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Oscar ignores Passion & Fahrenheit

Two of the most talked-about films are stunningly absent from this year's best picture lineup at the Oscars.
By Erika Pontarelli (AFP) | PTI, Washington
PUBLISHED ON FEB 24, 2005 06:12 PM IST

Two of the most talked-about films of 2004,

Fahrenheit 9/11

and

The Passion of the Christ

, are stunningly absent from this year's best picture lineup at the Oscars.

Though the controversy-fueled movies captured the hearts and minds of audiences, they clearly failed to woo the more than 5,800 Oscars voters.

Experts say that religious epic Passion had already performed a miracle, reeling in more than 604 million dollars in box office receipts worldwide, despite having been initially rejected by mainstream Hollywood.

Director Mel Gibson financed the 25-million- to 30-million-dollar project himself and through word of mouth and a controversy surrounding charges that it blamed Jews for Christ's death, which Gibson and others have denied, it became wildly popular.

"Hollywood had predicted that Passion of the Christ would fail, and I don't think they understand yet why it didn't," said Sheri Parks, an American Studies professor at the University of Maryland.

Though Gibson was overlooked for best director honors and the film was denied a best picture nod, it is up for best cinematography, makeup and musical score at Sunday's Academy Awards.

On the other hand, experts say renowned firebrand Michael Moore took his Fahrenheit out of the running by electing not to have it considered in the documentary category, in favor of boldly pouring all of his energy and resources into pursuing a best picture nomination.

"It was a gamble, and it did not work," said Russell Williams, a professor at American University's School of Communications who is also a voting member of the Academy.

"They spent a lot of money, and they did a lot of things that were very obvious," said Parks, noting that Moore shed some pounds (kilograms) and made an effort to be more charming with media.

Though overlooked by the Academy, Moore's six-million-dollar project smashed box office records for documentaries, bringing in more than 220 million dollars worldwide.

Aimed at trying to deny President George W Bush a second term in the November 2004 election, the film examined the US administration's handling of the September 11, 2001 attacks and their aftermath, portraying Bush as inept and even corrupt.

The Walt Disney Company refused to release Fahrenheit, deeming it too hot to handle, and the film also raised the ire of author Ray Bradbury, from whose book Fahrenheit 451 the film's title was derived.

Still, Fahrenheit 9/11 was named favorite movie at the People's Choice Awards last month, and Passion snagged the favorite movie drama award at the ceremony.

But Oscar left both films out in the cold.

Williams, himself the winner of two Academy Awards for his sound work on the films Glory and Dances with Wolves, said he thought Passion was "well made, and it did get three nominations in some of the craft categories."

But he added: "I think it's probably a different season in history for the religious work."

Williams also noted that the film's early release in February 2004 could have hurt its chances come Oscar time, because it was no longer fresh in voters' minds.

"Sometimes films that are released earlier in the year have a hard time, because at the end of the year, you get this big crush of films that are specifically going after the Oscar vote, and so the member's got to go pick up the DVD again and refresh his or her memory," he told AFP.

Marty Grove, an online columnist for the Hollywood Reporter, pointed out that "Mel Gibson made a point of not campaigning.

"You must campaign," he said. "You can't just presume most Academy members will love your movie."

But Grove said the omission of Fahrenheit was "the big surprise. I was sure 'Fahrenheit' was going to be nominated for best picture," he said, noting that Moore had campaigned hard for that.

"I am sure many Academy voters liked his film," said Grove. "But maybe the Academy thought that if they nominated Fahrenheit, they were making a political statement and that this would have politicized the (presidential) race, and that is why they didn't vote for the film."

With the two films out of the running for best picture, that leaves Ray, Sideways, The Aviator, Finding Neverland and Million Dollar Baby to duke it out for the Oscar on Sunday.

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