Some Oscar Buzz 'Not Worth the Blog It's Written In'

It's the word that often goes hand-in-hand with Oscar. But for all the buzzing about buzz when it comes to the Academy Awards, this time around it didn't guarantee a spot on the short list. In fact, buzz may have booted some films right off it.

You might not have guessed that Kate Winslet, who has been nominated again for Best Actress, would score a place in the inner circle if hype were your only guide. Her work in "Little Children" didn't exactly put her name on the tip of everyone's tongue. But that could help her chances more than hurt them on Hollywood's biggest night.

In fact, this year proved that it can be better to be a sleeper — like the summer movie "Little Miss Sunshine," which got five nominations Tuesday, including one for Best Picture.

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"I don't think everyone wants to be the frontrunner," said Mark Harris, a columnist at Entertainment Weekly magazine who has written extensively about the Academy Awards. "There are so many pre-Oscar awards that you can start to feel that this is the 15th time Forest Whitaker or Helen Mirren has won."

Whitaker and Mirren, both of whom got the leading drama acting awards at the Golden Globes as well as other prizes, are widely considered the favorites in the Academy Awards' best acting categories.

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That said, being the favorite hasn't historically guaranteed a prize on Oscar night.

In one memorable upset, predicted Best Actress Annette Bening lost in 2000 for her work in "American Beauty" to newcomer and relative unknown Hilary Swank for "Boys Don't Cry."

In 2003, exiled director Roman Polanski — who hasn't returned to the United States since 1977 because he faces prison time for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl — won Best Director for "The Pianist" over favored choice Martin Scorsese and his bloody epic "Gangs of New York."

Last year's biggest shocker happened at the very end of the show, when "Crash" beat out expected winner "Brokeback Mountain" for Best Picture. And in 1999, "Shakespeare in Love" took home the top trophy over "Saving Private Ryan," which was widely thought to be a shoo-in.

This year, built-up offerings like "Dreamgirls," which hasn't been a huge box office draw but is doing moderately well in theaters, predictably did get recognized by Academy voters with a leading eight Oscar nominations. But it was snubbed in the Best Picture and directing competitions.

Meanwhile, early critically driven hype over movies like "Hollywoodland" and "Bobby" fell on deaf ears at the box office and the Academy. Both films fizzled right out of the gate, and neither scored a single nomination Tuesday.

"There are two kinds of buzz, the buzz that starts when people actually see a movie, which is legitimate, and the buzz that starts before anyone has actually seen a movie," Harris said. "That kind of buzz to me is idiocy. That buzz is not worth the blog it's written in.

"History is littered with prestige projects that look good on paper" but turn out to be duds, he said.

At least one film, "The Departed," has lived up to and sustained pre-release chatter. The Scorsese film walked away Tuesday with four nominations, including Best Picture.

But for the most part, buzz surrounding the 2007 Oscars and the films in the running has, until recently, been awfully quiet — some might even say nonexistent.

And as in years past, a sizable percentage of Americans haven't even seen the more talked-about Oscar movies, though that will likely change now that the nominations have been unveiled.

"It's not as strong a season as last year, when you had some clear contenders that were also very credible films, like 'Good Night, and Good Luck,' 'Capote' and 'Brokeback Mountain,'" said Christopher Sharrett, a film professor at Seton Hall University. "There were a lot of well-conceived films that had good audiences or had achieved some esteem."

Other Hollywood insiders think the films themselves have sparked plenty of enthusiasm, but the individual Academy Awards competitions are leaving people glazed eyed and sleepy.

"There's interest in the movies but not in the acting horse races," said Tom O'Neil, a columnist for awards predicting Web site "There doesn't seem to be much suspense. I don't think there's great interest in the [expected] winners."

New Yorker and Hollywood outsider Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" fame, stirred up a lot of excitement about the 2006 Academy Awards when it was announced that he would be hosting the ceremony. This year's host, Ellen DeGeneres, hasn't gotten even close to the attention and press Stewart got.

But low-level buzz might not be a negative. That pesky, over-the-top hype can be almost impossible to live up to.

"I don't think there's much buzz about the show right now, but that's the best thing for the show," said Harris.

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