By Sandy Cohen
LOS ANGELES — With Uggie stealing hearts in “The Artist,” snagging the spotlight at celebrity events and reportedly preparing for a sketch with Oscar host Billy Crystal, Hollywood really has gone to the dogs this year. There’s even a brand-new awards show honoring canine performers.
The first annual Golden Collar Awards drew international attention when Martin Scorsese recently published a letter in the Los Angeles Times demanding recognition for Blackie the Doberman, who appears alongside Sacha Baron Cohen in “Hugo.” Scorsese encouraged a write-in campaign and now “Hugo” adds one Golden Collar nomination to its 11 Oscar bids.
Antonio Banderas, who voiced the leading cat in the Oscar-nominated animated film “Puss in Boots,” followed up with his own letter in the Huffington Post, urging Hollywood to “please overcome this anti-feline-ism” and consider recognizing Puss with a Golden Collar nod. (No word yet whether the directors of “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Rango” are demanding panda and lizard inclusion in the competition.)
Forget it, says Golden Collar Awards founder Alan Siskind. His show is just for live-action dogs. As creator of Dog News Daily, a website and marketing firm, Siskind came up with the idea to honor on-screen dogs in January when he noticed how many awards contenders prominently featured man’s best friend.
“It was just an excuse to have a party,” he said.
But Hollywood really sunk its teeth into the concept.
When Harvey Weinstein‘s office got word of the Golden Collar Awards, he offered Uggie and a co-star of “The Artist,” actress Penelope Ann Miller, to help announce the nominees. With that starry boost, the show, like a Labrador after a tennis ball, was off and running.
Uggie is the night’s leading nominee, with nods for his work in both “The Artist” and “Water For Elephants.” Besides him and Blackie (real name: Maximilian), the other feature-film nominees are Cosmo from “Beginners,” Denver, who played Skeletor in “50/50” and Hummer, who played Dolce in “Young Adult.” Small-screen canine stars are also being honored.
Charlize Theron, star of “Young Adult” and longtime animal activist, will receive a special recognition at the Golden Collar Awards.
Siskind says he’s already been approached by TV networks interested in broadcasting the show next year, and the Hollywood Reporter has signed on to stream Monday’s ceremony on its website.
“Everybody’s having fun with it. It’s tongue in cheek, but also recognizing the joy that dogs bring to people’s lives,” he said. “Unlike films and TV shows that only appeal to a particular demographic, an awards show for dogs transcends any socio-economic or gender or political or geographic boundary.”
But what about the cats, horses and other creatures who entertained moviegoers this year? They’re not eligible for the Golden Collars, but could be among the honorees at the PAWSCARS, American Humane Association’s annual recognition of animal actors and the productions that feature them.
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The group, which advocates for animals on set and issues the “no animals were harmed” certification to films, commercials and TV shows, has presented its PAWSCARS for the past four years. This year’s winners will be announced Thursday.
“We not only base it on the actual film people see in theaters, but we also have firsthand knowledge on how the animal action was achieved,” said Jone Bouman, spokeswoman for the American Humane Association’s film and television unit, which works on about 2,000 productions a year.
All kinds of animals are eligible for PAWSCARS, she said, noting that a tarantula won best supporting arachnid for its role in “Salt” with Angelina Jolie.
“He was honored for his acting job with the most famous actress on the planet,” Bouman said.
Among the categories this year are best use of technology and best scene-stealer, along with the first people’s choice PAWSCAR. Voters can cast ballots beginning Friday on the Animal Planet website.
The Humane Society of the United States also honors animal-focused entertainment at its annual Genesis Awards, which recognizes creative productions and news programs for portrayals of animal-related issues.
“We look at the animal-protection message across the board, for all animals,” said Beverly Kaskey, senior director of the Humane Society’s Hollywood Outreach and executive producer of the Genesis Awards.
“The human-animal bond resonates with almost anybody,” she said. “That’s why we respond to animals in films and that’s why Uggie is getting so much attention in general… They should honor him at the Academy Awards and I hope he comes to our show as a presenter.”
Only humans have been nominated for acting Oscars so far, since nominations are determined by fellow actors and no dogs belong to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ acting branch.