‘Birdman’ leap makes Fox Searchlight shine at Oscars

‘Birdman’ leap makes Fox Searchlight shine at Oscars
Show business satire Birdman received nine Academy Awards nominations, including for best picture.

LOS ANGELES - Fox Searchlight, the arthouse film division of Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox , dominated the Academy Awards on Sunday with eight awards including the coveted best picture prize for its absurd comedy-drama "Birdman." The recognition at the film industry's top honors will likely boost theatre, DVD and digital sales for "Birdman," which has collected $76 million at global box offices.

It was the second best-picture trophy in a row for Fox Searchlight after last year's victory for "12 Years a Slave." The studio also scored with offbeat winner "The Grand Budapest Hotel," which took home four trophies in technical categories.

Movie studios mount months-long, multi-million dollar campaigns for Oscar trophies to earn prestige, grab bragging rights they can use in advertising, and kickstart ticket or home entertainment sales. "Birdman" is a surreal story about a washed-up movie star trying to rebuild his career with a stint on Broadway. It was filmed in an unusual style in what seems like one long, continuous take featuring an avian alter-ego with a booming voice. "Everything sounds so risky," Mexican director Alejandro Inarritu said backstage after the awards show. "Fox Searchlight, they are smart guys. They trusted me. It could have been a disaster." The post-Oscar bump for each of the last five best picture winners has translated into $9.7 million at domestic theatres, said Keith Simanton, managing editor of movie website IMDB.

A win also helps stimulate interest in international markets, Simanton said. "The Oscars are a powerful brand," he said. "Birdman" prevailed in what many Oscar watchers called a two-way contest with coming-of-age tale "Boyhood" from small distributor IFC Films, a unit of AMC Networks Inc."Boyhood" ended the night with one trophy for best supporting actress Patricia Arquette.

IFC Films was new to the best-picture race. The New York-based distributor abandoned most film production about a decade ago but stuck with "Boyhood," which was filmed for a few weeks each year for 12 years using the same cast. "To find a financier to give us money, even though it was only $2.8 million, that's a big investment to make with no safety net," Arquette said backstage.

Sony's movie studio, which was hit by a devastating cyber attack in December, earned four awards including best supporting actor for J.K. Simmons in "Whiplash" and best actress for Julianne Moore in "Still Alice." Another best picture contender, "American Sniper" from Warner Bros., grabbed only one Oscar, for sound editing. But it is far ahead of fellow nominees at the box office, having collected more than $428 million in global ticket sales.

Walt Disney Animation Studios, a unit of The Walt Disney Co , won the animated feature prize for a second year in a row, this time with "Big Hero 6" about an inflatable oversized waddling robot.

The privately held Weinstein Company, a master of awards campaigns, won best documentary feature with "Citizenfour" about US government whistleblower Edward Snowden.

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