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'Mountain' looms over Oscar nominations

'Crash' earns six; Clooney picks up three

By Todd Leopold
CNN

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"Brokeback Mountain" stars Heath Ledger, left, and Jake Gyllenhaal as ranch hands who have an affair.

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OSCAR FACTS, 2006

  • Most nominations: 8 ("Brokeback Mountain")

  • Other leading nominees: "Crash," "Good Night, and Good Luck" (6 nominations each), "Munich" (5 nominations)

  • By George: George Clooney was nominated for his acting (supporting actor for "Syriana"), his directing ("Good Night, and Good Luck") and his writing (original screenplay for "Good Night, and Good Luck," co-written with Grant Heslov).

  • Old vs. new: Most of the acting nominees have never been nominated for an Oscar before. The exceptions are Joaquin Phoenix (nominated for 2000's "Gladiator"); Judi Dench (4 previous nominations, including a win for "Shakespeare in Love"); Charlize Theron (2003's "Monster"); William Hurt (3 previous nominations, including a win for "Kiss of the Spider Woman"); Catherine Keener (1999's "Being John Malkovich"); and Frances McDormand (3 previous nominations, including a win for "Fargo").

  • Veterans: With his "Munich" nomination, Steven Spielberg has now been nominated 6 times, all for best director. He's won twice, for "Schindler's List" and "Saving Private Ryan." "Match Point" marks Woody Allen's 21st nomination, including 14 screenplay nominations. He's won 3 Oscars -- for writing "Hannah and Her Sisters" and for writing and directing "Annie Hall." John Williams was nominated twice for best score this year -- for "Memoirs of a Geisha" and "Munich" -- giving him 45 nominations all told. He's won five Oscars.

  • The Academy: About 5,800 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will choose the Academy Award winners.

  • The big night: Sunday, March 5, at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood.
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    (CNN) -- It has been the subject of controversy and the subject of jokes -- how many times have you heard variations on "I wish I knew how to quit you" or seen parodies of its poster? -- but mostly "Brokeback Mountain" has been the subject of honors.

    On Tuesday, the story of two romantically involved male ranch hands -- which already has won best picture honors from the Golden Globes (drama), Broadcast Film Critics Association and New York Film Critics Circle -- crowned its status as Oscar front-runner by leading all films with eight nominations for the 78th annual Academy Awards.

    "Brokeback," based on a short story by E. Annie Proulx, picked up nods for best picture, best director (Ang Lee), best actor (Heath Ledger), best supporting actress (Michelle Williams) and best supporting actor (Jake Gyllenhaal). Its screenplay adaptation, by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, also received a nomination.

    "Brokeback," with its overtly gay love story, has proved much more popular at the box office than some pundits had predicted. Even director Lee has been surprised.

    "I thought it was a small work of love," he told Reuters. "I never thought it would play like this."

    Tuesday was also a big day for George Clooney, who picked up nominations for directing "Good Night, and Good Luck" and co-writing its original screenplay -- a story about CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow's battle with Sen. Joe McCarthy -- with Grant Heslov. Clooney was also a pick for best supporting actor for his performance as a CIA agent in "Syriana."

    Clooney's nominations marked the first time the same person has been nominated for acting in and directing another movie.

    "Good Night, and Good Luck" also received nominations for best picture and best actor (David Strathairn, who portrays Murrow), while "Syriana" earned a nod for best original screenplay for its director and writer, Stephen Gaghan.

    Other nominees for best picture are "Capote," "Crash" and "Munich." "Crash" won the Screen Actors Guild award Sunday night for best performance by a cast. (Think you know who's going to win Oscar? Play our Inside the Envelope game.)

    Some notable films were left out of the best picture running.

    "Walk the Line," the Johnny Cash biography that has earned acting honors for stars Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, was shut out of the best picture and best director races, but Phoenix and Witherspoon were nominated in lead acting categories.

    "A History of Violence," another critical favorite, earned supporting actor and adapted screenplay nods, but nothing for its director, David Cronenberg. And "King Kong," despite some support for actress Naomi Watts and director Peter Jackson, only picked up technical nominations.

    Forecasters on the mark

    With a handful of exceptions, the nominations matched prognosticators' forecasts. ( Watch what the surprises were -- 4:08)

    Philip Seymour Hoffman, who has garnered several awards for his portrayal of author Truman Capote in "Capote," was nominated for best actor. Ledger, Strathairn and Phoenix have been on many short lists. The category's mild surprise was "Hustle & Flow's" Terrence Howard, who earned critical raves but was seen by many as being on the bubble.

    The best actress category is seen as a two-person race between Witherspoon, who played June Carter Cash in "Walk the Line," and Felicity Huffman, for her performance as a pre-op transsexual in "Transamerica." Both actresses won Golden Globes for their performances -- Witherspoon for best actress (comedy/musical), Huffman for best actress (drama). Witherspoon took the SAG Award on Sunday night.

    Other nominees are previous Oscar winners Charlize Theron ("North Country") and Judi Dench ("Mrs. Henderson Presents") and newcomer Keira Knightley ("Pride & Prejudice").

    In the best supporting actor category, Paul Giamatti -- left out of the nominations last year despite being much-lauded for "Sideways" -- was nominated for his performance as boxing manager Joe Gould in "Cinderella Man." William Hurt, who popped up for short, sharp performances in "Syriana" and "A History of Violence," was nominated for the latter film.

    The other nominees are Clooney, Gyllenhaal and Matt Dillon ("Crash") .

    Rachel Weisz, already a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award winner for "The Constant Gardener," earned an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress. Her competition includes Amy Adams ("Junebug"), Catherine Keener ("Capote"), Frances McDormand ("North Country") and Williams ("Brokeback Mountain").

    Newsweek, in its annual Oscar preview chat among likely nominees, hit it exactly right with the five directors it selected for this year's talk: Paul Haggis ("Crash"), Lee ("Brokeback Mountain"), Bennett Miller ("Capote"), Clooney ("Good Night, and Good Luck") and Steven Spielberg ("Munich").

    Some of the directors already knew each other from previous projects. Haggis was a writer and Clooney was an actor on the TV show "The Facts of Life," and Haggis is working with Spielberg on the Clint Eastwood-directed "Flags of Our Fathers."

    "Long after the Oscars this year, I think we're going have weekly dinners together. We're all planning to all move in together," Spielberg joked to the AP.

    Other categories

    Woody Allen, a frequent original screenplay nominee, was nominated once again, this year for "Match Point." His competition includes Clooney and Heslov, Gaghan, Haggis and Bobby Moresco ("Crash"), and Noah Baumbach ("The Squid and the Whale").

    The nominees for best adapted screenplay are McMurtry and Ossana; Dan Futterman, "Capote"; Jeffrey Caine, "The Constant Gardener"; Josh Olson, "A History of Violence"; and Tony Kushner and Eric Roth, "Munich."

    Oscar steered away from computer-animated films this year, picking "Howl's Moving Castle," "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride" and "Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-rabbit" for best animated feature. The latter two were done with stop-action figures.

    Nominees for best foreign film are "Don't Tell," Italy; "Joyeux Noel," France; "Paradise Now," Palestinian territories; "Sophie Scholl -- The Final Days," Germany; and "Tsotsi," South Africa.

    After "Brokeback's" eight nominations, three films follow with six: "Crash," "Good Night, and Good Luck" and "Memoirs of a Geisha." "Geisha" was shut out of the major categories.

    "Munich" received five nominations.

    None of the year's blockbusters was well represented. "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith" received one nomination, for makeup -- perhaps the first time a "Star Wars" film did not receive a special effects nomination. "King Kong" picked up four nods, and "War of the Worlds," Spielberg's other 2005 film, scored three nods in technical categories.

    "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" was nominated in the sound mixing, makeup and visual effects categories. "Batman Begins" is up for a cinematography prize.

    The documentary feature nominees included "March of the Penguins," perhaps the biggest sleeper hit of 2005, along with "Darwin's Nightmare," "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," "Murderball" and "Street Fight."

    The academy apparently didn't like many songs this year; only three were nominated instead of the usual five. They were "In the Deep" from "Crash," "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" from "Hustle & Flow" and "Travelin' Thru" from "Transamerica."

    The awards will be held March 5 at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California. Jon Stewart is the host, and ABC will broadcast the ceremony.

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