EXTRA: The Trouble With Harry Knowles

When it comes to movie rumors, Harry Knowles is the doyen of the Internet. The name of his Web site says it all: Ain’t It Cool?

Every day on www.aint-it-cool-news.com, Knowles and his army of anonymous Hollywood tipsters blow the lid off top-secret production details and review films before mainstream Hollywood critics ever see them. Most of the time, the rumors and “spoilers” are accurate. But not always.

Case in point: On Monday, Knowles posted what looked like the list of Oscar nominations — a day before the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences made its official announcement. It was a scoop, and Knowles clucked that he’d “scored a major treat” for his readers. But Tuesday morning, Knowles was wiping egg off his face when Academy President Robert Rehme pronounced the Ain’t It Cool list as “bogus.”

Suddenly, the doyen had become the dunce. And that definitely ain’t cool.

“When I posted up the actual nominations this morning, I was just like, ‘This is going to be trouble,'” Knowles told Hollywood.com on Tuesday. “But I’ll just deal with it.”

It’s been something of a PR setback for Knowles, the twentysomething Austin, Texas-based movie fanboy who has emerged as the Internet’s most prominent film pundit. He is an occasional co-host of the popular “Roger Ebert and The Movies” TV show and put in a cameo in the Robert Rodriguez movie “The Faculty.”

In addition to his public thrashing by Rehme (who noted that Knowles “missed on almost every category by several” nominations, and added: “To claim to have a source inside the Academy is bogus. … It’s idiotic but if it makes [Knowles] happy, fine.” Knowles had to contend with reporters asking him questions Tuesday about the veracity of his sources. Heck, even Ebert wanted to know what was going on.

“Roger e-mailed me, asking if I had been hoaxed or if I made it up. I sent him a report and he was, like, ‘OK, you got overexcited.’ And that’s basically what happened,” Knowles says.

Here’s how it went down. On Monday, Knowles posted a purported list of the Academy’s eight finalists in 17 categories (a list which, readers were told, would be later cut down to the perfunctory five). “We always wonder who didn’t quite make the cut, who was 6th, 7th and 8th?” Knowles wrote. “What you will see here is the list that they narrow down from.”

Always cagey as to his sources, Knowles said he got the list from one of his field agents, using the pseudonym “Doctor Evil’s Evil Lite Son.”

The next morning, when Rehme and Dustin Hoffman rattled off the actual nominees, numerous finalists from Knowles’ list were nowhere to be found in the Academy’s official announcement, including two nods for Best Director: Lasse Hallstrom (“The Cider House Rules“) and Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovich“).

Knowles subsequently posted an explanation for the error on his Web site. He said that his list was obtained from an Internet address buried deep in the Academy of Motion Pictures Web server, which also houses the official Oscar.com Web site.

“When you find something that’s actually stored on the servers of the people that are doing the Oscars, that seems credible,” he says.

“There’s no hacking involved or anything like that. If you stumble across it, there’s no codes or passwords, you don’t have to log in. If they had that, then I never would have stumbled across it.”

It didn’t seem odd to Knowles that there were eight nominees listed in each category instead of five. “It made sense that they would do it that way for security reasons, so that you wouldn’t have the final five listed anywhere.”

Now Knowles says he thinks that the list was probably some preliminary work by Academy staffers, which comprised their “best guesses” as to the nominees.

It seems like an innocent error, but when you’ve got the president of the Academy of Motion Pictures talking about it, the implications are great: The Internet is now recognized as a major source for movie news, rivaling the trade newspapers and “Entertainment Tonight.” But should some guy typing HTML codes in his bedroom in Podunk be held to the same standards of accuracy as The New York Times?

And when a potential scoop as big as the early release of Oscar nominations comes along, can that guy be blamed for being a little reckless? Wouldn’t another person do the same thing?

“I would not have printed it, especially as the actual nominations were only a few hours away,” says Garth Franklin, producer of Dark Horizons (www.darkhorizons.com), another movie-rumor site. “The Academy’s security is almost legendary. Unless it had come personally from my most trusted few sources, then I wouldn’t even look at it.”

Franklin says Knowles’ Oscar snafu won’t do any harm to Ain’t It Cool’s reputation, nor to that of movie-rumor sites in general. “We may not be as reliable as Variety, but certainly we’re above tabloid-level accuracy. … We all make mistakes in our time, but they’re easily forgiven and forgotten as long as we have a good track record, something Harry certainly has.”

For his part, Knowles is keeping his humor and trying to make sure he doesn’t get fooled again. And in a way, he’s pleased that the nominations turned out differently, because he was rooting for Jonze to get the directorial nod for “Malkovich,” one of Knowles’ fave films of 1999.

“I am concerned about credibility. I am trying to continue to look at it and say, how did I mess this up, what did I miss?

“I ran with it, and people are going to slap me around for a month or two about it. I just have to go about resetting myself and doing a good job like I usually do. I dropped the ball on this one. But I am actually happier with the nominations they chose, so it’s bittersweet.”