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Who's eager to watch Oscar's 'Babel'-vs.-'Iwo Jima' showdown?

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103912__letters_l_1Okay, so now we know who’ll be walking the red carpet outside the Kodak Theatre on Feb. 25. Yay. But a bigger — and, for the folks at the Academy and ABC, truly troubling — question looms: Will anybody be watching them strut their stuff?

Thanks to a bleak, simmering brew of low-buzz indie-film nominees, sluggish box office revenues, a zillion cable channels, and general apathy, viewer interest in the Oscars has waned in the years since 55.2 million people in the U.S. watched Titanic‘s 1998 sweep. In fact, since 2000, no Academy Awards telecast has come within 10 million viewers of that sum; last year’s 38.9 million was the second-lowest total of the past decade. And that was with the perennially-popular Jon Stewart hosting. The Academy and ABC have taken the hint, amping up their advertising efforts to elevate interest, reports The New York Times. Seems they’ve finally learned that the Oscar brand isn’t enough to get people to watch the show — we homebodies have to be convinced.

addCredit(“Letters from Iwo Jima: Merie W. Wallace”)

Still, doofy commercials featuring Ellen DeGeneres (this year’shost) in full movie-usher regalia can be successful only to a point.More important in getting folks to flip from G4 over to ABC are thenominees themselves. Because folks certainly would rather watch moviesthey’ve seen and enjoyed (say, Titanic or Return of the King) compete for the littlegolden guys than films they’ve never heard of. And this year’s crop is,on this point, dubious. As of today, the combined domestic gross ofthis year’s five Best Picture contenders is a mere $244 million. That’sit. Hell, a Lord of the Rings movie could practically earn that much on a Sunday afternoon before tea time. And half of that comes from The Departed‘s $122 milion gross. Otherwise, we’re talking about three films from studios’ specialty labels and one, Letters From Iwo Jima (pictured), that’s in a foreign language — none of which have crossed the $60 million barrier.

Now, I’m not saying that these movies are bad or unworthy of theiraccolades, and it’s worth noting that Oscar nods themselves will boost box officebucks. But when you consider that the total gross of all of last year’sBest Picture nominees was just $245 million, and you then consider howpoorly rated that show was, well, it’s looking like I could be the onlyone watching on Oscar night. Will you tune in with me?

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