Friday, February 25, 2005

Oscar and Dollars

This is the big weekend in Hollywood, when the entire industry is focused on who brings home the gold trophy. The Oscars are the most prestigious awards in show business and reflect a collective vote from Hollywood insiders as to what movies, performances and contributions are the “best” of the year.

The most important award is for Best Picture. But if you’re like most Americans, you haven’t seen many of the nominees. Now the Oscars have never been a barometer of box office success, although getting an award always delivers added sales. What’s “best” to the Hollywood crowd is anything but aligned with the tastes of Middle America. But this year, more so than any in the past 20, the cast of nominees is distinguished by the lack of any blockbuster hits. Here’s the list:

Sideways: Picked up a lot of box office momentum since the awards season started, but still only about $60 million in theatrical. Sideways is the critics’ choice, some say it’s because they can identify with the intellectual and cultural pretentiousness of the main characters.

Million Dollar Baby : Also gathering Oscar-driven steam, and now over $50 million at the box office. Clint Eastwood is becoming the sentimental favorite for this sleeper hit about a female boxer. Hillary Swank will probably win Best Actress.

Finding Neverland: By all accounts a terrific movie that never really found its identity. It will hit $50 million, but barely. Apparently Johnny Depp has more crowd appeal as a slightly degenerate pirate.

The Aviator: For all his critical acclaim, Martin Scorcese has never really had a big hit. This is his biggest financial success at $80 million and rising. (But will never offset the financial disaster of Gangs of New York!) But this biopic doesn’t have the story appeal to hit it big, despite the presence of Leonardo DiCaprio. Nevertheless, it is a favorite for Best Picture.

Ray: Jamie Foxx and the music of Ray Charles really make this movie, but box office is stalled below $80 million. Foxx is a lock for Best Actor.

I know this all sounds like a lot of money. But when real people vote with their wallets, what do they want to see? And the envelope please … Number three, The Passion of the Christ at $370 million; Number two, Spider-Man 2 at $373 million, and at the top of the list, Shrek 2, with a $436 million haul.

I’m not suggesting these movies are better because they make more money. I think of them like books. I can appreciate great writing and love the classics. But I can’t resist a good spy novel.


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