Overcoming controversies can be key to winning Oscars

At this crucial point in the annual Oscar race, contenders for major awards are vulnerable to any negative news that might tip the scales against them. Negative campaigns by hired guns for leading candidates have often upended expectations and pushed their targets against voting deadlines.

Last year, there were questions raised about the authenticity of the script for the Oscar-winning picture “The Shape of Water” and seeds of a debate about whether “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” was racist. And Gary Oldman had to overcome a controversy too — reminders of a homophobic comment he made in an interview several years earlier to win best actor for “Darkest Hour.”

In the last 48 hours, we have news about three films that might threaten vulnerable front-runners and which prompted some quick defensive responses:

Lady Gaga and R. Kelly
The star of “A Star is Born” issued a stunningly earnest apology on Thursday for having recorded the duet “Do What You Want (With My Body)” with accused sexual predator R. Kelly, whose alleged offenses, including accusations and a trial for child pornography, are logged in the Lifetime documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly.”

The song was released in 2013, long after Kelly’s alleged abuses had first been aired, but in her statement, Lady Gaga suggests it’s all “horrifying and indefensible” news to her and that she is pulling the song from iTunes and other streaming services and vows to never work with Kelly again.

She says that “(A)s a victim of sexual assault myself, I made both the song and video at a dark time in my life” when she was angry and still processing what had happened to her. She says she believes and supports all victims of sexual abuse and has made that clear throughout her career. Her decision to work with Kelly, she says, shows “how explicitly twisted my mind was at the time.”

It’s hard not to believe that this urgent apology was prompted by the threat to her chances of winning a best actress Oscar in a very tight race against Globe winners Glenn Close (the drama “The Wife”) and Olivia Colman (the comedy “The Favourite”).

SEE What do Golden Globes wins (and losses) mean for Oscars?

Incredibles 2” vs. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”
Before the announcement on Wednesday that John Lasseter, the fallen co-founder of Pixar, has been hired to head the fledgling animation division of Skydance Media, the Oscar race for Best Animated Feature seemed something close to a dead heat between Disney/Pixar’s “Incredibles 2” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”

“Incredibles 2,” a belated sequel to the beloved 2004 Oscar winner “The Incredibles,” was extolled by many critics as the better of director Brad Bird’s two films, and adjusting for inflation, it has has done nearly as well at the box office.

“Spider-Man,” the first animated feature in the Marvel franchise, has done equally well with critics and while it doesn’t appear headed toward the same dizzying heights in ticket sales where Pixar movies invariably end up, it is a major hit.

As for awards so far, “Incredibles 2” was named best animated feature by the National Board of Review and has 11 Annie nominations from the International Animated Film Assn. “Spider-Man” won the Golden Globe, has seven Annie nominations, and leads its rival in wins voted by critics groups. Both are nominated by BAFTA and the Producers Guild.

So, the question now is how will the Lasseter/Skydance news affect the feelings of Academy voters’ who are on the fence between the two pictures?

“Incredibles 2” is the last feature made under the supervision of Lasseter, who left the company because of sexual harassment allegations just as the cameras were rolling on the film 14 months ago. It was a hard fall for a man whose career in film animation had put him in a rarefied class with old Walt himself.

His hiring did not go down well with the folks at Times Up, who put out a lengthy statement saying, among other things, that Skydance Media “is providing another position of power, prominence and privilege to a man who has repeatedly been accused of sexual harassment in the workplace.”

Times Up said that for a powerful man to “come back” from an abuse scandal, he must show remorse, reform his behavior and deliver “restitution to those you harmed.” Lasseter, the statement said, has done none of those things.

Lasseter put out his own statement saying he has spent the last year “away from the industry in deep reflection, learning how my actions unintentionally made colleagues uncomfortable, which I deeply regret and apologize for. It has been humbling, but I believe it will make me a better leader.”

Is that enough, or was it even necessary? We’ll never know, but if “Spider-Man” wins we’ll always wonder.

PREDICT the Oscar nominations now; change them until January 22

Nick Vallelonga, Peter Farrelly and “Green Book
An embarrassing a 2013 tweet from  Nick Vallelonga agreeing with Donald Trump that Muslims were dancing on rooftops in New Jersey when the Twin Towers were coming down puts a cloud over his and his co-writers’ chances at parlaying their Golden Globe win with Writers Guild and Academy awards.

Vallelonga, whose father is portrayed by Viggo Mortensen in the 1960s road comedy, reportedly deleted his Twitter account after his old tweet surfaced. So far, he has not commented on it. But supporting one of Trump’s most glaring lies is a bit reveal in liberal Hollywood and sadly ironic given that the black pianist his father traveled with is played by Mahershala Ali, a Muslim.

Oh, and “Green Book” director Peter Farrelly’s admission and apology for flashing his penis at his “There’s Something About Mary” star Cameron Diaz back in 2001, something he says he did as a  joke(!), may further slow the film’s momentum.

SIGN UP for Gold Derby’s free newsletter with latest predictions

Be sure to check out how our experts rank this year’s Oscar contenders. Then take a look at the most up-to-date combined odds before you make your own Oscar predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominations are announced on January 22.

More News from GoldDerby