There's probably going to be a lot of editorials coming on the low grosses of this year's Best Picture slate and how the Academy just thumbs their noses at the public -blah blah blah [since when should awards be based on box office? --the money is the reward there. And the People's Choice more than covers our needs for awards for mainstream hits] so let's look quickly at the top 5 films of the year according to your ticket buying dollars. Is it true that Oscar ignores them? Or is that mere myth-making on the part of the press and whiny factions of the public?
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith Gross: $380,270,577
George Lucas's 28 year-long space opera concluded with what some people considered a bang. But to the eyes of Oscar voters? More like a whimper. The Star Wars films have amassed an impressive total of 10 Oscars and about two dozen other nominations. The Academy reaction to this last installment detailing the birth of Darth Vader can only be read as atypical; This is the very first SW "episode" to be shunned in the visual effects category and only the second to be ignored in the sound categories, presumably to favor Memoirs of a Geisha(?!) It gets weirder. This is the first Star Wars film to ever be recognized by the Academy's makeup branch. That's quite an honor when you stop to consider that the branch is known for rejecting makeup work if they feel a computer has touched it too much (Nicole Kidman's proboscis in The Hours was so disqualified). Is there anything in this universe that hasn't been touched to the point of molestation by computers? A very odd nomination.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Gross: $286,335,255
Another strange honor? That would be the Art Direction nod for the fourth (!) installment of this boy wizard series. This is production designer Stuart Craig's second nomination for this series. He's been with it the whole time but it was 2004's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that shook up the "look" of the series. So why a second nod now? On the fourth film?
The Chronicles of Narnia Gross: $278,133,732
Let's say you have sometimes shaky rubbery and excessive CG in your movie that pales in comparison to something else that's going for the same effect and gunning for the win (that'd be King Kong) . Let's say you have that and still want an Oscar nod? The solution: Be a big hit. The Oscar nomination will still come. Two other nods: makeup and sound.
War of the Worlds Gross: $234,280,354
It's Spielberg so the Academy pays attention. The summer spectacle was honored in Visual Effects, Sound, and Sound Editing. Deserving nods all despite my reservations about the film entire.
King Kong Gross: $213,298,980
Same nods as War plus Art Direction. Aside from the tech snubs of Sith this giant ape is the only member of the public's favored quintet that could have reasonably been expected to make a better showing. But a word to the wise in terms of Oscar predictions: Whenever a filmmaker sweeps the awards as Jackson did just two years back, his next offering or two will be largely ignored by the Oscars no matter how "baity" it looks on paper or even onscreen (Just ask Attenborough, Eastwood, Demme, Howard, Jackson, Allen, etc...) . Unlike the Emmy Awards, Oscar loves fresh meat. If you're thanking your agent on stage at the Kodak, you're going to have to wait at least 4 or 5 years before you get a chance to do so again. That seems to be the window wherein they're excited to vote for you again.
So draw your own conclusions. But here's mine: I believe that the madlove of ticket buyers helps rather than hurts ones chances of having "Oscar Nominee" plastered on your video box when it comes time to hit the living rooms of the nation. And I also believe that, Capote aside, the grosses of this year's actual Best Picture nominees are more than worthy/respectable. Munich looks like a flop when you consider Spielberg's averages. When you add in the subject matter and downer ending (so uncharacteristic for the world fav moviemaker) that $40 million in the first month doesn't look that bad. Brokeback Mountain is just getting started with its expansion and already near Crash's word-of-mouth hit gross in the $50s. It will end its run as the top grossing of the Best Picture nominees by a good margin and will certainly finish in the "Box Office Top 40" of all movies released in 2005. And Good Night and Good Luck? For what some would call a hermetic history lesson in black & white with only one box office draw in a small role? $25 million outside of awards season is a fine accomplishment.