Facebook Twitter

Chris Hicks: Few surprises in nominations for the Oscars

SHARE Chris Hicks: Few surprises in nominations for the Oscars

The Oscar nominations on Tuesday didn't hold a lot of surprises. They also seemed to fulfill plenty of this year's Golden Globe predictions.

As is often the case, most of the Academy Award nominees were a given — and some of the winners will be, too.

Philip Seymour Hoffman as "Capote" and Joaquin Phoenix for "Walk the Line"? Check.

Reese Witherspoon for "Walk the Line" and Felicity Huffman for "Transamerica"? Check.

"Brokeback Mountain" for best picture and Ang Lee for best director? Check.

George Clooney for the first time? Steven Spielberg for the umpteenth time? Check.

A couple of nominations for composer John Williams? Check and double-check.

The nominations also seemed to validate the two major conspiracy theories of the Academy Awards.

Theory No. 1: Box-office earnings matter.

Four of the five best-picture nominees are independent art films and were made for much less money than the Hollywood standard.

The average budget for major-studio movies today is in the $100 million-plus range. The Oscar front-runner, "Brokeback Mountain," had a minuscule $14 million budget, and it's already earned $51 million.

The other three were each in the $7 million to $8 million budget range, and they've all managed to at least double their money: "Capote" has earned $14 million, "Good Night, and Good Luck," has made $25 million and "Crash" has managed to rake in the most of all, $55 million.

Oscar-voters respect profits.

But there are exceptions. The Spielberg Exception for example.

Of certain filmmakers, much is expected. And "Munich" hasn't been doing all that well in North American theaters, having taken in only $41 million so far. Since the film cost an estimated $75 millon to make, there's a ways to go.

So why was that film nominated instead of, say, "Walk the Line"?

Well, because he's Steven Spielberg. And they weren't going to nominate "War of the Worlds."

On the other end of the scale, "Cinderella Man" underperformed at the box office — $62 million against a $90 million budget, and was shut out of the major awards, save for Paul Giamatti's best-supporting actor nod.

Theory No. 2: Releasing films late in the year is better because Oscar voters' memories are short.

All of the best-picture nominees were released in the fall or early winter, except "Crash," which came out in May and might be an exception due to its controversial subject matter. Voters like to think of themselves as altruistic at Oscar time.

Of course, "Cinderella Man" came out in June and was virtually forgotten. But combining Theory 1 and Theory 2 probably spelled its doom. (In my opinion, "Cinderella Man" was one of last year's best films, and director Ron Howard and stars Russell Crowe and Renee Zellwegger also deserve acknowledgment.)

But the only major surprise of this year's Oscar nominations comes in the animated-feature category.

There are only three nominees — and no computer-animated features!

The Japanese nominee "Howl's Moving Castle" is a traditional draw-and-paint cel-animated film, and the other two — "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride" and "Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit — are stop-motion/clay-animation efforts.

The surprise isn't that these films were nominated but that others were not. Of course, "Robots" and "Hoodwinked" and even "Madagascar" didn't get the critical respect that usually accompanies this category, but how do you explain the absence of "Chicken Little"?

Both a box-office hit and a critical darling, "Chicken Little" was thought to be a sure thing.

A backlash against Disney, perhaps?

Or is this reflective of the continuing trend by end-of-the-year awards to show respect to independent films over Hollywood blockbusters?

E-mail: hicks@desnews.com