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'Mountain' looms over contenders

Golden Globe wins cement film's front-runner status

By Todd Leopold
CNN

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Golden Globe Awards

(CNN) -- George Clooney thanked Jack Abramoff. Steve Carell thanked his wife -- several times.

Hugh Laurie randomly thanked "House's" script supervisor, hair stylist and -- to his (perhaps mock) surprise, his agent. S. Epatha Merkerson thanked many people in a heartfelt and moving speech.

But it looks like those who should be most thankful are the cast and creators of "Brokeback Mountain," a film that won four awards from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the group that oversees the Globes.

If the Golden Globes are the New Hampshire primary of Hollywood awards shows -- a small, somewhat unrepresentative group kingmaking for a much larger constituency (give or take a Pat Buchanan or Pia Zadora, of course) -- then "Brokeback" must be considered the front-runner as the movie season heads into the conventions ... er, the January 31 Oscar nominations, and then to the big Academy Award election on March 5.

The Western, about a romance between two male ranch hands, won four Globes, including best dramatic film, best director (Ang Lee), best song ("A Love That Will Never Grow Old") and best screenplay (Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana). For the latter, McMurtry thanked his typewriter, perhaps the only inanimate object to be given such gratitude on Monday night's show.

"Brokeback Mountain," which has been nominated for several other awards -- including the Screen Actors Guild and Directors Guild honors -- and was named to dozens of critics' 10-best lists, has also been a solid performer at the box office so far. Director Lee said that its success indicates that Americans are willing to embrace stories of love in all forms.

"It has proven you can never categorize a region or place or stereotype them," Lee said. (Watch the winners express their appreciation -- 2:30)

After "Brokeback," the best picture possibilities get murkier.

"Walk the Line," the Johnny Cash biography, won Globes for best musical or comedy and lead actors Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon; it will likely take a best picture nomination.

"Good Night, and Good Luck," the George Clooney-directed story of the Edward R. Murrow-Joseph McCarthy face-off, came up empty at the Globes but has had success with critics, industry organizations and audiences. Given Clooney's popularity -- the actor won a supporting actor Globe for "Syriana" and has garnered respect for taking career chances with both films -- it will probably also grab a spot.

"Crash," a film about the interconnected lives of several Los Angeles residents, received just two Globe nominations -- for screenplay and best supporting actor -- and won neither. But the film was financially successful and has also earned industry plaudits (as well as a boost from Oprah Winfrey).

Awards pundit Tom O'Neil, for one, believes it will come up big in the Oscar race.

"Help me! I want to scream 'Crash' will win best picture!" he headlined one postexternal link at his http://goldderby.latimes.com blog.

Acting hopefuls

The Globes highlighted themes of sexuality and politics in honoring "Brokeback" and several actors.

Philip Seymour Hoffman won best dramatic actor for his portrayal of the homosexual writer Truman Capote in "Capote," and Felicity Huffman won best dramatic actress for her performance as a pre-operative transsexual in "Transamerica."

"I know as actors our job is usually to shed our skins, but I think as people our job is to become who we really are, and so I would like to salute the men and women who brave ostracism, alienation and a life lived on the margins to become who they really are," Huffman said.

Clooney's troubled CIA agent won him best supporting actor, and Rachel Weisz, as a civil servant's murdered activist wife, won best supporting actress for "The Constant Gardener." (List of winners)

Huffman's primary competition will likely come from Witherspoon, who has earned raves -- as well as a Globe -- for her portrayal of June Carter Cash. Other best actress possibilities include Gwyneth Paltrow ("Proof"), Judi Dench "Mrs. Henderson Presents"), Charlize Theron ("North Country"), Laura Linney ("The Squid and the Whale") and Keira Knightley ("Pride and Prejudice").

Witherspoon, who was born in Louisiana and grew up in Tennessee, said she was proud to pay tribute to a woman she greatly respected.

"I also believe in really strong women, and I think she's the ultimate strong female character," Witherspoon said. "And I just really related to her as a mother and as a wife and also as an entertainer." (More quotes)

Hoffman, who has also been named best actor by the National Board of Review and several critics' groups, should face competition from Phoenix, Jeff Daniels ("The Squid and the Whale"), Heath Ledger ("Brokeback Mountain") and David Strathairn ("Good Night, and Good Luck"). Terrence Howard ("Hustle & Flow") and Russell Crowe ("Cinderella Man") are also possibilities.

And there's probably a nomination in store for Chris Cooper, who lent his formidable talents to supporting roles in both "Capote" and "Syriana."

No guarantees

Of course, Globe nominations and Globe wins are no guarantee of Oscar success.

Just last year, the Globes picked "The Aviator" as its best dramatic picture; the Oscar went to "Million Dollar Baby." The Globes also nominate in both drama and comedy/musical sections, so in some categories there are twice as many Globe nominees as Oscar nominees.

But the recognition sure doesn't hurt. Eight of the last 10 Globe picture winners have gone on to win best picture at the Academy Awards (including two comedy/musical winners, "Chicago" and "Shakespeare in Love"). A majority of its lead performer picks also take Oscars.

"Brokeback" may face some much different competition for Oscar than it did for Globe, writes The Hollywood Reporter's Gregg Kilday.

"The quartet of films that actually has drawn the most support among the top four guilds -- earning nominations from the DGA, the WGA, the PGA and best ensemble noms from SAG -- are 'Brokeback,' 'Good Night,' 'Capote' and 'Crash,' " he observes. "So at the final showdown March 5 on Oscar Night, 'Brokeback' could find itself in a shootout with a different set of hombres."

Among films that may end up on the outside looking in: Steven Spielberg's "Munich," Peter Jackson's "King Kong," Ron Howard's "Cinderella Man," Woody Allen's "Match Point," Terrence Malick's "The New World" and Tommy Lee Jones' "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada."

The Golden Globes also highlighted some possibilities in other Oscar categories. The Palestinian film "Paradise Now," a dark tale of two Arab friends enlisted to carry out a suicide bombing in Israel, won the Globe for foreign-language film.

And some of the HFPA's TV picks were surprising. Of the five nominees for best actress in a comedy series, four were from "Desperate Housewives." But the winner was the fifth nominee, Mary-Louise Parker of "Weeds." ("Housewives" did win best comedy overall.) (Check out a list of the Globes' best momentsexternal link.)

Steve Carell of "The Office" won best actor over Larry David ("Curb Your Enthusiasm"), Jason Lee ("My Name Is Earl") and Zach Braff ("Scrubs"). Hugh Laurie of "House" won best dramatic lead actor and Geena Davis of "Commander in Chief" won best dramatic lead actress. "Grey's Anatomy's" Sandra Oh won best supporting actress.

All may now receive more attention from Emmy voters in September.

But, for now, eyes turn to Oscar, which will announce its nominations on the last day of the month. And when it comes to the little gold man, "Brokeback" is leading the drive.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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