Message movies at front of Oscar pack

This time, the medium was the message. Oscar voters couldn't have put it more clearly.

Even as the big studios increasingly eliminate thoughtful dramas, five overtly political message movies were nominated yesterday for the best-picture Academy Award, as Brokeback Mountain, which went in the favorite, picked up eight nominations to take the lead.


Without a mass-appeal blockbuster in the bunch, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members singled out Capote, Crash, Munich and Good Night, and Good Luck, in addition to Brokeback - movies that delve into everything from racial intolerance to terrorism to homophobia.

While technically a five-picture race, the best-picture contest will likely come down to two movies. Brokeback Mountain, which starts out in 1960s Wyoming, focuses on a polarizing contemporary issue: tolerance of gay relationships. Crash, which is set in modern-day Los Angeles, explores a centuries-old topic: racism in America.


"I wasn't trying to get any message across at all," said Paul Haggis, who made his directorial debut with Crash. "I was talking about things that troubled me personally. That is what makes all of these films so effective. They ask questions that are gnawing at us."

But what played with the academy, though, hasn't played across America - none of the best-picture nominees is a breakout hit in the middle of the country. The highest-grossing is Crash, a series of interlocking stories about race, which has grossed $53.4 million.

The most notable exclusion from the best-picture contenders is the Johnny Cash biography Walk the Line, a $100 million-grossing success that Oscar prognosticators had assumed would make the cut. The film was, however, not overlooked, with a best-actor nomination for Joaquin Phoenix and best actress for Reese Witherspoon.

Despite a pricey, end-of-the-year push, the boxing drama Cinderella Man also failed to receive a best-picture nomination.

Memoirs of a Geisha earned six nominations - tying it with Crash and Good Night, and Good Luck - but none in a major category. The year's two highest-grossing films, Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, received but one minor nomination each.

George Clooney collected three nominations: one for directing Good Night, and Good Luck, the drama about journalist Edward R. Murrow; one for co-writing that film; and the third for his supporting role in the thriller Syriana.

Other top categories were peppered with movies carrying progressive agendas.

North Country, a tale of sexual harassment among miners, earned a best-actress nomination for Charlize Theron and best supporting actress for Frances McDormand. Syriana, an account of the personal and political price of oil, was nominated for original screenplay. The Constant Gardener, a romantic thriller about unscrupulous drug testing in Kenya, received four nominations, including best supporting actress for Rachel Weisz.


With Phoenix and Brokeback's Heath Ledger in the best-actor race were Capote's Philip Seymour Hoffman, Hustle & Flow's Terrence Howard and Good Night, and Good Luck's David Strathairn.

Nominated for best actress with Theron and Witherspoon were Judi Dench for Mrs. Henderson Presents, Felicity Huffman in Transamerica and Keira Knightley of Pride & Prejudice.

The 78th annual Academy Awards will take place March 5. The ceremony will air on ABC (Channel 2) at 8 p.m.

John Horn and Susan King write for the Los Angeles Times.

Oscar nominations

Top nominees for the 78th annual Academy Awards. For a complete list of nominations and other Oscars-related coverage, visit


Best picture:

Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Crash, Good Night, and Good Luck, Munich.


Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote; Terrence Howard, Hustle & Flow; Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain; Joaquin Phoenix, Walk the Line; David Strathairn, Good Night, and Good Luck.


Judi Dench, Mrs. Henderson Presents; Felicity Huffman, Transamerica; Keira Knightley, Pride & Prejudice; Charlize Theron, North Country; Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line.


Supporting actor:

George Clooney, Syriana; Matt Dillon, Crash; Paul Giamatti, Cinderella Man; Jake Gyllenhaal, Brokeback Mountain; William Hurt, A History of Violence.

Supporting actress:

Amy Adams, Junebug; Catherine Keener, Capote; Frances McDormand, North Country; Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener; Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain.


Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain; Bennett Miller, Capote; Paul Haggis, Crash; George Clooney, Good Night, and Good Luck; Steven Spielberg, Munich.


Foreign film:

Don't Tell, Italy; Joyeux Noel, France; Paradise Now, Palestine; Sophie Scholl - The Final Days, Germany; Tsotsi, South Africa.

Adapted screenplay:

Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, Brokeback Mountain; Dan Futterman, Capote; Jeffrey Caine, The Constant Gardener; Josh Olson, A History of Violence; Tony Kushner and Eric Roth, Munich.

Original screenplay:

Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco, Crash; George Clooney and Grant Heslov, Good Night, and Good Luck; Woody Allen, Match Point; Noah Baumbach, The Squid and the Whale; Stephen Gaghan, Syriana.


Animated feature:

Howl's Moving Castle; Tim Burton's Corpse Bride; Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

Documentary feature:

Darwin's Nightmare, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, March of the Penguins, Murderball, Street Fight.

Honorary Award:

Robert Altman.


The Gordon E. Sawyer award:

Gary Demos.

[Associated Press]