Oscar winners: who got one?

As the brightest night of the Hollywood calendar ends for another year, the main awards came as no surprise, except for one major exception

The biggest and only surprise at this year’s Academy Awards was that a low-budget, low-intake film about racism won Best Picture over a low-budget, low-intake film about gay shepherds which for some reason had the entire U.S.A. talking about gay cowboys. The latter had been named best film of the year at a wide range of ceremonies, from the Baftas to the Golden Globes and the Independent Spirit Awards. Brokeback Mountain, like Philip Seymour Hoffman, was going to win the Oscar all the way.

Come to think of it, all of the nominees this year were of this genre except Capote (which is why it didn’t win Best Picture): Good Night, and Good Luck, George Clooney’s television parable, went home empty-handed, as did Munich. Steven Spielberg’s latest outing generated some mild outrage for its relativisation of Israel’s revenge strategy following the 1972 Olympic massacre, but the general consensus was that the Master is well taken care of, Oscar-wise.

It doesn’t matter that Brokeback Mountain lost to Crash, deservedly or no; Ang Lee won Best Director, after all. The Academy tries, at least, to breathe of its own accord. They are not, after all, critics, and neither film left without deserved reward.

Hoffman was so widely tipped for victory for his performance as effete celebrity author Truman Capote that it seemed written in the stars. The fabled ‘Oscar Buzz’ had reached a tumultuous fervour for him months before the ceremony itself and from the moment Capote was released in America, the groundswell of support began on websites and public forums like the IMDB. Critics have consistently raved about Hoffman’s performance, heaping compliments at his feet, and proclaiming him as dazzling, powerful and utterly compelling.

This acclaim has, however, obscured the fact that this was actually a competition for the Best Actor award, not a coronation. The other nominations included some fine performances from great actors: Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain), David Strathairn (Good Night and Good Luck) Terrence Howard (Hustle and Flow) and an honourable mention must go to Joaquin Pheonix (Walk the Line).

Capote is certainly the kind of film that is traditionally rewarded at the Oscars. The Academy is historically amenable to biopics, especially those which portray a contemporary and notorious figure (Ray; The Pianist; The Hours; A Beautiful Mind; Ghandi). While Hoffman said he never considered it to be an ‘award role’, it is clear that by immersing himself into a character role like the writer of Breakfast at Tiffanys and charting his emotional disintegration as he attempted to write his masterpiece In Cold Blood, Hoffman was guaranteed at least a nomination. It is the kind of character that the Oscar’s love.

After missing out on an Oscar for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, it was only a matter of time before Ang Lee got this much-earned reward. With its sweeping Texan landscape and delicate storyline well-told, Brokeback Mountain was an excellent contender. Attracting a media furore throughout production, and ultimately proving itself at the box office, Lee has it all to win. Looking at the competition, it is no surprise. The likes of Spielberg, Haggis, Clooney and Miller all produced award-worthy, excellent films (Munich, Crash, Good Night and Good Luck, and Capote), but the Academy is neither in the habit of giving awards to new blood, nor the long in the tooth. Also clasping the prize for Best Score and Best Adapted Screen Play, it was certainly a good outing for this film, and deservedly so, since this was undoubtedly one of the year’s strongest films. It is a shame, perhaps, that the two leads missed out, because they were a large part of the film’s success, but it can’t be ignored that the industry is still haunted by conservatism, and considering that (and the fact that 2005 was a very good year), Brokeback Mountain did very well indeed.

It was almost certain that the Best Actress award would go to Reese Witherspoon for her role as June Carter, the wife of country singing legend Johnny Cash, in Walk The Line. It was a brilliant, difficult performance, involving a specific midwestern accent and some masterful country singing beside co-star Phoenix. I barely heard a mention of her fellow nominees: Keria Knightley and Dame Judy Dench, along with previous winner Charlize Theron and Felicity Huffman. It was certainly Witherspoon’s night.

Yet though Witherspoon was modestly surprised at her win, it has been a while in coming. I first noticed her when she appeared in Pleasantville, as Tobey Maguire’s self-obsessed sister, and in Cruel Intentions. Witherspoon’s choice of feel-good films (Sweet Home Alabama; Legally Blonde; its sequel Legally Blonde 2; Red, White and Blonde and the recent Just Like Heaven)have simultaneously made her one of the most popular Hollywood personalities, as she is loved for her warmth and honesty.

Witherspoon, at just 29, has surpassed Julia Roberts as the highest paid actress in the history of Hollywood. She is being paid a huge US$29 million for her role in the upcoming horror film Our Family Trouble, US$5 million up from Roberts, who was paid US$24 million for Mona Lisa Smile.

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