Lionsgate's L.A. story takes top Acad honors

See Winners

“Crash,” the film that polarized not only audiences but also its own producers, was named best picture Sunday, breaking up what had seemed destined to be the cowboy romance “Brokeback Mountain’s” triumphant ride through award season.

Both the Lionsgate release, about fractious race relations in Los Angeles, and Focus Features’ “Brokeback” earned three awards overall, as did “King Kong” and “Memoirs of a Geisha” in technical categories.

Two of the best pic nominees, Steven Spielberg’s controversial rumination on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “Munich” and George Clooney’s “Good Night, and Good Luck,” were shut out altogether.

Despite “Brokeback’s” passel of wins from earlier kudocasts, some pre-Oscar coverage perceived a late groundswell for “Crash,” director Paul Haggis’ multithreaded drama. Part of that had to do with how strongly the movie resonated in Los Angeles, home to the majority of Oscar voters. The film also received awards for Haggis’ and Bobby Moresco’s original screenplay, as well as film editing.

Producer Cathy Schulman thanked all the producers associated with “Crash,” including Bob Yari, despite dueling lawsuits and charges flung back and forth over determination of who would receive Oscar credit and allegations of unpaid fees on the eve of the ceremony. She was cut off, however, before getting to her family.

“Brokeback Mountain,” meanwhile, whose cultural resonance launched a thousand parodies, won Oscars for director Ang Lee, adapted screenplay and Gustavo Santaolalla’s score. It’s the fourth time in the last eight years that best director and picture haven’t gone hand in hand.

Based on Annie Proulx’s short story, “Brokeback” was the year’s most-nominated film and garnered the lion’s share of prizes throughout awards season. The writing honor represented a first for the team of Diana Ossana and Western scribe Larry McMurtry, with McMurtry’s previous bid having come 35 years ago for “The Last Picture Show.”

Clooney initiated the award festivities by claiming supporting actor for “Syriana,” the political thriller about big oil in the Middle East. After joking about the Oscar replacing playing Batman and being voted “Sexiest Man Alive, 1997” on his epitaph, Clooney said he was “proud” of the movie industry’s association with liberal causes, from championing civil rights to raising the issue of AIDS.

Like Clooney, the three other acting winners were first-time nominees, only the fourth time that’s happened since the Oscars’ infancy in the 1930s.

Reese Witherspoon emerged with gold for the Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line,” noting her role as June Carter “helped me achieve my lifelong dream of being a country music singer.”

By contrast, this season’s run-up to the awards left scant suspense surrounding Philip Seymour Hoffman’s coronation for “Capote,” marking the second consecutive year best actor has gone to someone playing a famous figure, after Jamie Foxx’s Oscar for “Ray.” Hoffman’s thank-yous ended with his mother, who he said raised four kids alone.

Supporting actress also followed suit, as Rachel Weisz garnered the statuette for “The Constant Gardener,” another story with strong political overtones.

Given the independent-minded bent of this year’s films, the 78th annual Academy Awards presentation again found itself a target in the culture wars, with conservatives seizing on the nominees — from “Brokeback,” a poignant appeal for gay acceptance; to “Good Night, and Good Luck,” a barely veiled reference to the current political climate — as a symbol of Hollywood’s leftward tilt.

Oscar producer Gil Cates had stressed that host Jon Stewart would be politically even-handed, seeking to alleviate charges the show would become a platform to lampoon the Bush administration under the stewardship of “The Daily Show” satirist.

True to his word, most of the comedic targets were confined to Hollywood, such as Stewart’s quip that a pimp is “like an agent with a better hat.” Stewart did zing Hollywood’s liberal reputation in his monologue, but beyond a joke about Vice President Dick Cheney’s hunting accident, there was seemingly little to spark the ire of conservatives, with even acceptance speeches generally steering clear of any major political statements.

Beyond “Crash’s” last-minute surprise, there were other breakthroughs. “Hustle & Flow’s” “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” for example, became the second rap song deemed Oscar-worthy (after Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” in 2003), drawing bleeps both during its performance and its boisterous acceptance speech.

Foreign-language film winner “Tsotsi” is only the second nominee from South Africa. In a novel twist, director Gavin Hood directed people to his Web site, saying he couldn’t do the speech justice in a mere 38 seconds.

In perhaps a first, the documentary winner, “March of the Penguins,” actually grossed more theatrically than its best picture counterpart. Warner Independent acquired the French production, added English-language narration and waddled off with a major hit.

DreamWorks’ “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” became the first stop-motion production to be honored in the 5-year-old animated feature category, though filmmaker Nick Park (who shared honors with Steve Box) had won three previous Academy Awards for animated shorts.

Nominated for four awards, Universal’s “King Kong” remake was feted for sound mixing, sound editing and visual effects. Sony’s six-time nominee “Memoirs of a Geisha,” meanwhile, claimed cinematography, costume design and art direction. Buena Vista’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” took one award, for makeup.

In the short-film balloting, animated honors went to John Canemaker and Peggy Stern for “The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation,” while Martin McDonagh earned live-action recognition for “Six Shooter.” “A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin” was the documentary short choice.

Presenting an honorary award to Robert Altman, Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin sought to approximate the director’s style of employing overlapping dialogue. “To me, I’ve just made one long film,” Altman said, after an extended standing ovation.

From a production standpoint, the most distracting innovation in this year’s telecast involved having a low musical underscore play throughout acceptance speeches, as opposed to only as a means to play off long-winded recipients.

The show did feature a spoof about the pressure to hold speeches to a manageable length, though even Stewart commented about the frequency of montage segments that significantly padded the program’s running time. The telecast itself began a half-hour earlier than it has since moving to Sundays and ultimately ran roughly 3 hours and 35 minutes — very much in the range of recent Oscarcasts.

Perhaps anticipating a “Brokeback” win, one of those plentiful taped packages focused on movies that dealt with important issues, such as race and homosexuality, in groundbreaking fashion.

Handed out at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, the awards are voted on by the more than 5,800 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and were televised by ABC.

And the winners are…

“Crash” Paul Haggis, Cathy Schulman, producers; a Bob Yari/DEJ/Blackfriar’s Bridge/Harris Company/ApolloProscreen/Bull’s Eye Entertainment production (Lionsgate)

Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Capote”

Reese Witherspoon, “Walk the Line”

George Clooney, “Syriana” (Warner Bros.)

Rachel Weisz, “The Constant Gardener” (Focus)

Ang Lee, “Brokeback Mountain”

“Crash” — screenplay by Paul Haggis, Bobby Moresco; story by Paul Haggis

“Brokeback Mountain” — screenplay by Larry McMurtry, Diana Ossana

“Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” Nick Park, Steve Box (DreamWorks Animation)

“Tsotsi” a Moviworld production (South Africa)

“Memoirs of a Geisha” Dion Beebe

“Crash” Hughes Winborne

“Brokeback Mountain” Gustavo Santaolalla

“It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from “Hustle & Flow,” music and lyric by Jordan Houston, Cedric Coleman, Paul Beauregard

“March of the Penguins” Luc Jacquet, Yves Darondeau; a Bonne Pioche production (Warner Independent)

“Memoirs of a Geisha” John Myhre, art direction; Gretchen Rau, set decoration

“Memoirs of a Geisha” Colleen Atwood

“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” Howard Berger, Tami Lane

“King Kong” Mike Hopkins, Ethan Van der Ryn

“King Kong” Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Michael Hedges, Hammond Peek

“King Kong” Joe Letteri, Brian Van’t Hul, Christian Rivers, Richard Taylor

“The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation” John Canemaker, Peggy Stern; a John Canemaker production

“Six Shooter” Martin McDonagh; a Missing in Action Films and Funny Farm Films production

“A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin” Corinne Marrinan, Eric Simonson; a NomaFilms production

Robert Altman

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