January 09, 2009 at 05:00 AM EST

A gay-themed drama that scores fabulous reviews, record-breaking box office, and deafening Oscar buzz? On the surface, Milk sounds like the new Brokeback Mountain: They even have the same distributor, Focus Features. There are so many similarities, in fact, that fans are starting to fret it will be Brokeback‘d at the Academy Awards — though that film won three trophies in 2006, it’s still remembered as the film that lost Best Picture to Crash. But here’s why Milk, a top contender for Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay as well as a likely Best Picture nominee, is quite a different story.

It’s Not the Front-Runner
By the time the Oscars rolled around in 2006, Brokeback had already won Best Picture honors from the Producers Guild, Golden Globes, and Broadcast Film Critics. Milk, which didn’t even land a Globe nomination for Best Drama, is still an underdog behind leaders Slumdog Millionaire and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

It Has Politics On Its Side
Now that Californians have passed Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriages, some will consider a vote for Milk an act of support for their gay colleagues and friends. That the film’s protest scenes echo recent Prop 8 rallies only helps.

It Doesn’t Have a Tent Scene
By Brokeback‘s standards, Milk‘s tender moments are chaste. Even infamous Brokeback-ophobe Ernest Borgnine shouldn’t object.

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