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'Crash' crashes the Oscar party

Film's SAG win improves nomination chances

By Todd Leopold

"Crash" cast members (from left) Sandra Bullock, Thandie Newton, Matt Dillon and Jennifer Esposito.


Academy Awards
Reese Witherspoon

(CNN) -- For more than eight months, "Crash" has been the little movie that could.

When it was released in May, industry pundits said the film -- featuring a large cast and a roundelay plot concerning racism and prejudice -- couldn't compete against the summer blockbusters then coming out.

"Crash" defied those predictions, grossing $54 million -- more than "The Island" or "XXX: State of the Union," two heavily promoted summer films -- and on a budget of less than $10 million, peanuts by Hollywood standards. (Watch Crash's big moment and who else the SAG honored -- 2:23)

Then the film, despite many positive reviews (though some sharply negative ones as well), solid DVD sales and a boost from Oprah Winfrey, was supposed to be forgotten when the Oscar handicapping season began at the end of 2005. But "Crash" was revived by making a number of critics' top 10 lists and being nominated for a slew of awards.

Now "Crash" has won the Screen Actors Guild award for best performance by a cast, the guild's closest equivalent to Oscar's best picture.

And though the SAG award isn't a guarantee of Oscar success -- previous SAG ensemble winners include "Sideways," "Gosford Park" and "Traffic" -- the award probably indicates "Crash" will enter the charmed circle of five best picture nominees when Oscar nominations are announced Tuesday morning.

Screen Actors Guild members make up the largest percentage of the 5,800 Oscar voters.

'Good bets'

Oscar pundit Tom O'Neil, who oversees the "Gold Derby" column on the Los Angeles Times' site theenvelope.comexternal link, sees "Crash" and Steven Spielberg's controversial "Munich" joining "Brokeback Mountain," "Capote" and "Good Night, and Good Luck." The latter three have been among the most regular nomination-getters this awards season, with "Brokeback" winning pretty much every major best picture award until being shut out at the SAGs Sunday night.

"There are four good bets: 'Brokeback,' 'Crash,' 'Good Night' and 'Munich.' They all have solid cores of support sufficient to garner the requisite 800-plus high-ranked votes from the academy's 5,800 members," writes O'Neil.

The SAGs also introduced some wrinkles in other categories. Paul Giamatti ("Cinderella Man") beat out George Clooney ("Syriana") for best supporting actor. Giamatti may receive plenty of Oscar support -- especially since he wasn't even nominated last year for "Sideways," widely considered a huge surprise.

Other best supporting actor possibilities include Clooney, who's also earning note for directing and starring in "Good Night, and Good Luck"; Terrence Howard, who gave highly praised performances in both "Crash" and "Hustle & Flow"; Jeffrey Wright, as a high-powered lawyer in "Syriana"; and Jake Gyllenhaal, for his turn as an outgoing ranch hand in "Brokeback Mountain."

As usual, though, this is a wide-open category.

Reese Witherspoon, who played June Carter Cash in the Johnny Cash biography "Walk the Line," gained an edge on her rivals with a best actress win at the SAGs -- and also helped prove to herself that she could sing, she says.

"I wanted to be a country and western singer when I was a little girl," Witherspoon told the press after her SAG win, but added that others weren't impressed -- including leaders of a singing camp she attended when she was 10, who urged her never to sing again. But playing Carter Cash was "a great way to conquer that fear," she added.

Her strongest competition will probably come from Felicity Huffman, who plays a pre-op transsexual in "Transamerica." Other nominee possibilities are Judi Dench ("Mrs. Henderson Presents"), Keira Knightley ("Pride and Prejudice"), Charlize Theron ("North Country") and Joan Allen ("The Upside of Anger").

Tough competition

Rachel Weisz, who won the best supporting actress Golden Globe for "The Constant Gardener," cemented her status as a favorite by winning the same award at the SAGs.

Her Oscar competition may include "Brokeback's" Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway, "North Country's" Frances McDormand, "Junebug's" Amy Adams and "Capote's" Catherine Keener -- who's also receiving support for her comic turn in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."

Philip Seymour Hoffman added a best actor SAG to his collection for his "Capote" performance as Truman Capote, which has also netted him a Golden Globe and several film critics' organizations' awards. He'll likely go up against David Strathairn ("Good Night, and Good Luck"), Joaquin Phoenix ("Walk the Line") and Heath Ledger ("Brokeback Mountain").

"Brokeback Mountain" director Ang Lee picked up another trophy for his work Saturday, this one from the Directors Guild of America. His competition for Oscar is believed to be Spielberg, Clooney, "Crash's" Paul Haggis, "A History of Violence's" David Cronenberg, "Capote's" Bennett Miller and "King Kong's" Peter Jackson. As with all Oscar categories, however, there can only be a maximum of five nominees.

As the Motion Picture Academy prepares to nominate some of the best in movies, the Golden Raspberry Award Foundation has posted its picks for the worst. Leading the way was "Son of the Mask," with Jamie Kennedy, and "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo." (See story.)

It's safe to say that neither film will end up on the Academy's short list.

The nominations for the 78th annual Academy Awards are scheduled to be announced at approximately 8:30 a.m. EST Tuesday morning.

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