Down Year for Oscars Widens Field of Contenders The 2006 awards year has been disappointing, with only one or two films becoming blockbusters. In Hollywood, advertising reps for both major trade publications bemoan the drop in studios' Oscar campaigns. But as in nature, Hollywood hates a vacuum: Movies that would normally not be considered Oscar-caliber are filling the awards gap with campaigns of their own.
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Down Year for Oscars Widens Field of Contenders

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Down Year for Oscars Widens Field of Contenders

Down Year for Oscars Widens Field of Contenders

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

The political campaigning may have receded for the moment, but in Hollywood it's Oscar season. Studios are spending millions to lure voters to their films, but in what some handicappers see as a weak year, studios are cutting back on their support for films that once seemed like contenders.

NPR's Kim Masters reports.

KIM MASTERS: Sometimes Oscar dreams won't die. Most handicappers see Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" as a long shot for a Best Picture nomination. But Paramount Pictures hasn't given up. The studio has been running a relentless campaign, including an ad parked on the Web site of the trade paper Variety. Click on it and you can hear Stone delivering insights into his process:

Mr. OLIVER STONE (Director): A movie, no matter what it is, it's always about people. And we care about other people. It's the only thing that moves us, really, outside ourselves.

MASTERS: Oscar campaigning is a profitable business for trade publications, newspapers and television networks, but the studios are proceeding with caution in a year in which many supposed Best Picture candidates have failed to ignite.

The list includes movies like "World Trade Center" as well as Clint Eastwood's “Flags of our Fathers” and the Emilio Estevez dream project, “Bobby.”

Tony Angellotti is a consultant who helps run Oscar campaigns. At some point, he says, studios have to drop out of the game when staying in costs millions of dollars.

Mr. TONY ANGELLOTTI (Consultant): Continuing to spend money trying to convince the unconvinced is, for lack of a better word, just dumb.

MASTERS: There are at least a couple of seemingly certain Best Picture nominees. The musical "Dreamgirls" and Martin Scorsese's film "The Departed.” Beyond that Academy members are looking at some dark horses, like "The Queen" with Helen Mirren. While Mirren has long been considered a likely nominee for Best Actress, now the film itself is in contention.

Pete Hammond writes an online column handicapping the awards races.

Mr. PETE HAMMOND (Online Columnist): A lot of people look at that film and say well, it's kind of a glorified television movie in its own way, you know? Could this really be a Best Picture, even nominee, much less winner? But we're looking at those kinds of things to fill out the slate this year.

MASTERS: So as some pictures fall by the wayside, others are just gearing up and studios are spending a lot despite and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences rule that forbids advertising for movies that are no longer in theaters.

A conveniently timed DVD release always provides a loophole. The "World Trade Center" DVD will reach stores this month, so Paramount can unleash an ad blitz.

The studios are also throwing big parties, circumventing an Academy ban by coming up with creative excuses. For example, Paramount recently hosted a lavish bash ostensibly because Oliver Stone won an obscure award. Parties may be against the rules, Hammond says.

Mr. HAMMOND: But because you're calling it something else, you can get away with that stuff. And that's another way of saying we're here to play.

MASTERS: In fact, this is a great time to hand out lesser awards because the stars will come out. In the campaign season, actors and filmmakers work a lot of rooms.

Meanwhile, an army of Oscar consultants are on the phone spinning to people like Hammond.

Mr. HAMMOND: And they're very careful as to not come off like they're knocking the competition while they are knocking the competition. It's a very clever thing. Some of them do it better than others.

MASTERS: Not all the calls are negative. Executives at Fox are raising the notion that Sacha Baron Cohen could be a pick in the Best Actor category for "Borat."

Mr. HAMMOND: They start planting the idea that this movie's going to be such a cultural phenomenon and everything, why not nominate him? Why doesn't he have a chance? And you know what? Realistically you could see the whole thing snowballing.

MASTERS: Sacha Baron Cohen for Best Actor? Sounds like a long shot, but this is an odd year. So this week, Fox threw a party for him. Not because it's Oscar season, of course, but simply to celebrate the success of "Borat."

Kim Masters, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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