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  Moviegoers Vote With Their Eyes Closed

Los Angeles Times
Sunday, March 21, 1999

HOLLYWOOD – For all the clout the Oscars wield in Hollywood, only 1 percent of Americans have seen all five of this year's Best Picture nominees and 61 percent haven't seen a single one, according to a Los Angeles Times Poll conducted late last month.

In a national poll of 1,249 adults, 45 percent of Americans said "Saving Private Ryan" should win the Academy Award for Best Picture – vastly more than any of its fellow nominees: "Elizabeth," "Life Is Beautiful," "Shakespeare in Love" and "The Thin Red Line." But by and large, the poll suggests that this year's Oscar contenders – and many of the actors who starred in them – remain obscure to the general citizenry.

When given the option, those polled described themselves frequently as unaware or not sure about which movies or performances they liked best. For example, more than one-third – or 35 percent – said they hadn't heard or seen enough about the Best Picture nominees to pick among them. That may be indicative of the fact that other than a few big-name studio films and stars-for example, "Saving Private Ryan" and Tom Hanks – many of this year's nominees were in smaller, independent films such as "Elizabeth" and "Affliction."

The poll, which has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, also found that the Oscars don't pack as much box office wallop as many in the movie industry believe – 69 percent of Americans said they were no more likely to see a film because it was nominated for an Academy Award.

"I think living in Los Angeles gives us a false sense that everyone goes to the movies, when in reality they don't," said Times Poll director Susan Pinkus.

Given their lack of familiarity with this year's nominees, those polled might have been expected to favor more mainstream movies that were overlooked by the academy. But when asked if there was another movie they thought should have been nominated for Best Picture, only 12 percent had a particular movie to suggest. Two percent said "The Truman Show," while three movies – "Patch Adams," "There's Something About Mary" and "The Horse Whisperer" – each garnered the support of 1 percent.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post

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