It’s Becoming A Two Horse Race

Oscar Race Narrows to ‘Rings,’ ‘Mind’

After months of wide-open competition, the Oscar derby appears to be focusing on two main foes: New Line, with “Lord of the Rings,” and Universal/DreamWorks, with “A Beautiful Mind.”

Other studios whose pictures piled up a lot of nominations, among them Miramax, USA Films and Fox, are not matching their campaign spending. The shift heralds a changing of the guard: for the first time in four years, the main combatants are not Miramax and DreamWorks.

Films like Miramax’s “In the Bedroom,” USA’s “Gosford Park” and Fox’s “Moulin Rouge” are considered dark horses in some categories, which has prompted budgetary re-evaluation.

“If your goal was just to get nominated, then you don’t just keep spending up to the level you have reached,” observed one veteran studio strategist.

“For a lot of companies, a fatigue factor is setting in,” another grizzled consultant added. “They’ve been at this for months. The campaign season gets longer every year.”

Campaigns entail TV ads (the single biggest target for spending), newspaper ads and flying talent all over for talk shows and hand-shaking.

On Wednesday, when ballots are mailed to Academy voters, things may heat up a bit. After all, campaigners note, it isn’t just how much money you spend. It’s also how effectively you proselytize about your candidates.

“They’re not going to just give up,” one rival publicist said about Miramax in particular. “They never give up.”