'Brokeback Mountain': Oscar Loss One of Biggest Upsets in Academy History

Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain

Ang Lee on the set of Brokeback MountainAng Lee's 2005 Best Picture nominee Brokeback Mountain, based on E. Annie Proulx's short story about the thwarted two-decade romance between a ranch hand and a rodeo cowboy, will be the next feature in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' “Great To Be Nominated” series. The romantic melodrama will be screened on Monday, August 4, at 7:30 p.m. at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. Following the screening, producer and screenwriter Diana Ossana and production designer Judy Becker will take part in a discussion about the film.

I must admit that despite several solid performances (especially that of Michelle Williams as a cuckolded wife), Rodrigo Prieto's magnificent cinematography, Gustavo Santaolalla's soulful strings, and a heart-slashing finale, Brokeback Mountain failed to involve me. Throughout the film, I couldn't help sensing a certain artificiality to the proceedings, not helped by the sheer lack of chemistry between Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. Their kisses may have been real, but I couldn't understand what kept those two guys emotionally tied to one another. In fact, I find that Brokeback Mountain works best as an anti-conformity warning: You have one life to live. Spend your life doing what others expect of you, and you may as well be dead.

A major anti-Oscar outcry followed the announcement that Paul Haggis' ludicrous melodrama Crash took best picture honors, for Brokeback Mountain had won nearly every critics' and industry awards in the United States. The Academy was accused of being anti-gay, anti-cowboy, anti-mountain, etc. etc. Never mind the fact that Brokeback Mountain won Oscars for best director and best adapted screenplay (Larry McMurtry, Ossana), in addition to a statuette for Santaolalla's original score.

That said, anti-gay Academy members may have tipped the balance. I don't believe anyone would doubt that it was a very tight Best Picture race. But then again, it could just be that many Academy members felt more inclined to vote for a film about racism set in their hometown of Los Angeles, where more than a decade earlier race riots had engulfed whole sections of the city.

Either way, the Oscar, as so often in the past, failed to embrace a film that was even remotely daring. Brokeback Mountain, which would have been the first best picture winner chronicling a gay relationship, was banned in Muslim countries, in China, and other markets (in addition to a theater complex in Utah), and created a furor among religious right-wingers who were at the time pushing for anti-gay marriage laws across the US. Instead of endorsing a culturally challenging – and widely praised – effort, the majority of Oscar voters opted for the tried and phony.

Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback MountainBrokeback Mountain earned a total of eight Academy Award nominations. In addition to the aforementioned wins, the film's other nominations were for Best Picture (Ossana and James Schamus, producers), Actor in a Leading Role (Ledger), Actor in a Supporting Role (Gyllenhaal), Actress in a Supporting Role (Williams), and Cinematography (Prieto).

Also in the Brokeback Mountain cast: Randy Quaid, Anne Hathaway, Linda Cardellini, and Kate Mara.

Two Oscar-nominated animated shorts, Sharon Colman's Badgered and Shane Acker's 9, will be screened prior to the feature.

Individual tickets for each of the remaining screenings in part five of “Great to be Nominated” are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students with valid ID. Tickets may be purchased online at www.oscars.org, by mail, in person at the Academy during regular business hours or, depending on availability, on the night of the screening when the doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Photos: Courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library

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