I love awards season because my e-mail box gets jammed with negative campaigning about all the Academy Awards hopefuls. Such holiday cheer is out here! Over the years, I’ve reported on the studio bad-mouthing of heavyweight Saving Private Ryan to better the Oscar chances of lightweight Shakespeare in Love. And the planting of “He’s an anti-Semite” allegations against the schizo Princeton professor who was the subject of biopic A Beautiful Mind. And more recently, the efforts to scuttle Blood Diamond and Slumdog Millionaire’s chances because of unfounded charges that filmmakers had exploited locals.

So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that this race is already turning nasty, nasty, nasty …

First, I keep hearing from studio execs what little money The Hurt Locker has made, and how that should prevent it from winning Best Picture. This falls under the bad-mouthing category known as “Oscar voters don’t want to look out of touch with moviegoers” — especially when it involves a small runner looking more and more like this season’s front-runner.

Size does matter when it comes to box office, but that’s something Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences members ignore with ridiculous regularity. Sometimes it seems they purposely vote for the little-known pics just to fuck with Hollywood’s head. For the record, Summit Entertainment’s drama hasn’t made much money since its release June 26: domestic $12,671,105 as of mid-December, foreign $3,436,487, worldwide $16,107,592. But if you’ve seen it, you know it’s very much an Oscar-worthy film.

Meanwhile, there’s some truth and some not in the Hollywood buzz that was e-mailed to me within minutes of the December 15 Golden Globe nominations by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA). “Leo threw his good pal Tobey a party last week to which 40 HFPA went. They, among others, received some sort of fab parting gift, like a Blu-ray player. Thus the Tobey nom for a movie otherwise ignored,” the message read.

Yes, it’s true that Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire have known each other since they were just 10. Yes, they’re good pals. So Leo came back into town last week and told the Brothers filmmakers he was blown away by Maguire’s performance and wanted to throw an awards party for him.

Yes, HFPA members were invited (but 15, not 40) along with a slew of Academy members, like Sean Penn, Robert De Niro, Gary Ross, Paul Rudd, Jon Favreau and Shirley MacLaine. Relativity’s Ryan Kavanaugh, who financed the film, underwrote the evening as well as paid for gift bags, which contained a Sony Blu-ray player.

Hollywood knows well that HFPA has a long tradition of voting for whoever gives them the best swag. But that supposedly ended after the uproar caused when Sharon Stone gifted the HFPA with expensive Coach watches before she picked up a nomination for the little-seen The Muse.

Fast-forward to now. I’m told that, the morning after Leo’s party for Tobey, the HFPA phoned Kavanaugh and said the Blu-ray gift-bag goodie violated the group’s rules. So all 15 HFPA members had to return the DVD player. Yes, it’s true that Tobey did indeed receive a nomination afterward. But that was probably more because his acting was on point and because his publicist, Kelly Bush, lobbied relentlessly and would have gifted her kidneys to the HFPA to get it for him.

Which brings me to Harvey Weinstein. In the good old days when he ran Miramax and ruled at Oscar time, he was perhaps the best Academy Awards bad-mouther around. But now that his financially embattled indieprod the Weinstein Company has taken home the most Golden Globe nominations, the worm has turned.

Now Hollywood has started negative campaigning about him. Because there are a lot of pissed-off co-producers who didn’t see their names mentioned among the official HFPA list of nominees for Weinstein Company films. Omitted were Universal for Inglourious Basterds, and Relativity Media, Marc Platt Productions and Lucamar Productions for Nine. Some say this was an oversight. Others say it’s Harvey’s fault because he wanted to hog all the credit for himself.

Here I am, talking about the 2010 Golden Globe nominations held by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association with the awards to be broadcast live on NBC on January 17. Even though, as I’ve said before and I’ll say again, it’s a completely meaningless show put on by a scandal-riddled organization on a network desperate for any kind of ratings.

Why? Because the Golden Globes have zero integrity. Studios and networks that lavishly lobby the HFPA almost always score nominations. Stars win in direct correlation to their glamour quotient. Everything about the awards is geared toward driving the media’s interest and the telecast’s ratings.

And the small, motley group of freelancers who make up the membership of the HFPA won’t grant membership to real foreign journalists who work at prestige newspapers across the world.

NBC and Dick Clark Productions could clean up the Globes but choose not to. Instead, the entire entertainment industry props up this pathetic show because it’s seen as a nightlong marketing tool. Therefore, it’s ridiculous for anyone to consider the movie categories as a window on the Oscar front-runners. So I refuse to treat these nominations with any seriousness. And if you don’t want that, then for crissakes, stop reading me …

Clint Eastwood and his films are as much a staple during awards season as hard-to-score DVD screeners, expensive coffee-table books based on the movie contenders, and fancy hors d’oeuvres. This time around, Hollywood didn’t expect his latest, Invictus, to do more than $10M to $15M at the box office from 2,125 plays because its marketing had all the lure of a history lesson.

“I don’t feel any real heat on it, like other Clint Eastwood films,” one rival studio exec tells me. Flat tracking for the Nelson Mandela–inspired story showed zero interest from young females, and moderate interest from older females but at least decent interest and choice with males who generally flock to Eastwood efforts.

Though the story is inspirational — “audiences leave surprised and inspired,” one WB exec gushes — the studio knew that ideological perceptions might deter filmgoers even though Clint’s direction and Morgan Freeman’s/Matt Damon’s acting are, as usual, superb. Nor was selling it as a feel-good sports story an option, at least in the U.S. because it’s about rugby and the 1995 World Cup Championship. But that may help the pic overseas.

All in all, the December 12 soft $9M weekend opening was on the low end of what was expected. (Clint’s Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby both did $10M openings, and each went on to earn around $100M, respectively.)

Hey, no one is saying the movie’s not good. It’s just, how many times can you see Morgan Freeman play God? CinemaScore was an A-, with 47 percent of the audience older than 50 rating the film an A. “I’m not in a panic at all. I wish it were a little stronger out of the gate,” one WB exec tells me. “But it’ll be a slow burn. It’ll have great word of mouth and long legs through the holidays.”

Now it’s my turn to do some bad-mouthing. Why in the world has ex–Los Angeles Times errand boy Leo Wolinsky been named editor of Daily Variety (both the L.A. and N.Y. editions)? It’s bewildering. The guy knows nothing about the entertainment biz.

He was infamous for secretly helping to lure billionaire potential local buyers like Eli Broad, Ron Burkle, Richard Riordan and David Geffen into buying the paper when then-bigwig editors were fighting with Tribune Co. (I wrote several award-winning columns about this for L.A. Weekly.)

Wolinsky briefly was a seat-filler atop the L.A. Times’ entertainment and feature sections until he was let go. Nevertheless, he’ll be responsible for all Variety editorial content for the print edition. MaybeVariety needs a top editor who likes to suck up to the rich and powerful now that Peter Bart has been put out to pasture.

LA Weekly