Credit: Brokeback Mountain: Kimberly French

Best Picture 2006: Oscar’s likely contenders

Even the biggest fan of the category-defying Brokeback Mountain has to feel a little guilty over its utter dominance this awards season. The film scored the most Broadcast Film Critics award nominations, the most Golden Globe nominations, and the most SAG award nominations of any movie. It has also racked up 11 best-picture prizes from critics’ groups, including those in New York, Los Angeles, and Boston, and even such heartland locales as Las Vegas and Utah, where one theater banned the film last weekend. Meanwhile, no other film has won more than two prizes to date. We’re gambling it just might manage to squeak out a nod in this category.

But close on its heels are three other films that also made the short lists of all four guild awards (producers, directors, actors, and writers): George Clooney’s expertly crafted Good Night, and Good Luck, which won top honors from the National Board of Review; Crash, the Altmanesque ensemble drama that could end up as the top-grossing Best Picture nominee; and Capote, which has risen to likely contender status after a surprisingly poor showing (only one nomination) at the Golden Globes. The Producers Guild gave its fifth slot to Walk the Line, one of the few bona fide hits left in the race. But a growing ”great performances, okay movie” sentiment among Academy members — as well as its so-soon-after-Ray release date — may relegate it to sixth place. Similarly, Cinderella Man earned terrific reviews last summer but simply doesn’t feel like a fresh choice just a year after Million Dollar Baby. Match Point and both emerged as Golden Globe faves, but their total shutout from all the guild awards (though Pride was ineligible for the Writers Guild) sounded the death knell for their chances. And Memoirs of a Geisha, early on considered a sure thing given its lavish production scale, was met with reviews so harsh that it’ll have to settle for recognition in several technical categories. Then there’s Syriana, A History of Violence, and The Constant Gardener, three tough dramas that have their ardent fans but may not find their way onto enough ballots to land in the top five.

Could King Kong muscle its way onto this list after all? Its near-universal critical praise certainly indicated that it might. But its box office beating at the hands of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe may end up being too great a symbolic defeat to overcome. That leaves Munich, Steven Spielberg’s battered and bruised contender whose stealth campaign (embarrassingly late screeners, hardly any interviews by the filmmaker) seems to have backfired so far. But our guess is that when the Academy finally gets the chance to see the thing, they’ll forgive — just barely.

A History of Violence
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