Amid Holiday Season, Hollywood Hypes Top Films

For most of us mere mortals, the Academy Awards are a night to celebrate the best actors, actresses and films of the year. For the gods of the entertainment industry, however, the Oscars are a season.

This year's nominations are more than a month away, and Oscar night isn't until February, but already the Hollywood machine is generating buzz and gearing up for its annual hunt for Oscar.

"Dreamgirls," "The Departed" and "Little Miss Sunshine" are some of the films in a long list of likely contenders to reach the finish line this year, but, at this point, all bets are off.

So what is it about the Oscars that whips people into a frenzy?

New York Times media columnist and Oscar aficionado David Carr offers his insights, tricks of the trade, and the glamorous and not-so-glamorous truth behind the Academy Awards.

"I'm a newcomer to the red carpet," Carr said. "I've covered city politics in some rugged cities. But there is nothing more ferocious than that red carpet. Like those little fashion reporters, they don't mind dropping a heel right into your soft shoe or a sharp elbow into your beer gut. … You better come to play."

Carr is a relative newbie to the Oscar scene; this is only his second year writing his Carpetbagger blog. He describes himself as a film fanatic, but not one who is governed by anything more than his own personal preference.

"I like great big popcorn movies like 'The Departed,' where you just sit down with the jumbo bucket of corn and dig in. I like complicated, intricate movies like 'Traffic' or this year's 'The Fountain,'" he said. "I don't go to movies to learn, I go to be entertained. … I want something that is a completely immersing experience, where I am transported to another place. What movies have always done, which is to take you away, drop you down in unfamiliar territory and fill you with awe."

Hollywood's Big Night

Millions of dollars are spent every year just on this one evening. From set decorations and lighting within the Kodak Theatre to the designer gowns and million-dollar jewelry showcased on the red carpet, Hollywood pulls out all the stops, living up to its reputation for success in excess.

And all of that pageantry happens as studio executives look out for their bottom line.

"In a business sense, what Hollywood cares about is best picture," admits Carr. "They need to go after best actor, they need to go after best director, but the only thing that will put legs under a film and help it make money is a nomination."

He adds that the film doesn't even have to win to generate more box-office receipts. "A lot of people just feel compelled to see the five pictures that were nominated for best picture so they can watch the Oscars and enjoy it. But let me tell you -- if you are 'Dreamgirls' or 'The Departed' -- if you win best picture, everyone who missed you the first time around is going to go out and catch you. And we are talking dollars in the hundred of millions. That is why studios spend so much advertising for the Oscar campaign."

Any way you look at it, Oscar night is a contact sport played in ball gowns and tuxedos. From the best dressed to the best picture, the competitions are myriad, but one thing is for sure: They are all fierce and not always as entertaining as the onscreen performances.

But according to Carr, it's the competition that keeps people tuning in to Oscar night.

"The actual event is actually, quite often, really, really boring," Carr said. "There will be supercilious nods to broader causes and both will mention the Iraq War and then get back to the movie at hand. Both of these are escape hatches for Americans, a way to experience confrontation without actually getting hurt themselves, and it gives them a visceral thrill, a rooting interest and a payoff because, in the end, there is always a winner."