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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 February 2006, 08:19 GMT
Oscars cap Hollywood's bad year
By Neil Smith
BBC News entertainment reporter

Mathieu Kassovitz and Eric Bana in Munich
For the price of one Munich...
After a disappointing 2005 for the US box office, this year's Oscar nominations shunned expensive studio product in favour of edgier, low-budget fare.

Over the years it has often been said the great and good who dole out the Academy Awards are out of step with public taste.

Not this year. Looking at the 2006 nominations, it's clear the American public's mounting indifference to costly blockbusters has been reflected by the Oscar voters.

Of the five films up for best picture, only one - Steven Spielberg's Munich - has a budget in excess of $14m (8m).

But a more telling statistic is the fact that you could make five Brokeback Mountains or 10 Capotes for what it took to bring Spielberg's $75m (42m) epic to the screen.

Thandie Newton and Matt Dillon in Crash
...you could get 11 Crashes
The studios learned to their cost last summer that spending immense sums on the likes of Stealth, The Island and XXX: State of the Union was no guarantee of financial success.

Now it has learned it does not bring them any closer to awards either, even with previous Oscar winners like Spielberg, Peter Jackson or Ron Howard at the helm.

The three nominations for Howard's boxing drama Cinderella Man represents a disappointing return on Universal's $88m (50m) investment.

And for the $200m (113m) it lavished on Jackson's King Kong remake - his first film since the Oscar-laden Return of the King - it might have expected more than the four nods it received, all in minor categories.

Sony has fared better with Memoirs of a Geisha, which cost $85m (48m) and landed six nominations.

Brokeback Mountain - 8
Crash - 6
Good Night, and Good Luck - 6
Memoirs of a Geisha - 6
Capote - 5
Munich - 5
Walk the Line - 5
Pride and Prejudice - 4
The Constant Gardener - 4
King Kong - 4

For that kind of money, however, it must surely be a disappointment that none of them is for best picture, director or actress.

Compare that with Paul Haggis's race-themed drama Crash, which managed exactly the same tally for a tenth of the price.

With those kind of economics on its side, the independent sector can afford to crow.

And regardless who triumphs on Oscar night, the real winners are the discerning filmgoers who have been treated to a surfeit of intelligent, quality cinema that is not afraid to tackle weighty and provocative themes.

If history is anything to go by, though, the studios may have the last laugh.

Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas in The English Patient
40.1 million US viewers saw The English Patient named best picture

With none of the best picture nominees so far grossing more than $55m (31m), broadcaster ABC is already bracing itself for a ratings disappointment.

Conventional wisdom dictates that audiences are unlikely to tune in to an awards ceremony where the main contenders are movies they will probably not have seen.

And it's a point of view borne out by the statistics. In 1998, the year that global blockbuster Titanic swept the board, the Oscar telecast attracted 55 million viewers - its biggest ever audience.

Compare that with 1997, when only 40.1 million saw The English Patient crowned best picture.

The independents may well beat the majors this year. But how many people will see them do it?

A look at some of Hollywood's losers of 2005

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