You can look at the Oscar nominations two ways. One, you can of course look for your favorite movies, see what films got snubbed, enjoy Oscar trivia (like "Dreamgirls" being the first film in decades to get the most nods without Best Picture being one of them) and so on. Two, if you're a future producer of the Academy Awards show (like myself) you look at the nominations and immediately start thinking about what kind of show you're going to have. It gets "cast," really by the nominations, just like the Grammys get cast by who gets a vote.
First off, the ratings will be in trouble. Yes, a close race brings in viewers, but big hit films do it even better. None of the five nominated films are blockbusters. Martins Scorsese's "The Departed" is a solid hit and the biggest film of his career with $121 million, not a stellar number for a movie that cost $90 million to make, but that was their fault for paying that much for a Scorsese film in the first place. "Departed" also surely played much better with men, while the Oscars is a female magnet. "Babel" is a decent indie hit with $23 million and counting. "Letters From Iwo Jima" has made $2.4 million and follows the relative flop companion piece "Flags Of Our Fathers." "The Queen" is certainly an art house hit at $35 million and counting, but most of its audience is decidedly older. (How many people under 30 have seen it? 30?) Only "Little Miss Sunshine" constitutes a crowd-pleasing favorite thanks to Steve Carell of "The Office" and a seriously leggy performance at the box office, with $60 million and a DVD release just out.
The Departed -- $120 million and few women
Babel -- $23 million
Letters From Iwo Jima -- $2.4 million and few women
Little Miss Sunshine -- $60 million
The Queen -- $35 million and no fans under 65
It's pretty simple. People watch the Oscars to see how movies they liked will do. When they haven't seen most of the nominated movies, they simply don't care. This year, many viewers will have seen at most ONE of the five best Film nominees.
But moving on, there's a pretty good mix of stars. Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Wahlberg are catnip on the male side and Penelope Cruz and Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett provide glamor on the female side. Will Smith is a huge superstar and easily the biggest name around. He's also part of a wave of black, Latino and Asian actors and talent that should definitely bring in minorities that rarely bothered with the Oscars. (It could also make the show more visible worldwide.) Older folk will appreciate seeing Peter O'Toole and Judi Dench and Alan Arkin. Eddie Murphy's making a comeback. Jennifer Hudson is an "American Idol" alum and Meryl Streep is Meryl Streep. Clint Eastwood also adds some star power. Ryan Gosling as a best actor nominee brings at least a little indie cool to the show and thanks to "The Notebook" will also bring in swooning girls. It's the usual mix with some more color than is typical to make things a lot more appealing.
Finally, there are the songs, a great mix of five performers and tunes that will give the most nominated movie -- "Dreamgirls" -- the terrific spotlight it didn't get as a Best Picture nominee. Often at the Tonys, the biggest winner can be the show that delivers the best performance. "Dreamgirls" gets three chances to do that here. At the very least, it will boost CD sales.
I would start with Eddie Murphy and Anika Noni Rose dueting on "Patience." The novelty of Eddie Murphy singing should be a great tune-in factor. Then I would have Al Gore introduce Melissa Etheridge singing "I Need To Wake Up" from "An Inconvenient Truth." Those two will definitely rouse everyone. Then -- and this is a tough call and will likely depend on what Beyonce wants -- but I think I would have Jennifer Hudson belt out "Love You I Do." Oh, if only there were an excuse for her to sing "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." But there isn't. Hudson will have likely won Best Supporting Actress at the top of the show, so her song will be a triumphant moment for her. It also sets up a friendly battle between her and Beyonce to see which of them can wow the audience. Next comes James Taylor with Randy Newman singing the gentle, sweet "Our Town" from "Cars." And for the musical finale, Beyonce gets to step out looking glamorous and deliver the show-stopping "Listen," easily the best new song added to the movie and a real triumph for the hottest act in the country at the moment.
It would be tragic to do a "Dreamgirls" medley. Pace out the performances, hype Eddie Murphy singing and the Hudson/Beyonce showdown and you've got some great internal drama on the show.
But there's no getting around one central fact: none of the movies nominated for Best Picture is a blockbuster. Three of them are truly small movies. And when people haven't seen the movies, they don't care about the Oscars.