Niche pix nudge out big studio hopefuls

Drama category includes small projects, indie auteurs

It’s shaping up to be the year of the little pics.

When the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. unveiled its five best drama noms for its 63rd annual Golden Globes on Tuesday, awards junkies didn’t get their fix of big productions like “Munich,” “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “King Kong.”

Instead, the Globes’ drama category was riding high this year with passion projects and indie auteurs in “Brokeback Mountain,” “Good Night, and Good Luck,” “The Constant Gardener,” “A History of Violence” and “Match Point.”

Just how small are the Globes’ best pic nominees this year? The highest-grossing one of the bunch is “Gardener,” which has tilled about $34 million to date.

That’s boffo biz for an indie pic, but unusual in a category that has given drama Globes in the past two years to “The Aviator” and “The Lord Of the Rings: The Return Of the King.”

Focus Features co-head David Linde said Tuesday that he wasn’t surprised to see “Gardener” in the mix, since the African-set pic — by Brazilian helmer Fernando Meirelles, and starring Brits Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz — has global flavor for HFPA voters to savor.

“We screened the film in Venice,” said Linde. “It’s a very international movie.”

Playing in Gotham, Los Angeles and San Francisco so far, “Brokeback” has broken per-theater average records for a live action movie in limited release.

Focus, Universal’s specialty division, is distributing both “Gardener” and “Brokeback” as well as “Pride & Prejudice,” a Golden Globe nominee in the musical or comedy category.

On Tuesday morning back in Hollywood, Universal’s campaign-generals were surely left wincing that the Globes’ best pic love wasn’t spread to the big studio’s “Munich” and “Kong.”

Globes noms for Woody Allen’s “Match Point” and David Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence” herald a return to form for one helmer, and a jump to the more mainstream for the other.

Of course, when it comes to smaller pics, a Globes win can create a big B.O. boost. So perhaps even more is riding on this year’s outcome for these small contenders than for the 800-pound gorillas of the movie business..

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