Sunday, baby!! Sunday!!!!

This year, Oscar smiles on familiar films
LOS ANGELES รณ Oscar is no stranger to heralding big films, but you may notice something you’re not accustomed to in Sunday’s Academy Awards telecast: movies you’ve actually seen.
Last week, the ballet drama Black Swan crossed the $100 million mark, bringing this year’s crop of blockbuster best-picture nominees to five, or half the slate. While Toy Story 3 ($415 million) and Inception ($293 million) were summer smashes, films such as Swan, The King’s Speech and True Grit not only became unexpected hits but also awards-season favorites.
And with The Social Network just off the mark with $97 million and the boxing drama The Fighter ringing up $88 million, the Oscars are looking a little like the People’s Choice Awards.
“It should help the Oscars in that a lot of people have seen the strongest contenders,” says Brandon Gray, president of Box Office Mojo, which tabulates Academy Award contenders’ ticket sales. “It adds a rooting element to the telecast.”
Even with some art-house fare, the average haul for a best-picture nominee this year was $131 million. (Winter’s Bone, 127 Hours and The Kids Are All Right are the only nominated films with comparatively low box-office draws.) But just five years ago, when Crash won best picture, no movie earned more than $83 million.
“It’s encouraging when a small movie like King’s Speech does $100 million, because it relies on good story line,” Gray says. “It’s worth it for studios to see small movies that can do well, in terms of quality and commercially.”
Analysts credit studio strategy for some of the unlikelier hits of the Oscar race.
The key to success for Black Swan ($101.8 million) may have been dumping the ballet shoes. Fox Searchlight pitched this Natalie Portman drama as a psychological thriller, not a dance flick. That said, “even when it was at $60 million, we didn’t expect it to get this far,” says Searchlight’s Sheila DeLoach.
With The King’s Speech ($104.7 million), Harvey Weinstein held onto this story of George VI’s stuttering struggles until it won high-profile industry awards.
“By the time it came out, people were waiting to see it,” says Jeff Bock of the industry tracking firm Exhibitor Relations. “It was classic Oscar campaigning, played perfectly.”
And True Grit ($164.6 million) may be the most accessible film by Joel and Ethan Coen. By combining a classic title with Oscar favorites, including star Jeff Bridges, True Grit “became bigger than its genre. It was no longer just a Western, which was supposed to be dead,” says Paramount Pictures vice chairman Rob Moore.
“That’s the way all of these movies succeeded,” Moore says. “They became bigger than their genres and became a movie people were talking about.”