Will economy make crowds shun gloomy Oscar flicks?

Will economy make crowds shun gloomy Oscar flicks?


Los Angeles: Not long before he’s assassinated, Sean Penn’s Harvey Milk proclaims his key precept for social change: “You gotta give ‘em hope.“

Hope is often lacking in Academy Awards contenders such as “Milk," films that tend toward bleak, serious subjects that scream “Oscar" but can spell box-office poison to audiences looking for something light and relaxing.

With gloom and doom in the real-world economy, will moviegoers be even more reluctant to catch dark, dreary Oscar heavyweights and head instead for the happy place that a “Beverly Hills Chihuahua" can take them?

“In this atmosphere, what the country does want to see isn’t the stuff that they normally nominate for Oscars," said John Wilson, founder of the Razzies, an Oscar spoof that honors the year’s worst movies.

“Who needs to go get more depressed right now and spend 10 or 12 bucks to do so? If that’s your idea of a good time, watch CNN, especially when they’re covering the financial stuff," adds John.

Most likely top contenders for the 22 February Oscars hit theaters in late November and December, among them “Milk," with Penn as the slain gay-rights pioneer; “Revolutionary Road," with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in a failing marriage; “Frost/Nixon," featuring Frank Langella as President Richard Nixon after his fall from grace; and “Doubt," starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman in a drama about a priest accused of abusing a boy.

Not necessarily the kind of stories to soothe people’s worries over their deflated retirement accounts amid recent stock-market turmoil.

“Escapism comes in many forms, but clearly it doesn’t come in the form that most Oscar contenders take," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Media By Numbers.