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Last Updated: Friday, 30 December 2005, 09:22 GMT
Hollywood gears up for Oscars race
Peter Bowes
BBC News, Los Angeles

At the end of a miserable year at the US box office, Hollywood is gearing up for the traditional Oscars season with a surprisingly strong field of contenders.

Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain
Brokeback Mountain is leading the Golden Globe nominations

Nominations for the Golden Globe awards gave the first indication of which movies are likely to fare well in Hollywood's annual horse race.

Brokeback Mountain, The Constant Gardener and Good Night, and Good Luck are among the favourites.

At this stage in the game, most actors tend to feign indifference towards the Oscars campaign as it rolls out during the winter months.

"It's a real strange concept to me that films and actors can compete against each other," says Heath Ledger, a front-runner for his role as a gay cowboy in Brokeback Mountain.

"We're not running the same race, we're not doing the same sports and we're all training differently. You can't really compare them," says the 26-year-old actor from Australia.

"It really is manufactured for marketing reasons, but we can't help but get dragged into it.

"Other peoples' opinions drag us as actors and filmmakers into this false sense of first, success, if they nominate you and then, secondly, a false sense of failure when you don't win."

Keira Knightley
You have to enjoy your moment - because it's only a moment and then it's gone. And that's fine."
Keira Knightly

Ledger may have more reason than most to be playing it cool.

Gay-themed films rarely do well in the best film category at the Oscars.

The seemingly more liberal-minded voters of the Foreign Press Association, responsible for the Globes, tend to embrace films like Brokeback Mountain, more readily than their counterparts at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

When they are announced on 31 January, the nominations for the 78th Academy Awards are likely to feature the names of several British performers.

Dame Judie Dench
Dame Judi Dench is no stranger to the Oscars

Once again, the best actress category could be the most hotly contested. Dame Judi Dench is tipped to receive her fifth Oscar nomination for her performance in Mrs Henderson Presents.

"Our job really is not to listen to speculation about that kind of thing but to say: 'Have we told this story properly?' If we've told it properly I'll be really pleased," says Dame Judi.

Keira Knightly could prove to be hot competition for her performance as Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. It would be the actress's first Oscar nomination. "Lucky is the word," she says, modestly.

"Really, really lucky. I'm very aware how fortunate I am, and very aware that this is a profession that comes and goes in a second. And that's what makes it beautiful.

Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible III is out in 2006
"That's what makes it really lovely, but you have to enjoy your moment - because it's only a moment and then it's gone. And that's fine."

While one half of Hollywood is eagerly anticipating the Oscars, the other is trying to figure out why Americans are deserting cinemas in their droves.

2005 has seen the biggest drop in attendance in 20 years. Hollywood analysts put the slump down to a number of factors.

Increasingly people say they prefer waiting for films to be released on DVD so they can watch them at home on their wide-screen TV.

Others say they are put off by the growing cost of going to the cinema - the price of tickets, popcorn and petrol.

King Kong
King Kong has attracted cinema audiences
The most worrying gripe for Hollywood is that the punters are simply turned off by the quality of films on offer.

"People aren't satisfied," says Donnie Wahlberg, who starred in the autumn hit, Saw II.

"Especially the young crowd - they've got more fun on their cell phone than they're having at the movies.

"They're so much smarter than we give them credit for. They can watch a thousand channels of satellite television. They can rent the originals of these crappy horror movies we keep remaking.

"If we keep treating them like morons they're not going to come."

Chronicles of Narnia
The Chronicles of Narnia is one of the year's high points for film
Notable flops during the past year include XXX: State of the Union, Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous, Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo and House of Wax.

The year is ending on a high note with King Kong and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

Both films have performed well at the box office. Coming attractions for 2006 include a number of potential blockbusters such as Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible III, a probable hit.

Tom Hanks' The Da Vinci Code is also highly anticipated. The film is released in May but trailers are already playing on the internet and in cinemas showing King Kong.

See clips from some of 2005 film releases

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