This year, with a so-far weak crop of holiday movies, studios are again expected to campaign for films whose freshness dates have expired. Some oldies likely to go back on the publicity front burner:

Kevin Bacon for Best Supporting Actor in Murder in the First. So what if Bacon’s Alcatraz inmate didn’t exactly arrest audiences last January? One Warner source says that even though this torture-filled tale was something ”not everyone could sit through” comfortably in a big-screen setting, a videocassette mail campaign aimed at critics could cement the actor’s case. Warner is also rolling out a Best Picture crusade for the rhapsodically reviewed A Little Princess, undeterred by two high-profile flop releases in May and August.

Braveheart for Best Picture. The three-hour historical epic from second-time auteur Mel Gibson, released in late May and reissued in September, also gets a dust off. Says one primed-for-battle Paramount publicist, invoking Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves and Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, ”We think Mel Gibson is a force of nature in terms of understanding what makes a movie work.” Okay, so Mel can lead a campaign against soldiers in a kilt; will he blow up voters’ skirts, too? Charge!

Kathy Bates for Best Actress in Dolores Claiborne. Sure, she’s a dark horse, but in post-O.J. Los Angeles you can’t aim for a sympathy vote much better than by playing a battered wife. Castle Rock Entertainment is betting it can tout Bates’ inspired work and make this March release come back like a lion. — Pat H. Broeske and Steve Daly