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Is Oscar ready
for Brokeback Mountain?

Is Oscar ready
for Brokeback Mountain?

The cowboys-in-love drama Brokeback Mountain received a leading seven Golden Globes nominations, yet the critical favorite has an uphill trail for the Academy Awards, where a gay-themed film has never won top honors. Along with best dramatic picture, Globe nominations Tuesday for Brokeback Mountain included lead actor Heath Ledger, supporting actress Michelle Williams, and director Ang Lee.

Chosen as 2005's best film by critics groups in New York City, Los Angeles, and Boston, Brokeback Mountain stars Ledger as a husband and father carrying on a secret affair with an old shepherding companion (Jake Gyllenhaal). Lee, who won the best-director Golden Globe for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, said he does not worry that the gay subject matter will turn off audiences or Oscar voters. But he said he does hesitate to call it a movie about gay cowboys because "it sounds a little funny to me in its connotation, like we're doing Blazing Saddles. That's what's bothering me, because it's a serious love story," Lee said. "Given the Western macho aura...the more difficult, the more love is hindered, the more grand the love is."

Despite the acclaim and an impressive debut last weekend, when the film took in $550,000 in just five theaters, Brokeback Mountain may prove more off-putting to Oscar voters than to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the Golden Globe organizers who have traditionally been more receptive to gay themes. "It's going to be a front-runner, but it really has a mountain to climb because never have we seen a gay romance in the best-picture race before," said Tom O'Neil, who runs TheEnvelope.com, an awards Web site.

Movies with gay angles have earned acting honors--Tom Hanks winning for Philadelphia, 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 gay subtexts. But Brokeback Mountain looks to be the biggest test yet for gay-themed films come Oscar time.

Conservative critics have assailed Brokeback Mountain, saying it markets gay lifestyles. "By utilizing two of the most attractive and popular young Hollywood actors for these roles in such a compelling story, they have created characters people can identify and sympathize with to sway the public into believing this is natural behavior," said David Kupelian, author of The Marketing of Evil: How Radicals, Elitists and Pseudo-Experts Sell Us Corruption Disguised as Freedom.

Novelist Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana--who shared a screenplay nomination for Brokeback Mountain, adapted from Annie Proulx's short story--said the film is a broader story of tragic love, not a gay romance. "People come in with preconceived notions about the film, I guess because it's acquired that tagline, 'a story about gay cowboys.' We've had people at screenings refer to it as that," Ossana said. "One person who saw it said afterward, 'I came in calling it that but will never call it that again.'" "It's a tragedy, not a success story," McMurtry said. "It doesn't wave the banner of triumph over the homosexual lifestyle or any lifestyle. It's a story about life itself. This is a realistic story and a sad story."

The Globes were a triumph for smaller budgeted films over big studio productions. Philip Berk, head of the foreign press group, said it was the first time all nominees for best dramatic film were independent movies shot for less than $30 million. Golden Globe winners will be announced Janurary 16, five days before polls close for Oscar voters. Oscar nominations come out January 31, and the awards will be presented March 5. The Globes generally serve as a solid barometer for Oscar nominations, though contenders typically say they try not to think ahead to the Oscars. "But it certainly crosses my mother's mind," said dramatic actress nominee Maria Bello (A History of Violence). "She told me, 'I'm saying a novena for you. I'm sure you'll be nominated.'" (David Germain, via AP)

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