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‘Brokeback’ has the Oscar momentum

Film won four Golden Globes; but could ‘Capote’ sneak in there for the win? By John Hartl

The Golden Globes are often considered a reliable forecaster of the Academy Awards — more so than the New York and Los Angeles critics’ awards or the National Society of Film Critics’ prizes.

Last night’s sweep for “Brokeback Mountain” appears to point in that direction again. After taking the Globes for best picture (drama), director (Ang Lee), song (“A Love That Will Never Grow Old”) and script (by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana), this acclaimed gay Western seems unbeatable at the Oscars.

“Walk the Line,” which won in the comedy-musical category for Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix, is likely to earn Oscar nominations for both actors — and Witherspoon now appears to be the Oscar front-runner for best actress. Philip Seymour Hoffman, the Globes’ best actor (drama category) for “Capote,” also looks like the one to beat at the Oscars. (Nominations will be announced Jan. 31.)

Last year, however, proved that the Globes don’t necessarily mean anything. Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator” won best picture and actor (Leonardo Di Caprio) in the Globes’ drama category, while Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby,” which eventually swept the top Oscars, had to make do with best actress (Hilary Swank) and director (Eastwood).

The supporting Globes went to Clive Owen and Natalie Portman for “Closer” — a movie that came up empty at the Oscars. (It's unclear what this means for this year's Globe choices for best supporting actors: George Clooney for "Syriana" and Rachel Weisz for "The Constant Gardener.")

Globes are a good predictorTiming undoubtedly had much to do with this. “Closer” was a hotter film in December 2004 than it was a couple of months later when the Oscars were handed out. So was the expensive and heavily promoted “The Aviator.” Eastwood’s medium-budget “Baby” came out of nowhere to grab the attention of Oscar voters who were clearly more impressed by its emotional impact.

Something similar happened in 1993, when “Scent of a Woman” won the Golden Globe for best picture (drama). Eastwood’s  “Unforgiven,” which ended up dominating the Oscars a couple of months later, again won him the consolation Globe award for best director.

So maybe it’s just the Eastwood factor. They like him, they really really like him, but the Globes voters seem reluctant to give their big awards to his movies. At any rate, Eastwood isn’t in the running this year, so maybe the Globes can return to their previous prescient role.

The Globes’ score card can certainly look impressive. Two years ago, when Charlize Theron, Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Renee Zellweger, Peter Jackson and “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” were in the running, the Globes accurately anticipated their Oscar wins in every category.

Yet three years ago, the Globes included no hint that Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist” would win three major Oscars, including best actor (Adrien Brody) and director (Polanski). Indeed, Polanski wasn’t even in the running for best director, which the Globe voters gave to Martin Scorsese for “Gangs of New York.”

The major difference between the Globes and the Oscars is the number (and nature) of the voters. The Globes are awarded by fewer than 90 voters, all of them members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Several thousand Oscar voters, most of them involved in various aspects of filmmaking, cast ballots on the work of their peers.

The Oscar voters have less in common with Globes voters than they do with the Hollywood guilds, especially the Screen Actors Guild, which recently nominated four actors left out of the Globes competition (Jake Gyllenhaal, Don Cheadle, Amy Adams, Catherine Keener), and the Producers Guild, which recently named “Crash” and “Capote” as among the top five films of the year. Neither film made it onto the Globes’ list of best picture candidates.

Could ‘Capote’ be the spoiler come Oscar time?If anything can halt the “Brokeback Mountain” express at the Oscars, “Capote” might be it. Nominated for only one Globe (which it won), it was named the year’s best film by the National Society of Film Critics, which seemed to go out of its way to ignore “Brokeback” in every category — perhaps the first sign of a “Brokeback” backlash.

Also not to be discounted are “Crash,” which unexpectedly has earned nominations from all the Hollywood guilds, and “Good Night, and Good Luck,” which won the National Board of Review’s prize for best picture and scored with all of the guilds. The Kansas City and Washington D.C. critics picked Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” as the year’s best, but among the guilds, it was mentioned only by the Directors Guild.

Following a near-sweep of year-end critics’ awards for best picture, “Brokeback” has exceeded box-office expectations for a gay film. Still in relatively limited release, it crossed over the $30 million mark in the United States this weekend, while pushing “King Kong” out of the No. 1 spot in the United Kingdom. Despite being pulled from one Utah megaplex, it’s selling out at a nearby Salt Lake City theater.

According to Variety, it’s also doing surprisingly well in such cities as Nashville, San Antonio and Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It’s been in release for more than a month, yet on a per-theater basis, it’s doing better than the weekend’s new releases, “Hoodwinked,” “Glory Road” and “Last Holiday.”

The film’s unexpected appeal to heartland moviegoers has generated plenty of commentary, most recently from The New York Times’ Caryn James, who suggests that the two-decades-long secret affair between Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis (Heath Ledger) is essentially a backstreet soap opera with great appeal to women.

“They are as truly in love as two people can be,” writes The New Republic’s longtime movie critic, Stanley Kauffmann. He sees the picture as a witness to “the delicacy and pain and almost unbearable joy of the pair.”

The Nation’s pop-culture writer, Richard Goldstein, even argues that it has fans in unlikely places. He claims the Christian right has been muted in its objections to “Brokeback” because the movie “echoes the fashionable fundamentalist idea that disapproving dads make deviant sons. . . both Jack and Ennis had brutal, distant fathers.”

Some critics and Oscar predictors can’t see “Brokeback” sweeping the Oscars, because even such past gay winners as “Philadelphia” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman” collected awards only for their actors.

Yet 36 years ago, in a nation deeply divided by war and politics and the beginnings of the gay-rights movement, “Midnight Cowboy” — an X-rated story of two men who rely entirely on each other for emotional support — won the Oscar for best picture. And it even had a Western reference in the title.