"The Hours" is one of several movies still in limited release that are competing for Golden Globe awards Sunday night. Starring Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore, it's been playing in only about 45 theaters nationwide (it goes wider Friday).
"Chicago" - which has a leading eight nominations - "The Pianist," "Adaptation" and "About Schmidt" are other Golden Globe contenders that have tantalized in ad campaigns while trickling into only a few hundred venues.
Some moviegoers are frustrated, but filmmakers and distributors have their reasons.
"This makes it an event, something you have to wait for and travel a little further to go see," said "Chicago" director Rob Marshall, a nominee. "Fewer theaters mean packed houses, which invites more excitement. If you were sitting in an audience that's half-filled you're less likely to react or applaud."
Movies must be released by year's end to be eligible for the Oscars and, the studios' thinking goes, those released in December will be fresher in voters' memories than films released last spring.
But that makes for a crowded holiday season, and smaller or experimental films generally benefit by playing in only a few theaters and then slowly expanding with critical acclaim and word of mouth.
Once the Globes are awarded, the race for the Academy Awards is in full swing and those films generally flood into hundreds more theaters. Oscar nominations are Feb. 11.
"It's like cinematic Darwinism," said box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian of Exhibitor Relations Co. "These films have a chance to compete for awards and play in New York, L.A., Chicago - markets where people are very critical of movies and ... if they survive that scrutiny you can bet people in smaller towns will have heard of them."
It's a marketing strategy that requires patience from moviegoers.
"Hopefully, the audience will want to see it more and not be mad at us," said Harry Gittes, producer of "About Schmidt," which went from 34 screens in December to 865 last week.
"What we're trying to do is create a 'want-to-see' feeling, which is quite dangerous actually," he added. "If we had not gotten good word of mouth, the gamble would have been a bad one."
Thomas Zaniello, a Northern Kentucky University professor of English who has written a book on film, said he tries to see exclusive-engagement movies when he visits his son in New York - otherwise, he has to wait.
"My group of friends and contacts are New York Times and New Yorker readers and they're constantly reading reviews of films that they don't get to see right away," he said. "Of the films that come up that people are frustrated about not seeing, 'The Hours' is right up there."
Michael Iszler, 21, a construction worker from Tucson, Ariz., said he was frustrated but willing to wait weeks for "The Hours" to open in his city.
"I do live in Tucson, and being that it is a college town, I know the films will eventually get here," Iszler said.
In the Golden Globes' best drama category, "The Hours" and "About Schmidt" were competing against "The Pianist," playing in only 161 theaters last week, as well as the blockbuster "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," which was in 3,477 theaters, and "Gangs of New York" in 2,340.
In the musical-comedy category, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" was still in 1,212 theaters after 39 weeks, but "Chicago" was in only 362, "Adaptation" in 560 and "Nicholas Nickleby" in 100. "About a Boy," ancient for having come out in May, recently debuted on home video.
In the dramatic actor category, three nominees are in movies in limited release: Michael Caine in "The Quiet American," Adrien Brody in "The Pianist" and Jack Nicholson in "About Schmidt." (The other nominees are Leonardo DiCaprio in "Catch Me If You Can" and Daniel Day-Lewis in "Gangs of New York.")
Golden Globes are chosen by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's roughly 90 members. There are 13 movie and 11 television categories, to be awarded during a live telecast on NBC.