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Box office blues: Low Oscar ratings reflect lack of blockbuster flicks
By Sean L. McCarthy
Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Low ratings for an Academy Awards show that touted low-grossing movies could make for another down year at the box office.
    And Oscar’s willingness to dote on films with political themes could mean that we’ll be seeing more movies that matter this year.
    An estimated 38.8 million people watched the Sunday telecast, down 8 percent from last year and the worst since 2003, when “Chicago” won top honors, according to Nielsen Media Research.
    That didn’t surprise Brandon Gray, president of tracking service boxofficemojo.com, who noted that “the drop in ratings is comparable to the drop in box office” last year.
    “I think to a degree, Hollywood wants to make important movies. They are grasping for something,” Gray said.
    He’s not so certain this is a new Oscar trend.
    “I wouldn’t be surprised to see more political movies, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if they threw in a blockbuster or two (next year) and then gave it to the political movie,” he said.
    People shied away from the cineplex last year because they didn’t think the movies were any good, according to Paul Dergarabedian, the head of the movie industry data-cruncher Exhibitor Relations. The independent studios provided the few quality films last year, he said.
    “The really important test is if ’06 brings a huge crop of indie films that dominate the Oscars,” he said. “Who knows? Maybe ‘Da Vinci Code’ is the big kind of blockbuster that gets nominated.”
    Mark Lisanti, editor of the online blog Defamer.com, believes the major studios won’t let the indies push them around again.
    “The studios will go right back to making huge, expensive movies, but maybe this year, they’ll spend more money on the blockbusters’ Oscar campaigns,” Lisanti said.
    There are a few high-profile projects that already have folks buzzing.
    Ron Howard is directing “The Da Vinci Code,” (Sony) which bows in May with Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou in the adaptation of Dan Brown’s bestselling book.
    Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed,” (Warner Bros.) which filmed in Boston and New York last year, arrives in November with Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg playing undercover cops and mobsters.
    Robert De Niro, meanwhile, examines the CIA in the Christmas-timed “The Good Shepherd,” (Universal) starring Damon and Angelina Jolie.

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Reese Witherspoon at the Academy Awards. (AP)
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bh.heraldinteractive.com: 0.94034:Tue, 07 Mar 2006 03:53:22 GMT