The most politically loaded Oscar race since Gandhi versus E.T. in 1982 seems to have come down to a contest between the gay-cowboy movie that isn’t really a gay-cowboy movie and the drama about racial conflict that’s really a glib exercise in screenwriting.
Just a few weeks ago, Brokeback Mountain looked unbeatable. Now, probably because journalists have gotten bored, its lead doesn’t look so insurmountable. Could it be true that Academy members are secretly homophobic and don’t want to turn the Awards ceremony into a gay love fest? Has the film peaked too early, its steady climb at the box office getting no bump from its Oscar nominations? Most troubling, have Brokeback Mountain jokes and parodies, like the “Watch Your Back Mountain” Dick Cheney New Yorker cover, run their course?
If indeed Brokeback has broken down, what’s taking its place? Capote is too gay, Munich too black, and Good Night, and Good Luck too black and white. The feeling is that Crash, a big winner at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, a film whose political credentials are acceptably liberal and innocuous, might sneak away with the prize.
I don’t buy that. For the Academy to back down on Brokeback after all this build-up would be terrible for its already dim image, and the Oscars, if nothing else, are about image. Brokeback will win for Best Picture and Ang Lee (is there a more gracious winner in Hollywood?) for Best Director. And if Heath Ledger doesn’t complete the trifecta with a Best Actor Oscar, it’s only because that award will go to another high-profile gay performance, Philip Seymour Hoffmann in Capote.
The backlash, such as it is, will occur in other categories. In Best Actress, for instance. The Academy might well smile upon men acting subversively, but will it endorse Felicity Huffman playing a man who’s becoming a woman in Transamerica? Or Charlize Theron as a single mother who takes on the sexually abusive mining industry in North Country? Or Keira Knightley as a 19th-century woman in Pride & Prejudice whose feminism is before our time, never mind hers? Or Judi Dench as a rich pervert who promotes nudie revues? I think the Oscar folks will walk the line and go for Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash.
I also believe more conservative choices will prevail in the supporting categories. For Best Supporting Actor, we’ve got a renegade cop (Matt Dillon in Crash), a renegade CIA agent (George Clooney in Syriana), a renegade brother (William Hurt in A History of Violence), a renegade gay cowboy (Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain), and a nice regular kind of guy (Paul Giamatti in Cinderella Man). Paul Giamatti should get it; that’ll make up for the snub he got last year when he played a renegade oenophile in Sideways. Best Supporting Actress is, as usual, wide open. Could Rachel Weisz get it for The Constant Gardener because, even though she’s a whining troublemaker, she spends most of the movie dead? Or Michelle Williams in Brokeback Mountain because, even though she splits with her gay husband, she still takes an unbelievable amount of shit? Or Frances McDormand in North Country because, even though she drives a huge rig like a man, she still can get sick with the best of them? Or Catherine Keener as Harper Lee in Capote because, even though she will later put out a book better than anything Truman ever wrote, here she’s working as his secretary? I’ll bet on Amy Adams as the pregnant wife in Junebug because her performance fulfills the basic Best Supporting Actress requirement: a year from now, no one will remember it.