Best Picture 2005 -- the analysis

And the winner was … ‘Million Dollar Baby’
In 2005, “Ray,” “Sideways” and “Vera Drake” were never really in the running, and the race came down to “Million Dollar Baby” and “The Aviator.” Latter had a couple of big advantages going in: A Martin Scorsese picture had never won the Oscar, nor had the director himself. Clint Eastwood with “Million Dollar Baby” was going for his second one, after “Unforgiven.” The Howard Hughes bio also had the requisite size. But in the end, Oscar went with sentiment, choosing a simple story about a boxer and her coach over a complex epic about a billionaire nut case. All of which bodes well for “Brokeback” over “Munich,” as well as the three other nominated films.

Is “Brokeback Mountain” this year’s “Million Dollar Baby” or its “Sideways”? Like the highly praised Alexander Payne feature that did not win the Oscar, Ang Lee’s gay cowboy movie is the fave of crix orgs.

But it differs in one major aspect from last year’s also-ran: “Brokeback” wears two big hearts on its blood-stained shirt sleeves. In the end, “Brokeback” is much closer in spirit and style to Clint Eastwood’s little-boxer-who-could story than the acerbic comedy of two winos let loose on the 101 north of Santa Barbara.

When an obvious big epic like “Titanic,” “Gladiator” or “The Lord of the Rings” isn’t in the running, Oscar votes with his heart, and the result has been “Terms of Endearment,” “Forrest Gump” and “Million Dollar Baby.”

Issue pictures like “Crash” and “Good Night, and Good Luck” have been a harder sell in recent years. Make that recent decades.

The era of “Gentleman’s Agreement,” “On the Waterfront” and “In the Heat of the Night” appears to have made a big comeback. Will old, liberal Hollywood get up to award antiracist or anti-Big Brother sentiments in 2006?

On that score, “Brokeback,” with its gay love story, has its own message and should score some points among those who want to put Hollywood’s homophobic rep to rest.

Despite its superb screenplay and direction, “Capote” has turned into Philip Seymour Hoffman’s film. He’s won most of the thesp awards so far, and Acad voters may be content to honor the film by giving him the Oscar. Period.

A few months ago Variety kicked off the Oscar sweepstakes with a prediction that the contest would be fought between the Davids and the Goliaths. So far the little guys are ahead 4 to 1, and big-budget studio films like “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “The Producers” and “King Kong” have had to content themselves with a few Oscar noms, if any. Which brings us to the lone big boy to make the final count: “Munich.”

For Academy voters looking to honor an epic picture, Steven Spielberg’s movie fits the bill as Goliath, leaving the four Davids to split the vote among them. Then again, “Munich” is the ultimate issue movie, and not everyone in Hollywood applauds what Spielberg has to say about Israeli counterterrorism. In the end, the messages of “Brokeback,” “Crash” and “Good Night, and Good Luck” are less gray, more clear-cut and easier to vote for.

Brokeback Mountain

Current kudos: Boston Crix (win), Broadcast Crix (win), Golden Globes (win), L.A. Crix (win), N.Y. Crix (win), PGA (win), Satellite (win), S.F. Crix (win), BAFTA (nom), Gotham (nom), Independent Spirit (nom), Online Crix (nom)
Why it’ll win: “Brokeback Mountain” won the award given by the Producers Guild of America, which has picked the Oscar winner 11 of the past 16 years. Over a dozen crix orgs have also honored it with their big prize. An overtly gay-theme pic has never taken the top Oscar. (No, “Midnight Cowboy” wasn’t overt.) In other words, it’s about time.
Why it won’t: The film’s critical acclaim peaked in late January, and voters who saw the film more recently are saying, “It’s not that great.” Then again, what film is?

Capote

Current kudos: Gotham (win), National Society (win), BAFTA (nom), Broadcast Crix (nom), Independent Spirit (nom), PGA (nom), Satellite (nom)
Why it’ll win: “Capote” tackles a potentially uncinematic subject — a reporter’s relationship to his subject — and the result is a satisfying experience that is not exactly a biopic or a message flick. In other words, the movie stands out from the the other nominees.
Why it won’t: It’s Philip Seymour Hoffman’s film, and the Academy will honor him, not “Capote.”

Crash

Current kudos: Chicago Crix (win), BAFTA (nom), British Independent (nom), Image Awards (nom), Independent Spirit (nom), Online Crix (nom), PGA (nom)
Why it’ll win: In a year of issue movies, the movie’s antiracism message is easiest to honor.
Why it won’t: There is a surfeit of issue movies this year.

Good Night, and Good Luck

Current kudos: National Board of Review (win), BAFTA (nom), Golden Globes (nom), Independent Spirit (nom), Online Crix (nom), PGA (nom)
Why it’ll win: George Clooney’s star power carries “Good Night, and Good Luck” to the top. Besides, the Academy crowd likes the parallels to current concerns.
Why it won’t: Most Oscar voters watched the screener at home, where it came off as a very fine black-and-white TV movie.

Munich

Current kudos: Washington, D.C., Crix (win), Online Crix (nom)
Why it’ll win: In a field of little movies, it’s the only one that has the big-picture pedigree that Oscar often loves.
Why it won’t: In a year of serious-theme stuff, its message is the most ambivalent, and ambivalence doesn’t move the masses at either the box office or the Academy.

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