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Oscar campaigning kicks into high gear

Munich’ and ‘Brokeback Mountain’ look like this year’s front-runners
/ Source: Reuters

Dueling cocktail parties and media schmoozing have started in Hollywood, and that can mean only one thing: Oscar campaigning has kicked into high gear.

This coming week the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and New York Film Critics Circle give out their honors, and movie fans see Golden Globe Award and Critics Choice Award nominations — all of which will help narrow Oscar races for best film, director, actors and actresses.

Academy Award watchers will see whether gay romance “Brokeback Mountain” rides to further glory and if Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” adds to his moviemaking stature.

Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line,” novel-based “Memoirs of a Geisha” and cautionary tales “Capote” and “Good Night and Good Luck” look to solidify their positions as contenders, and outsiders such as race-related “Crash” and hip hop drama “Hustle and Flow” hope to gain new footing.

The Oscars, the U.S. industry’s top honors from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, will be handed out on March 5, and at stake is not only prestige, but greater ticket sales and higher revenues from DVDs and television airings.

“This year it’s very important because there are so many small movies chasing the last couple of [nomination] slots,” said David Poland, who runs film Web site Movie City News.

Tom O’Neil, columnist for award Web site The Envelope, notes 1999’s transgender drama “Boys Don’t Cry” and its Oscar win for its star, Hilary Swank, as an example of a movie that might have been overlooked had it not been for early critical acclaim.

“Their role in the race is to spotlight the underdog contenders who suddenly emerge as front-runners,” O’Neil said about the early awards.

Cautionary Oscar taleSeeking a headstart in the race, New Line Cinema held a swanky cocktail party last weekend for its “A History of Violence” on the same day and at the same time as Focus Features’ equally flashy affair for “The Constant Gardener.”

Walt Disney Co. also held a bash over the weekend. It has high hopes for “Shopgirl” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.”

But Hollywood veterans caution that early acclaim often wanes ahead of Oscar nominations on Jan. 31 as critic favorites are overtaken by popular contenders that wow audiences.

“King Kong,” for instance, had been viewed as a movie with mostly popular appeal and few chances at awards, but screenings this week have thrilled audiences and put it in the race.

The experts further note that some of the most talked-about movies haven’t even been seen by most moviegoers, so speculation about their chances is just that — speculation.

Four such films, “Munich,” Woody Allen’s “Match Point,” Terence Malick’s “The New World,” and Stephen Frears’ “Mrs. Henderson Presents” will not be seen by general audiences until late this month.

Critic Roger Ebert calls “Match Point,” one of the five best films of Allen’s career with an “ingenious plot” about ”social climbing and snobbery.”

Richard Roeper, his partner in movie review TV show “Ebert and Roeper” said so many good films are now playing that he is concerned films that are not so widely hyped but just as worthy — such as comedy “The Family Stone” — could get overlooked.

That scenario could play out for oil and politics drama “Syriana” which expands its audiences this week after high per screen box office numbers in a limited number of theaters.

“I obviously think people are interested in it,” director Stephen Gaghan told Reuters.