Pete Hammond

Can Oscar Voters Forgive & Not Forget Mel?

Jodie Foster directed and co-stars with Mel Gibson in The Beaver and just made her first statement about him and her film since his rants against his ex-girlfriend became a matter of public record. Calling Gibson “a true and loyal friend’ in a “dark moment”, she told More magazine, “Of course, Mel is an undeniably gifted actor, and The Beaver is one of his most powerful and moving performances.” The big question now is when Summit Entertainment plans to release her film, which still remains officially undated, and if the studio will try to make an awards play. And the even bigger question is whether, after all his public travails, Mel Gibson could suddenly become a serious contender for a Best Actor Oscar nomination via a late-breaking qualifying run before the end of the year? As for Jodie, I’m told she just wants to do what’s best for the picture, which was a real labor of love for the two-time Oscar-winning actress/director. She simply doesn’t want it to be “swept under the rug”.

Three different sources who have seen the film and have a connection to it (none in a production capacity) all told me virtually the same thing: Gibson is “extraordinary”. One person said, “he gives an incredible performance. If you can forget what happened, and I didn’t have tabloid images racing through my mind watching him, it’s really something. I still don’t want to be his friend but he’s great in this.” Another told me today, “I don’t bullshit about these things. He’s amazing.”

Although Gibson has 2 Oscars at home for directing and producing 1995’s Braveheart, he has never been nominated for his acting. In the film, Gibson plays a father who walks around talking to a beaver hand puppet. It’s way out there but it apparently works, according to those who’ve seen it.

Among the movie’s insiders, there seem to be two distinct schools of thought about The Beaver’s release and, understandably, some nervousness. One side says go for it and get it out this year and into contention. The other side worries that there may be other shoes to drop in the Gibson domestic situation and the movie could get caught in the middle after Summit commited to a multimillion marketing campaign and possible Oscar run.

One strategist leaning towards the option of going out this year cites last month’s CBS News/Vanity Fair poll that found 76% of respondents saying Gibson’s personal troubles would have no effect on whether they would see one of his movies. Of course that poll didn’t specifically ask about The Beaver. Nor did it specifically survey Academy members. Whether Mel’s rants completely turned off Oscar voters no matter how brilliant he may be in the picture is something that will only be answered when Summit makes the call and lets this cat out of the bag.

The young company proved itself to be a savvy campaigner last year with its smart run all the way to a Best Picture sweep for The Hurt Locker. This year, its awards contenders include the critically acclaimed The Ghost Writer (released February 19th and wide March 19th), directed by another showbiz figure who’s no stranger to controversy, Roman Polanski. As well as the hot button Valerie Plame political drama starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, Fair Game (opening November 5th), which was well-received in Cannes competition last May. Speculating on what might happen to The Beaver, one source said, “Summit likes to surprise people, so we’ll see”.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.