This could be the year gay-themed films dominate Hollywood’s awards season.
The cowboys-in-love drama “Brokeback Mountain,” a potential Academy Award front-runner, led nominees Thursday for film prizes from actors and directors unions, including performers Heath Ledger, Michelle Williams and Jake Gyllenhaal and filmmaker Ang Lee.
Along with Ledger and Gyllenhaal, playing old sheepherding buddies who conceal a homosexual affair from their families, the Screen Actors Guild nominated Philip Seymour Hoffman for his role as gay author Truman Capote in “Capote” and Felicity Huffman for her gender-bending turn as a man preparing for sex-change surgery in “Transamerica.”
Ang Lee, who directed “Brokeback Mountain,” and Bennett Miller, who made “Capote,” earned nominations for best filmmaker from the Directors Guild of America.
“Brokeback Mountain,” which also earned a leading seven nominations for the upcoming Golden Globes, has proved a box-office hit so far in limited release and might emerge as a best-picture favorite for the Oscars.
The best-actor Oscar could end up a two-man race between Ledger and Hoffman, while Huffman’s dazzling performance could bring her the best-actress prize to go with her Emmy last fall for “Desperate Housewives.”
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, whose 5,800 voting members choose Oscar winners, has yet to give its top prize to a film dealing as explicitly with homosexual themes as “Brokeback Mountain.”
Movies with gay angles have earned acting Oscars for such performers as Tom Hanks for “Philadelphia” and Hilary Swank for “Boys Don’t Cry,” but those movies did not break into the best-picture pack. “Kiss of the Spider Woman” won an Oscar for William Hurt as a gay man and earned a best-picture nomination, losing to “Out of Africa,” and best-picture winners “American Beauty” and “Midnight Cowboy” had homosexual subtexts.
“Brokeback Mountain,” combined with “Capote” and “Transamerica,” could become the biggest test yet for gay-themed films come Oscar time.
Besides Ledger and Hoffman, SAG’s lead film actor nominees were Russell Crowe as Depression-era boxer Jim Braddock in “Cinderella Man”; Joaquin Phoenix as singer Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line”; and David Strathairn as newsman Edward R. Murrow in “Good Night, and Good Luck.”
Joining Huffman among lead-actress picks were Judi Dench as a society dame who starts a nude stage revue in 1930s London in “Mrs. Henderson Presents”; Charlize Theron as a woman leading a sexual-harassment lawsuit at a mining company in “North Country”; Reese Witherspoon as Cash’s soul mate and eventual wife, June Carter, in “Walk the Line”; and Ziyi Zhang as a poor girl who becomes a belle of Japan in “Memoirs of a Geisha.”
Huffman also earned a SAG nomination for best actress in a TV comedy series for “Desperate Housewives.”
George Clooney also was a double nominee, earning a Directors Guild nomination for directing “Good Night, and Good Luck” and a SAG supporting-actor nomination for his role as an undercover CIA agent in the oil-industry thriller “Syriana.”
Along with Clooney, Lee and Miller, the Directors Guild nominated Paul Haggis for the ensemble drama “Crash” and Steven Spielberg for “Munich,” a thriller about the Israeli hit squad assigned to kill Palestinians in retaliation for the 1972 Olympics massacre.
“Brokeback Mountain” co-stars Williams and Gyllenhaal earned SAG nominations as supporting players, as did “Capote” co-star Catherine Keener, who plays Capote pal Harper Lee, author of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
“Brokeback Mountain” and “Capote” also were nominated for best overall cast performance, along with “Good Night, and Good Luck,” “Crash” and “Hustle & Flow, the story of a pimp and drug dealer forging a career as a rap singer.
SAG awards will be presented Jan. 29 in a ceremony televised on TNT and TBS. The Directors Guild will present its awards Jan. 28.
Academy Awards nominations come out Jan. 31, with the Oscars presented on March 5.