White House not banning movie screenings — but does a presidential preview actually influence Oscar race?

President Barack Obama talks with Rachel Robinson before the Ò42Ó movie screening with Robinson family members, cast, and crew in the Family Theater at the White House, April 2, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House. President Obama talks with Rachel Robinson before the “42” movie screening. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

We’re approaching the time when the only thing nuttier than actual politics is Oscar politics – all those star-studded holiday movies kick off the awards-season frenzy.

Adding to the madness: Last week’s Hollywood Reporter story that claimed the White House is putting the brakes on official movie screenings because of perceived favoritism in the high-stakes Academy Awards campaigns. A juicy scoop, especially since the Obamas just hosted a screening for the Nelson Mandela biopic this month. That reportedly really miffed the producers of “12 Years a Slave,” which didn’t get similar presidential treatment.

But the White House told us Monday that there’s no ban on VIP screenings. “The White House enjoys the opportunity to screen movies and will continue that tradition,” a spokesperson said. “Any reports to the contrary are not accurate.” However, the spokesperson couldn’t tell us whether there are other big movies scheduled for the coming months.

But it got us thinking: Is a presidential preview really powerful enough to give a boost to the Oscar race? Do Hollywood types even care what Washington thinks?

We looked at the prestigious Hollywood films that scored a White House premiere and the Oscars they won. Our conclusion? It’s almost impossible to tell what influences Oscar voters.

While schmoozing with the president makes headlines, let’s get real: How would a Steven Spielberg movie starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln not be nominated for a zillion Oscars? The two attended a White House screening for “Lincoln” last November, but the movie only won two of the 12 Oscars it was nominated for: best actor and best production design.

Another film destined for a golden statue: “The Help,” the 2011 drama about African American maids, which landed a White House showing and a best supporting actress award for Octavia Spencer. (Which could bode well for the Jackie Robinson biopic “42”: The critics weren’t kind, but Michelle Obama and Harrison Ford headlined this spring’s screening.)

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 24: In this handout provided by The White House, First lady Michelle Obama announces the Best Picture Oscar to Argo for the 85th Annual Academy Awards live from the Diplomatic Room of the White House February 24, 2012 in Washington, DC. Obama revealed the award via satellite for the live show being held in Los Angeles. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images) First lady Michelle Obama announces the Best Picture Oscar. (Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images)

Lesser-known movies, however, can benefit more from the publicity of White House attention. The first lady championed indie film “Beasts of the Southern Wild” two weeks before 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis walked Oscar’s red carpet as a nominee for best actress. (She was adorable but didn’t win.)

The blurred lines between D.C. and Hollywood can annoy ultra-sensitive entertainment types and partisan gatekeepers. Movie mogul (and Obama donor) Harvey Weinstein helped orchestrate the first lady’s appearance via video to present best picture at February’s Academy Awards. Surprise, surprise, he just happens to be the distributor of “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” which scored not only a White House screening but also a special Kennedy Center preview this month hosted by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Colin Powell.

Of course, the D.C. seal of approval doesn’t always help in Los Angeles, especially when it comes to television. NBC’s “1600 Penn” – produced by former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett – got the rare opportunity to show off the comedy to the president and other White House staffers.

Big hit? Hardly – it was canceled after 13 episodes.

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Michael Livingston · November 25, 2013