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Will ‘Brokeback’ avoid Oscar-night ‘Crash’?

Racially charged drama making last-minute surge with Academy voters
/ Source: Reuters

Will Oscar go gay or crash? What seemed like a runaway gallop for a pair of gay cowboys may be a closer-than-expected Oscar horse race.

Odds-on favorite “Brokeback Mountain” apparently received a strong last-minute challenge from racially charged drama “Crash” in the battle for best picture at the Academy Awards, interviews with Academy members and Oscar pundits suggest.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences keeps the results of its members’ voting totally secret until the moment of truth — this Sunday’s awards show that will be watched by hundreds of millions of people around the world and hosted for the first time by sharp-tongued comedian Jon Stewart.

There are no exit polls, but that hasn’t stopped the talk of an upset after months of flat-out Hollywood predictions that its top film prize will for the first time go to a gay love story, “Brokeback Mountain,” which has picked up eight nominations, the most of any movie this year.

People Magazine published a special Oscar daily this week in which the first headline was in hot pink and declared: “Oscar: Yep I’m Gay.” This was superimposed over a photograph of the gold statuette, a poster for “Brokeback Mountain” and posters for two other films — “Capote” and “Transamerica.”

“Eight nominations for the gay cowboy movie, two for the tranny (transsexual) road flick, five for the Truman Capote story — at first glance the lesson of this year’s Academy award is simple. The shortcut to Oscar glory is a three-letter word: g-a-y,” People explained.

Said Oscar pundit Tom O’Neil, “I’ve heard more people talk of voting for ‘Crash’ than for ‘Brokeback,’ but I remember when every Academy voter I spoke to (in 2002) said they were voting for ‘Moulin Rouge’ and the favorite for that year, ‘A Beautiful Mind,’ won. It is very hard to dislodge a front-runner.”

“I mean ‘Chicago’ had to fend off a last-minute surge from ‘The Pianist.’ The Oscar voter wants to be on the winning side, but maybe there is an unspoken subtext this year of enough with these ‘homosexual persecution movies.’ But how can you judge the unspoken factor — being politically incorrect in Hollywood,” O’Neil said.

Playwright Tony Kushner, the author of “Angels in America” who is up for an Oscar as co-author of the screenplay for “Munich,”  acknowledges that some people are “scared about ‘Brokeback’ because it is a gay movie.”

Bold move
But he added, “Sometimes you do something brave and bold and take a risk. All of Hollywood is feeling that way about ‘Brokeback.’ It will do very well in the race. It is a beautiful movie, and thanks to the Oscar race, a few million more people will see it and it will change minds.”

The five nominees for best picture, which also include “Munich,” “Capote” and McCarthy-era drama “Good Night, and Good Luck,” are a serious lot — issue movies that reflect Hollywood’s much-debated liberalism. As a group, they have not scored well at the box office.

For example, “Brokeback Mountain” has earned $75 million after 12 weeks, about $2 million less than what “War of the Worlds” earned in its first four days last July.

“Crash” is set in Los Angeles and has struck a chord with Oscar voters, many of whom live in the city and can sympathize with its theme of races who do not mingle until they crash into each other with their cars.

The film received six Oscar nominations, tying for No. 2 with George Clooney’s “Good Night, and Good Luck.”

Some experts think the only shoo-in for victory in a major category is Philip Seymour Hoffman as best actor. Hoffman portrayed writer Truman Capote in “Capote,” as a manipulative and ambitious bon vivant who wins the confidence of a convicted killer then lets the man and his partner die in order to get an ending for his book, “In Cold Blood.”

But even in this category, the competition is fierce. Hoffman has to beat “Hustle & Flow” star Terrence Howard, Heath Ledger fighting his feelings as one of the cowboys in “Brokeback,” Joaquin Phoenix as singer Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line” and David Strathairn in a “You Are There” performance as newsman Edward R. Murrow in “Good Night.”

The best actress race is too close to call between favorites Reese Witherspoon playing singer June Carter in “Walk the Line” and Felicity Huffman in the role of a man who is nearing a sex-change operation in “Transamerica.”

Even such lesser categories as best foreign-language film are considered too close to call. Three of the five films — the Palestinian “Paradise Now,” South Africa’s “Tsotsi” and Germany’s “Sophie Scholl” — have chances in that contest.

So hold your horses, grab your popcorn and wait to see who wins on Sunday. Oscar may or may not be gay this year but he will be full of surprises.