NEW YORK – With Hollywood awards season in full swing, the gap between audience favorites and the critics' movie picks is growing wider than a red carpet.
Many awards shows such as the Golden Globes and the People's Choice Awards honor feel-good favorites like My Big Fat Greek Wedding or comedy stars like Jim Carrey.
But the most heralded of the blacktie brigade — the Oscars — often ignores such hits in favor of critical darlings that many moviegoers say don't reflect their taste.
"A lot of times there are movies nominated for Oscars that seem to appeal to small groups of people," said movie fan Ivan Fox of Minneapolis, Minn. "And the ones I thought were really good aren't there."
Fox said one example is Gangs of New York: After reading rave reviews, he saw the Martin Scorsese epic, but was disappointed and thought the hype was unfounded.
Fox attributes the fawning reviews to out-of-touch New York critics who appreciated a film about local history more than a national audience would.
"Every so often you run across a review where they say this is the best thing since sliced bread," he said. "Maybe in [the critic's] crowd and the world they live in, but for the rest of us it probably isn't."
While the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences tends to honor more serious fare, Oscar can be full of surprises.
"Anytime you are tempted to say Oscars go to less popular, less glitzy films, all you have to do is look at Titanic and it blows that theory to shreds," said Robert Thompson, a popular culture professor at Syracuse University.
The blockbuster boat movie won the Best Picture award in 1998 over critical favorites like L.A. Confidential and Good Will Hunting.
But on the flip side, one of the other biggest hits in history was denied the Oscar in 1983, when Gandhi won Best Picture over E.T.
Some fans say the snubbing of science-fiction films such as E.T. is just another example of the academy's bias.
"My main issue is, there's a snobbery regarding good sci-fi and fantasy films. Critics seem to think, 'Oh, it's a fantasy,' so it's not really serious or good enough," said Dorothy Thompson Harr of Springfield, Va., whose favorite movies the past two years have been the Lord of the Ring installments.
"Minority Report was a great film and doesn't even seem to be in consideration for awards this year," she added.
While some Oscar nods disappoint fans, to expect otherwise would be naive, according to Jill Bernstein, senior editor of Premiere. The academy "has never pretended to be a totally democratic election system," she said. "There's the People's Choice Awards for that."
The Golden Globes, judged by the Hollywood Foreign Press, are known for nominating more audience-friendly actors like Adam Sandler (Punch Drunk Love) and Hugh Grant (About a Boy), who aren't likely to be included in the Oscar race. The Globes has a separate category for Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, which opens the door for pictures the academy might ignore.
However some think this separation waters down the glory. "My problem is they have 10 movies up for Best Picture in separate categories," said Harr. "To me you're either the best picture or you're not."
More critical picks are nominated for Oscars because the voters are colleagues in the industry, Thompson said, and they want to show they take what they do seriously.
"When they decide what to vote on for this highly coveted award, the criteria leans more towards movies that are good examples of high-quality, ambitious things their medium of film is able to achieve," he said.
But in the end, golden statuettes and three-hour spectacles need to be put into perspective, Harr said.
"It all seems very self-important nowadays rather than what it really is -- you're just handing out awards to people."