It’s a brave man or woman who’d bet against Ang Lee’s cowboy romance, with bookmakers William Hill declaring it their hottest ever Best Picture favourite. The Academy’s top gong is Brokeback Mountain’s to lose, with the only potential stumbling blocks being conservative Oscar voters getting skittish, and the chance that it may have peaked too soon.
With Philip Seymour Hoffman looking unassailable in the Best Actor race, it’s unlikely Oscar voters will feel the need to give his film an even more prominent prize. It’s possible, too, that some Academy members may resent it for taking a berth they’d rather have seen occupied by Walk The Line.
If Brokeback does fall at the last hurdle, chances are Paul Haggis’s ensemble race drama will reap the benefits. Having garnered the top prize at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, it’s definitely gaining momentum; that said, films which open earlier in the year often run out of steam in the home straight.
Good Night, And Good Luck
George Clooney’s monochrome study of morality and media in the McCarthy era may be too in-yer-face left-leaning for the Academy’s conservative membership. The film snatched four Golden Globe nominations but left empty-handed; if Academy voters do recognise Clooney’s admirable achievement, it’ll likely be a Supporting Actor award.
The only big-budget studio movie to make the Big Five, Munich’s combination of contentious subject matter and accusations of historical inaccuracy make this too hot a potato for the Academy’s top honour. However, its tally of five nominations represent a good showing for a movie that only just slipped in under the Oscar deadline.
George Clooney, Good Night, And Good Luck
Actors turned directors have a sterling track record here; just ask previous Best Director winners Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson. But Clooney’s work behind the camera has been pretty much passed over this awards season, most bodies opting instead to honour the screenplay he co-wrote with Grant Heslov.
Paul Haggis, Crash
Having missed out on a Best screenplay Oscar last year for Million Dollar Baby, the Crash helmer might be due some recognition. But his failure to land a directing nomination at the Golden Globes was a blow to his chances of derailing Ang Lee’s seemingly unstoppable voyage to the podium.
Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain
The man named Best director by the Directors Guild of America usually triumphs in this category, making the diffident Taiwanese helmer the outstanding favourite to grasp the gong. The problem? He received exactly the DGA’s honour for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2001, only to lose out on the night to Steven Soderbergh for Traffic.
Bennett Miller, Capote
With only one other film to his name (1998 documentary The Cruise), this thirtysomething New Yorker did well to score a nomination over James Mangold for Walk The Line and Fernando Meirelles for The Constant Gardener. Let’s face it, though: the chances of him going one better are non-existent.
Steven Spielberg, Munich
With best helmer Oscars for Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, the Beard’s days as the Academy’s favourite whipping boy are long gone. But even he would concede he’s an outsider here, for all the technical prowess and ambition on display. Maybe he’ll fare better with his upcoming Abraham Lincoln project.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote
Everybody loves it when a well-regarded supporting player makes a grab for the brass ring, and the esteem with which the dough-faced stalwart is held in Tinseltown makes him the clear frontrunner for Best Actor. His performance as Truman Capote won most of the major critics prizes plus the Golden Globe.
Terrence Howard, Hustle & Flow
Had Jake Gyllenhaal’s Brokeback Mountain turn been touted for Best Actor instead of Best Supporting Actor, you’d probably be reading about him now. But that curious piece of Oscar handicapping has opened the door for a rising talent whose eye-catching turns in Crash and this indie hit make him 2005’s breakthrough star.
Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain
Philip Seymour Hoffman’s main competition has yet to launch a concerted challenge; if he wins at the BAFTAs, though, you can expect his odds to be slashed drastically. That said, his reluctance to play the publicity game, perhaps because he’s been otherwise engaged changing his newborn daughter’s nappies, might cost him.
Joaquin Phoenix, Walk The Line
The only Best Actor nominee with a previous nomination, Phoenix will give Hoffman a run for his money. Two things stand against him: the fact that Jamie Foxx won last year for Ray, another musical biopic, and the fact that Reese Witherspoon is likely to win Best Actress for the same film.
David Strathairn, Good Night, And Good Luck
The oldest of the five Best Actor nominees has fallen by the wayside as the Oscar race has gathered speed. While he’s received his fair share of plaudits for his portrayal of broadcaster Edward R Murrow, the only thing he’s won has been an acting gong at Venice.
Judi Dench, Mrs Henderson Presents
Only the absence of credible Best Actress contenders can explain the British veteran’s baffling inclusion in this year’s roster. The Mrs Brown star has been a fixture at this event since 1998, but that doesn’t excuse her being shortlisted for what even by her standards is a shamelessly hammy piece of grandstanding.
Felicity Huffman, Transamerica
The Desperate Housewives star’s remarkable performance as a pre-operative transsexual deserves to win for sheer audacity alone. With Hoffman set to land Best Actor, though, those members of the Academy who get to see Duncan Tucker’s indie road flick might not feel comfortable honouring two gender-benders in the same year.
Keira Knightley, Pride And Prejudice
Another “what the hell?” nomination for a British starlet who has as much chance of winning as Dame Judi does. Don’t get us wrong: Knightley gives a perfectly pleasant performance. But even in another weak year for Best Actress, Knightley’s selection over, say, Laura Linney still baffles us.
Charlize Theron, North Country
And the nomination for the most beautiful actress in the most unflattering cosmetics goes to the Monster star, dressing down yet again as a Minnesota miner suffering sexual harassment in the workplace. There are only so many times you can draw from that well, and Theron has already drunk her fill.
Reese Witherspoon, Walk The Line
A popular nominee whose crowd-pleasing comedies have earned a lot of moolah for Hollywood, and whose impressive turn as June Carter in James Mangold’s biopic leaves co-star Joaquin Phoenix for dust. It really is between her and Felicity Huffman; the other three may just as well stay at home.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
George Clooney, Syriana
If the Academy wants to reward Good Night, And Good Luck without depriving Brokeback Mountain of a major gong, here’s how they do it. But Clooney would be a deserving winner in his own right for his brave, against-type performance as a washed-out CIA agent in Stephen Gaghan’s complex thriller.
Matt Dillon, Crash
For many the stand-out turn in Paul Haggis’s drama was the erstwhile Brat Packer’s searing portrayal of an angry, bigoted cop who surprises himself with an act of selfless heroism. Others, though, might feel it was no better or worse than Don Cheadle or Terrence Howard’s no less worthy contributions in the same film.
Paul Giamatti, Cinderella Man
If Giamatti wins for his charismatic turn as Russell Crowe’s ringman in Ron Howard’s Depression-era boxing biopic, it will be for one reason only: because he wasn’t nominated last year for Sideways. With a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild award already in his credit column, he’s the closest thing this category has to a favourite.
Jake Gyllenhaal, Brokeback Mountain
Unjustly sidelined in a cynical bid to boost Heath Ledger’s Best Actor chances? Or shoehorned into another category to avoid a potential split-vote embarrassment? Either way it’s highly unlikely that Maggie’s little brother will add to Brokeback’s Oscar tally here at Giamatti or Clooney’s expense.
William Hurt, A History Of Violence
You have to wait more than an hour to see him in David Cronenberg’s drama, and then he’s gone in minutes. Still, it’s a comeback of sorts for the previous Oscar winner, who still commands enough respect in Hollywood to be nominated for a performance that’s little more than a cameo.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams, Junebug
A delightful performance from a gifted newcomer whose film – a small-scale comedy of Deep South manners – may be a little too slight to catch the Oscar voters’ attention. Given that she missed out on a Golden Globe nomination, though, getting this far must be regarded as a triumph in itself.
Catherine Keener, Capote
Six years on from Being John Malkovich, another well-deserved nomination for one of Hollywood’s more intelligent actresses. As novelist Harper Lee, Keener supplies the calm centre around which Philip Seymour Hoffman’s flamboyant Capote can revolve; in the end, though, it may be too quiet a performance to earn her glory.
Frances McDormand, North Country
Time was playing the victim of some debilitating medical condition was a fast track to Oscar success. Those days have passed, however, making the Fargo star’s ostentatious performance as a union rep cut down by neuromuscular disease in Niki Caro’s social issue melodrama pretty much surplus to requirements.
Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener
Blighty’s best hope of taking home a Golden Baldie, and few would quibble if she did. With a Golden Globe on her mantelpiece and a BAFTA more or less in the bag, getting this award would complete a notable triptych for the Mummy star, who’ll shortly become a mummy herself.
Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain
Though there was no chance she wouldn’t be nominated for her role as Heath Ledger’s wife, Brokeback’s third acting contender saw her Oscar chances dip when Weisz triumphed at the Globes and the SAGs. But she could still pull off an upset in a category that’s notoriously hard to call.