Arts and Entertainment

Sony trumps Oscar season
with 18 nominations

Sony Pictures emerged as the biggest winner of Oscar nominations this year, reaping 18, the most it has scored in many years, if not ever.

Sony's nods include "District 9" and "An Education" for best picture.

News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox was close behind with 14, including nine for "Avatar" and three for "Crazy Heart," while The Weinstein Co. collected 13 for movies such as "Inglourious Basterds" and "Nine."

Academy Awards recognition can lead to a real bump in business. Sony scored doubly because it was the only studio to have two best picture candidates out of 10, which is five more than in past years under new rules from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Several studios with movies still in theaters are trying to get them on more screens this weekend in the hope that awards buzz will bring in new moviegoers. The nominations are also a welcome relief for an industry hurting from a drop in DVD sales.

"This should be a terrific bump," said Jeff Blake, vice chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, a subsidiary of Sony Corp.

"An Education," about a London girl headed for Oxford, will be shown in up to 800 locations this weekend, up from 50 last weekend. Nominated titles "Julie & Julia" and "District 9" are also expected to see a DVD sales boost.

Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of The Weinstein Co., said the nominations "hit us right at the moment when we're selling the most DVDs" of "Inglourious Basterds," the World War II fantasy directed by Quentin Tarantino.

"We'll sell another million or two million DVD units" because of the nominations, he said.

Weinstein's "A Single Man," for which Colin Firth was nominated for best actor, will hit 327 screens this weekend, up from about 200.

The Weinsteins are known for going great lengths to secure award nominations, thereby reaping critical and financial success.

"My secret method is screen the movie as much as you can and get as many people who are academy members in to see it," Weinstein said in an interview. "That's been my secret for the last 25 years and it seems to work."

Summit Entertainment, the fledgling studio that has taken flight with its "Twilight" movies, was nominated for nine awards, all for "The Hurt Locker," which has cleaned up at critics awards earlier this year.

The Kathryn Bigelow-directed movie about a bomb squad in Iraq will be in more than 100 theaters this weekend, up from 28. It's in its third week of DVD release.

"Absolutely, the consumer is going to have their interest increased," said Rob Friedman, Summit's chief executive and co-chairman. "All in all, it'll be excellent for the movie. And more people will see it, which we're always happy about."

The Walt Disney Co. secured eight nominations, including best animated feature film for both Pixar's "Up" and the hand-drawn "Princess and the Frog."

Studios chair Rich Ross, who took over the studios in October, said the nods will help DVD sales of "Up" and boost the international release of "Princess," which debuts in the U.K. on Thursday.

"'Up' has done incredibly well in the DVD market," Ross said. "I can't imagine this won't help."

Other studios that secured multiple nominations include:

- Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures with 12 including for "Up in the Air";

- Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros. with seven (plus two released on its pay TV channel HBO) for movies such as "Invictus";

- Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. with seven, mostly for "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"; and

- NBC Universal's Focus Features with three, including for the Coen brothers' "A Serious Man."

The nominations come as Hollywood suffers from a decline in DVD sales.

U.S. home video revenue fell 5 percent last year to $20 billion, according to the Digital Entertainment Group, an industry association of studios and electronics firms.

Lagging sales of discs were not entirely offset by gains in rentals, Blu-ray purchases and online sales. Sony Pictures itself announced Monday it was laying of 450 people, or 6.5 percent of its work force, and eliminating 100 unfilled positions.

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