Wildly varying films have received kudos from critics during this busy awards season, from biopics about Johnny Cash and Truman Capote to classic stories about romance and a royal ape.
But one appears to be riding to the front of the pack heading into Tuesday’s Golden Globe nominations: “Brokeback Mountain.”
The story of cowboys who fall into forbidden love in Wyoming has been named the year’s best picture in recent days by critics groups in New York, Los Angeles and Boston; its director, Ang Lee, has received top honors from all three and from the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures.
One of the film’s stars, Heath Ledger, won the best-actor award Monday from the New York Film Critics Circle, and his co-star, Jake Gyllenhaal, was named best supporting actor by the National Board of Review. “Brokeback Mountain” also appears on the American Film Institute’s list of the top 10 movies of the year.
Tom O’Neil, a columnist for the awards Web site theenvelope.com, said “Brokeback Mountain” is one of only two shoo-in nominees for best drama at the Golden Globes, scheduled for Jan. 16; “Good Night, and Good Luck,” about Edward R. Murrow’s battles with Sen. Joseph McCarthy, is the other. The film from director George Clooney received the best-picture award Monday from the National Board of Review, which described it as “extraordinary.”
“There is a curious consensus building behind ‘Brokeback Mountain,”’ O’Neil said. “At the same time, we’re seeing previous front-runners like ‘Munich’ and ’(Memoirs of a) Geisha’ fall behind. Neither film has gotten the enthusiastic support of film critics, which is a crucial element behind a best-picture rival.”
“Brokeback” also has all the key ingredients needed for a best-picture Oscar nominee, O’Neil said — and the Golden Globes increasingly have been a predictor for Academy Awards success in recent years.
“It is epic, it’s a wide-screen, big-canvas movie. Oscar voters frequently confuse best picture with big picture. This is big in its ideas, in its cinematic range, in its landscape views of Wyoming in the ’60s,” he said. “It feels important — it’s making a social statement about something that’s becoming more acceptable in America but is still slightly dangerous.”
Similarly, the fact that Lee has received so much praise could bode well for him. The veteran Taiwanese helmer lost the best-picture and best-director Oscars for his 2000 martial arts epic “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” though the movie did win for best foreign-language film, and Lee won a Golden Globe from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for best director.
“There is a feeling that this is a director who is overdue for his laurels,” O’Neil said.
Beyond “Brokeback” and “Good Night,” about six other movies could sneak into the best drama category, he predicted. One of them is “Capote,” which has earned Philip Seymour Hoffman rave reviews and best-actor honors from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the National Board of Review, the Boston Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Online.
O’Neil said “King Kong,” Peter Jackson’s epic remake and one of the year’s most anticipated films, probably won’t get a Globe nod, but it should be a best-picture nominee at the Oscars.
In the musical or comedy category at the Golden Globes, “Walk the Line” is a likely contender. Joaquin Phoenix stars as Cash, but Reese Witherspoon runs away with the movie as his on- and off-stage partner, June Carter Cash. The performance has earned Witherspoon best-actress awards from reviewers in New York and Boston.
“Even in the Hollywood, commercial, popcorn genre she’s worked in, she has extraordinary respect from a cross-section of critics here,” said Gene Seymour, film critic for Newsday and president of the New York Film Critics Circle. “She’s very, very engaged in her character — she really knows what to do in front of a camera, always. She has an amazing capacity to connect with people.”
Other possible nominees, O’Neil said, include “Pride and Prejudice,” “Casanova” (which also stars Ledger), “Mrs. Henderson Presents” and “The Squid and the Whale,” a dark comedy about divorce which has earned writer-director Noah Baumbach top screenplay honors from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics Circle. The New York Film Critics Online named “Squid” the year’s best movie.
“There were a lot of quality films and I think you’re seeing it in all different genres,” said Annie Schulhof, National Board of Review president. “If you’re in the mood for a biopic, go see ‘Capote,’ go see ‘Good Night, and Good Luck.’ If you’re in the mood for a political thriller, you have ‘Syriana.”’