‘Star Trek’ and ‘District 9’ may find Oscar night is still alien terrority


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The Golden Globe nominations will be announced tomorrow and this Hollywood awards season arrives with some interesting subplots for fans of fanboy fare. Steven Zeitchek and Rachel Abramowitz, two frequent contributors to the Hero Complex, have a story suggesting that, for fanboys films, there’s still a force field surrounding the best-picture category of Oscars.


Spock and Kirk may have to wait for their Oscar.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced this summer that it was doubling its best picture nominees to 10, the move was seen by many as a way to boost television ratings by bringing more populist films into the fold.

The movie world reveled in the possibility that films far from the bleak tones of ‘No Country for Old Men’ or ‘Million Dollar Baby,’ which have won best picture in recent years, might prevail. Maybe superheroes in tights, the crew of ‘Star Trek’ and the raunchy anti-heroes of ‘The Hangover’ could waltz away with golden statuettes?

Maybe not. As the annual campaign that Hollywood calls awards season goes into def-con mode -- the Golden Globes nominees will be named Tuesday, with others soon to follow -- the process appears rooted in familiar terrain.

According to interviews with about a dozen awards strategists, voters and studio executives, many of the lead contenders look the same as they have in recent years: dark, character-driven films that have garnered niche audiences, the type that have been blamed for the Oscars’ nearly annual ratings decline. Nor have the cost-conscious studios, despite a record box-office year, sent a gusher of money flowing into the awards industry in an effort to change the paradigm.

‘There are people in the academy who saw [the expansion] as a chance to bring other kinds of movies into the fold,’ said consultant Tony Angellotti, a two-decade veteran of the Oscar wars who currently handles Universal and Pixar films. ‘Instead it’s been an opportunity to recognize more of the same.’

In June, months after the Oscar telecast registered its third-lowest ratings in history, the academy decided, for the first time since 1943, to expand the best picture slots to 10. Many thought it would be a game-changer, benefiting blockbusters like ‘The Dark Knight,’ the hugely popular and critically acclaimed Batman movie that was omitted from the best picture category last year. Viewership for the Oscar broadcast tends to increase when more moneymakers are in contention, and the academy earns the vast majority of its annual revenues from the telecast.

But at this point -- nominations are to be announced Feb. 2 -- many commercial films, such as the box office smash ‘Star Trek,’ the male-comedy sensation ‘The Hangover,’ the provocative sci-fi picture ‘District 9,’ and the action-adventure ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,’ aren’t registering with a large number of Oscar voters. The biggest hit to generate Oscar buzz so far is the Disney-Pixar animated film ‘Up’ -- a movie some experts say could have made the cut even if the academy had stuck with five slots.

The absence of tent-pole contenders can at least be partly attributed not only to voter reception but to studio strategizing....



-- Steven Zeitchek and Rachel Abramowitz


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