- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2006

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The race drama “Crash” was a surprising best picture winner at last night’s Academy Awards, upstaging “Brokeback Mountain.”

“Crash,” featured a huge cast of characters in multiple story lines playing out over a chaotic 36-hour period in Los Angeles, had been considered a dark-horse contender in a year when nearly all the top honors went to films dealing with thorny social issues.

Despite losing the best picture award, “Brokeback” picked up three Oscars, including best director honors for Ang Lee.

The tragic tale of two Montana sheepherders caught in a homosexual affair lost in three acting categories, but picked up the Oscar for adapted screenplay by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, and for Gustavo Santaolalla’s musical score.

The Oscar for original screenplay went to the ensemble drama “Crash,” written by the film’s director, Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco.

Reese Witherspoon took home best actress honors for her role as country singer June Carter in “Walk the Line.”

“Oh, my goodness I never thought I’d be here in my whole life growing up in Tennessee,” said Miss Witherspoon, who like co-star Joaquin Phoenix as Miss Carter’s soul mate, country legend Johnny Cash, handled her own singing in the film.

“People used to ask June how she was doing, and she would say, ‘I’m just trying to matter.’ I know what she means,” Miss Witherspoon said.

Philip Seymour Hoffman won best actor for “Capote,” in which he gives a remarkable embodiment of “In Cold Blood” author Truman Capote.

“Wow, I’m in a category with some great, great, great actors, fantastic actors, and I’m overwhelmed. Really overwhelmed,” said Mr. Hoffman, whose performance nimbly straddles the magnetic qualities of raconteur Mr. Capote and the effete, off-putting egoism of the homosexual author.

Corporate thrillers earned the supporting-performer Oscars for George Clooney in “Syriana” and Rachel Weisz in “The Constant Gardener.”

The win capped a remarkable year for Mr. Clooney, who made Oscar history by becoming the first person nominated for acting in one movie and directing another.

Along with performing in “Syriana,” Mr. Clooney directed the Edward R. Murrow tale “Good Night, and Good Luck,” which earned him directing and writing nominations and was among the best-picture contenders.

“All right, so I’m not winning director,” the first-time winner joked, adding that an Oscar always would be synonymous with his name from then on, including in his obituary: “Oscar winner George Clooney, sexiest man alive 1997, ‘Batman,’ died today in a freak accident.”

In “The Constant Gardener,” adapted from John le Carre’s novel, Miss Weisz played a humanitarian-aid worker fighting questionable pharmaceutical practices in Africa.

The raucous hip-hop tune “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from “Hustle & Flow,” whose expletive-laden lyrics had to be toned down for performance at the Oscars, won the prize for best song. The song was written by the rap group Three 6 Mafia, aka Jordan Houston, Cedric Coleman and Paul Beauregard.

Featuring dancers dressed as hookers and pimps gyrating on stage, the song’s performance stood in sharp contrast to the other nominated tunes and the general stateliness of the Oscars.

“You know what? I think it just got a little easier out here for a pimp,” joked Oscar host Jon Stewart.

The stop-motion family tale “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” won the Oscar for best animated feature film.

The Antarctic nature tale “March of the Penguins,” a surprise smash at the box office, was honored as best documentary.

“King Kong” won three Oscars, for visual effects, sound mixing and sound editing. The Japan drama “Memoirs of a Geisha” earned Oscars for costume design, art direction and cinematography, while the fantasy epic “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” was picked for best makeup.

South Africa’s drama “Tsotsi,” based on Athol Fugard’s novel about a young hoodlum reclaiming his own humanity, won for foreign-language film, beating the controversial Palestinian terrorism saga “Paradise Now.”

Mr. Clooney was one of the marquee names among a lineup of acting nominees heavy on lesser-known performers. And with a best-picture field of lower-budgeted films that drew smaller audiences than the commercial flicks that often dominate the Oscars, the question was whether Hollywood’s big awards night could lure TV viewers.

Oscar organizers hoped new host Mr. Stewart and the cultural buzz over front-runner “Brokeback Mountain” would beef up viewership.

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