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Brokeback Mountain looks like an Oscar front-runner

Brokeback Mountain looks like an Oscar front-runner

Gay and political films are dominating this year's Academy Awards race with some experts expecting that Oscar will wind up wearing pink, either for left-leaning politics or sexual orientation. As Hollywood starts its annual awards season leading to the March 5 Oscars, key front-runners in main categories are either gay-themed or political films, with Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain, a drama of love between cowboys, leading the pack in the all-important best picture race.

"It could be the gay Oscars this year because gay-themed movies could win almost all the major awards," said Tom O'Neill, show business awards columnist for The Envelope.Com., referring to the sudden dominance Brokeback Mountain has gained so early in the race. "Brokeback is going to be hard to beat. Rarely do we have this kind of award consensus for a movie, and its director [Taiwan's Ang Lee] is long overdue for an Oscar," O'Neill said. Brokeback, the first gay romance to make a bid for mainstream respectability, has already won the top awards handed out by critics in New York and Los Angeles and copped seven nominations for the January 16 Golden Globes, often a key indicator as to which way the Oscar wind might be blowing.

As for political films--the field is crowded with potential winners: Munich; Good Night, and Good Luck; Syriana; and The Constant Gardener. Many experts predict that Brokeback's toughest competition could come from either George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck, a steely-eyed examination of the McCarthy era, or Munich, Steven Spielberg's study of the price Israel paid for its reprisals for the murder of its athletes at the 1972 Olympics.

Before the race began and before anyone had a chance to see Spielberg's movie, it was being touted as the odds-on favorite to snare the best picture award, namely because Spielberg is a revered figure in Hollywood and had chosen to make his most serious movie since Schindler's List. The film is an examination of the cost of fighting terrorism and whether a democracy can use methods like targeted assassinations without destroying or shaming itself. The film was hit by a backlash as soon as it was shown to Jewish-American and Israeli groups, who argue that Spielberg ignored arguments that Israel was justified in using the methods it does in the war against terrorists.

New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier wrote that "Munich prefers a discussion of counterterrorism to a discussion of terrorism; or it thinks that they are the same discussion. This is an opinion that only people who are not responsible for the safety of other people can hold." David Poland of Movie City News said that Munich has to overcome the impression that it is anti-Israeli and possibly can do this "because the anti-Israeli accusation is a neoconservative one and not a mainstream Jewish one." He noted that at screenings at the headquarters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, whose members give out the Oscars, Munich was well received. Poland, himself, is optimistic, predicting that "Munich will still win the Academy Award. I think Brokeback will suffer when it goes into a wider viewing."

Other films with gay characters or gender-challenging themes that have won prominence this year include Capote, thanks to its standout performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman as writer Truman Capote, and Transamerica, with Felicity Huffman winning rave reviews as a transgender woman about to have gender-reassignment surgery. Brokeback Mountain is also doing well at the box office--even though it is only in 69 theaters, it was last week's eighth-highest-grossing movie. (Arthur Spiegelman, via Reuters)

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