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Oscar Musings
January 25, 2005

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

Hollywood is eagerly anticipating a seminal moment on Tuesday. It's the one where Adrien Brody, who won an Oscar for Best Actor a couple of years ago, announces the "Big Ten" nominations for the 77th Annual Academy Awards.

Final ballots will be mailed to the approximately 6,000 voting members of the Academy on February 2, and participants will have until February 22, when the Academy polls close, to make up their minds. No doubt the Oscar P.R. will be in overdrive during the three-week window.

Despite all the Oscar prognosticating that's been going on, this year's race is actually wide open. "Sideways" is clearly the choice of the film critic-ocracy. The movie scored at the Golden Globes and even took the plum award ­ Best Musical or Comedy. But quirky comedies don't normally fare all that well at the Oscars.

The Howard Hughes biopic "The Aviator" is another film that has critics abuzz. Director Martin Scorsese is respected within the entertainment community, and sentiment could factor into Academy members' decisions. In addition, the Oscar-winning Miramax machine is conducting "The Aviator's" Academy Award campaign, and the Miramax crew already has three Best Picture Oscars on its shelf for "The English Patient," "Shakespeare in Love" and "Chicago."

The Academy does have a concern about the falling ratings of its Oscar telecast, and many Academy officials are secretly hoping for a surprise nomination of a big box office blockbuster ­ one like, for instance, "The Passion of the Christ." That's because there's a relationship between the box office levels of movies that are up for awards and the size of the TV audience that tunes in. The largest number of viewers ever to watch the Academy Awards occurred in 1998, when the top-grossing film of all time, "Titanic," was in contention. The film turned out to be the big winner.

None of the films being touted by critics or ballyhooed at other pre-Oscar award shows constitutes a real blockbuster. "The Aviator" has currently taken in close to $58 million, "Finding Neverland" is approaching $33 million and "Sideways" is hovering around $33 million. "Million Dollar Baby" needs a win to boost its $9 million showing.

All of these figures stand in stark contrast to "The Passion of the Christ"'s box office draw of $370 million domestically and $611 million worldwide.

Even those who fail to understand the theological significance to Christians that the suffering and death of Jesus Christ holds can still appreciate the achievement in production, editing, writing, directing, casting and acting that "The Passion of the Christ" contains. This is why grassroots movements are springing up to draw the Academy's attention to Gibson's film.

A case in point is Actor Stephen Baldwin recently appeared on Greta Van Susteren's show on Fox News and came out in support of the group. "Now I'm fighting my next good fight. Ready for this one?" Baldwin asked Van Susteren. " I want everybody to go to We want 'The Passion' to win 100 Oscars!" Baldwin cheered.

Baldwin tells me that he is going to continue to promote Gibson's film to try and draw Hollywood's attention to it. He plans to appear on MSNBC's "Scarborough Country" this week (Monday and Tuesday) to discuss the awards season as well as "The Passion of the Christ."

There are literally millions of people within the general viewing population who believe "The Passion of the Christ" ought to garner nominations in a whole host of categories, including Best Picture, Cinematography, Costume Design, Directing, Film Editing, Writing, Visual Effects and Music (Score). (The soundtracks of "The Aviator," "Ray," "Collateral," "Shrek 2" and "Million Dollar Baby" have been disqualified by the Academy because of the rules involving pre-existing music, the use of songs, etc.)

If members of the Academy do end up ignoring "The Passion of the Christ," watch out for use of the Michael Moore excuse; that is, an assertion that an Oscar cold-shoulder given to Moore justifies a snub of Gibson.

This kind of rationalizing won't cut it. Unlike Gibson, Moore chose not to participate in the appropriate category, the same one he won last year: documentary.

Also be on the lookout for the Directors Guild Awards that will be given out on January 29 and the Screen Actors Guild ceremony that will take place on February 5.

The two just happen to occur in between the announcement of the nominations and the February 27 Oscar airing.

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Copyright © 2005
James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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