The race between Oscar favorites"Avatar" and "The Hurt Locker" is getting ugly. "Hurt Locker" producer Nicholas Chartier has caused an uproar by imploring Academy members, via email, to vote for his underdog film and not the "$500m movie ['Avatar']." Oscar rules forbid such shenanigans and, although Chartier quickly apologized for his move, claiming "naivete, ignorance of the rules and plain stupidity as a first-time nominee," some observers feel the damage is done. Will his mess-up hurt "The Hurt Locker"'s Oscar chances?

"The Hurt Locker" team just blew it: This was a mistake "on so many levels," says Sasha Stone at Awards Daily. Doesn't Chartier realize there's a system when it comes to "Oscar strategy"? Begging for votes never works. Voters want you to "play games and seduce them." This "ham-handed" gaffe has played right into James Cameron's hands, tipping the balance "in Avatar's direction."
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The little-movie-that-could still could: Though Chartier's e-mail smacks of "desperation or panic," says Pete Hammond at the LA Times, it's hard to blame him for trying to start a "grass-roots campaign" in the face of the publicity blizzard that's been mounted to guarantee "Avatar" the Oscar. Whatever happens, "The Hurt Locker"'s "antiwar credentials" have already given it a "publicity-op" money can't buy.
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Reality check — everyone in Hollywood engages in such tactics: Chartier's only crime is he getting caught, says Nikki Finke at Deadline Hollywood. This year's "Oscar campaign for media manipulation" has been the worst in living memory; everyone from "flacks and insiders" to "studios and filmmakers" has been busily badmouthing rival nominees for months. It's a dirty system that the Academy "hath wrought and doth [habitually] condone."
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