- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2006

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.

The cowboy love story “Brokeback Mountain” led the Academy Awards field with eight nominations announced yesterday, among them best picture and honors for actor Heath Ledger and director Ang Lee.

Also nominated for best picture were the Truman Capote story “Capote”; the ensemble drama “Crash”; the Edward R. Murrow chronicle “Good Night, and Good Luck”; and the assassination thriller “Munich.” The Johnny Cash biography “Walk the Line,” considered a likely best-picture nominee, was left out of that category, although Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon earned acting nominations.

Three films were tied with six nominations each — “Crash,” “Good Night, and Good Luck” and “Memoirs of a Geisha,” although “Geisha” was shut out in the top categories.

“Munich,” which had fallen off many awards analysts’ best-picture picks after a lukewarm reception, scored well with five nominations, including best director for Steven Spielberg.

“King Kong,” directed by “Lord of the Rings” creator Peter Jackson, earned only technical nominations, losing out in the major categories.

George Clooney picked up three nominations: as supporting actor for his role as a steadfast CIA undercover agent in “Syriana” and best director and co-writer for “Good Night.” It was the first time ever that a contender was honored with acting and directing nominations for two different movies.

Along with best-actor contender Mr. Ledger and directing nominee Mr. Lee, “Brokeback Mountain” scored nominations for Michelle Williams as supporting actress, Jake Gyllenhaal as supporting actor and Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana for their screenplay adaptation of Annie Proulx’s short story.

Director Lee said he was gratified at the reception both homosexual and heterosexual audiences have given “Brokeback Mountain.”

“I didn’t know there were so many gay people out there. Everywhere, they turn up,” Mr. Lee said. “More importantly, I think I’m amazed how people everywhere have had the sensitivity to want to get into the complexity of the issue, the probability of love, the illusion of love, all those things. It’s not simple things you can categorize as right or wrong.”

The acting categories were a mix of familiar Oscar faces such as past winners Judi Dench and Charlize Theron; veterans like Mr. Clooney; first-time nominees such as Miss Witherspoon, Rachel Weisz, David Strathairn and Felicity Huffman; and young performers like Miss Williams and Amy Adams as a bighearted Southern waif in “Junebug.”

Philip Seymour Hoffman, the best-actor favorite for his remarkable embodiment of author Truman Capote, joined Mr. Ledger in the best-actor category. Mr. Hoffman has triumphed at earlier film honors, including the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild.

Along with Mr. Hoffman, Mr. Ledger and Mr. Phoenix, the other nominees were Terrence Howard as a small-time hood turned rap singer in “Hustle & Flow” and Mr. Strathairn as newsman Mr. Murrow in “Good Night, and Good Luck.”

The best-actress race presumably will shape up as a two-woman contest between Miss Huffman in a gender-bending role as a man about to undergo sex-change surgery in “Transamerica” and Miss Witherspoon as singer June Carter, Mr. Cash’s musical companion and future wife, in “Walk the Line.”

Miss Huffman won the Golden Globe for best dramatic actress, while Miss Witherspoon earned the Globe for best actress in a musical or comedy. Miss Witherspoon also beat Miss Huffman on Sunday for the best-actress prize at the SAG Awards.

Also nominated for the best-actress Oscar were Miss Dench as a society dame who starts a nude stage revue in 1930s London in “Mrs. Henderson Presents”; Keira Knightley as the romantic heroine of the Jane Austen adaptation “Pride & Prejudice”; and Miss Theron as a mineworker who leads a sexual-harassment lawsuit against male co-workers in “North Country.”

“Brokeback Mountain” led a wave of independent films that scored big in the nominations, instead of the studio fare that normally dominates the Oscars. Other than “Munich,” most bigger budget movies that had been on the best-picture radar, such as “Walk the Line,” “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “Cinderella Man,” were overlooked in the top Oscar category.

The year’s biggest hit, “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” earned only one nomination (for makeup) — but was shut out otherwise — including the visual-effects category, a blow to George Lucas and his Industrial Light & Magic outfit that has pioneered special effects. The visual effects nominees were “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” “King Kong,” and Mr. Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds.”

With key prizes at earlier Hollywood honors, “Brokeback Mountain” heads into the March 5 awards as the best-picture front-runner, potentially the first film with explicit homosexual themes to claim the grand prize at the Oscars.

The film stars Mr. Ledger and Mr. Gyllenhaal as Western roughnecks who share a summer of love while tending sheep together in the 1960s, then carry on a lifelong romance they conceal from their families. Miss Williams co-stars as the wife of Mr. Ledger’s character and who overlooks his affair to try to hold her family together.

Miss Weisz, playing a humanitarian-aid worker in “The Constant Gardener,” won the supporting-actress prize at the Golden Globes and SAG awards, giving her the inside track for the same honor at the Oscars. Joining Miss Weisz, Miss Williams and Miss Adams as supporting actress nominees are Catherine Keener, as “To Kill a Mockingbird” author Harper Lee in “Capote,”and Frances McDormand as a miner coping with a debilitating disease in “North Country.”

Besides Mr. Gyllenhaal and Mr. Clooney, nominees for supporting actor were Matt Dillon as a racist cop in “Crash”; Paul Giamatti as a boxing manager in “Cinderella Man”; and William Hurt as a ruthless mobster in “A History of Violence.” Mr. Hurt was a bit of surprise since he only appears for a few minutes at the end of the film in a scene-stealing role.

Mr. Lee, who won the Directors Guild of America honor Saturday for “Brokeback Mountain,” is the clear favorite to win the best-director Oscar. Along with him, Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Clooney, other directing nominees were Paul Haggis for “Crash” and Bennett Miller for “Capote.”

It was the first time since 1981 that the same five movies were nominated for directing and best picture.

ABC will broadcast the Oscars live from Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre, with Jon Stewart as host.

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