Blood Diamond and The Pursuit Of Happyness significantly expanded into the international marketplace earlier this month. About six months ago, the marketing and distribution staffs of the films' respective studios sat down and weighed different release scenarios. Based on available materials and the timing of the domestic debuts, they had to give significant attention to an awards campaign.
The two films could always fall back on the strength of a bona fide movie star above the title. And while each picture collected Oscar nominations, neither received the sort of recognition that truly allows for riding the crest all the way to 'movies' biggest night'. Each has ads that trumpet the nominations, but the media and audiences are not relating one to the other.
The irony this year is that one film predicated everything on Oscars and despite critical hosannas and a perception in the press that it was the front-runner; Dreamgirls was not on the ballot in the best picture category or for its direction, screenplay or leading performances. In North America, the strategy was to start slow and build - the inverse of conventional film exploitation.
Theoretically, the millions it was passing up by going out on a limited basis during the year-end holiday season would accrue later in the weeks leading up to the Academy Awards.
Dreamgirls is nonetheless continuing to play the awards card and rolling out internationally as if it were vying for the big prizes. One cannot really say the audience is taking the bait, but neither is it disregarding the message. The film is in a curious way filling a vacuum that other nominees, by dint of circumstance, cannot. It speaks to the 'show' in showbiz by its very nature.
Audiences have grown accustomed to a degree of glitz about the Oscars that cannot be substantially realised by the 'best' films of recent vintage. Titanic and Lord Of The Rings are the exceptions nowadays and the norm embraces Million Dollar Baby, Brokeback Mountain or Babel. Even though Leonardo DiCaprio and Will Smith are nominees, the odds makers - professional and otherwise - have shone the spotlight on non-marquee names including Helen Mirren, Forest Whitaker and Jennifer Hudson.
For decades, the most vaunted of cinematic prizes has managed to balance the art and commerce of the medium. With the exception of Crash last year, every best picture winner going back to 1990 has grossed in excess of $100m theatrically outside the US and generally significantly out-performed domestic box office results.
The bad news for the industry is that the only potential winner this year with that sort of heft is The Departed, and it has already played out everywhere, with the exception of China - where it has been denied a screening certificate
Still, there is no question that Academy Award attention has been good for Babel and The Queen, as well as Pan's Labyrinth and The Lives Of Others. Each has been playing a little bit wider than it would have and an actual statuette on February 25 could only enhance those and other pictures. But it is still a brutal process.