Oscar buzz

When it comes to names that bring the viewers flocking to theaters, add the name of a gold statuette to the pantheon of Tom, Nicole, Mel and Gwyneth: Oscar.

Following the Academy Award nominations late last month, area movie theaters are in the midst of a brisk viewer season when movies nominated for Oscars change ticket-buying patterns.

November through February, when many Oscar-aspiring films are released, is typically a bonanza for movie theaters, according to John Dahlman, marketing leader for Milwaukee's Landmark theaters.

"This is a busy time of year for us," Dahlman said. "We make money all year round, but this is our busiest time of year."

As of last weekend, three of the top 10 highest-grossing films — "Sideways," "Million Dollar Baby" and "The Aviator" — had received at least one Oscar nomination, according to Exhibitor Relations, a box-office tracking firm.

Movies that receive many Oscar nominations typically see an up-tick in ticket sales after they are announced, according to Maggie Groskops, manager of the Oriental Theater, 2230 N. Farwell Ave.

"What happens a lot for us is that if we have had a movie for a long time, like 'Sideways,' and then it gets nominated for Oscars, then we'll hold onto it until after the Oscars," Groskops said, referring to the low-budget critic's darling about a pair of friends' middle-aged adventures in California's wine country.

Oscar nominations also prevent theaters from dropping films that receive nominations. The Oriental Theater would've dropped "A Very Long Engagement," the French World War II film starring Audrey Tautou, earlier than it did Feb. 10 had it not been nominated in the art direction and cinematography categories, Groskops said.

Though not a cinema-crazed city on par with New York or Los Angeles, Milwaukee is able to attract a good number of Oscar-nominated films, according to Michael Bizunowicz, president of Marquette's film club Sensory Cinema.

"Milwaukee is a budding movie community and it has filmgoers who want to see Oscar movies," he said.

Oscar nominations attract viewers because they are perceived as a sign of respect for a film, according to Michael Havice, associate professor of broadcast and electronic communication.

"People use other people as authoritative sources," Havice said. "People use that as a gauge to say 'That looks worthwhile.'"

The 77th Annual Academy Awards will be broadcast Feb. 27 on WISN Channel 12.

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on Feb. 22 2005.