Behind the Oscar scenes

Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee’s panoramic portrait of forbidden gay love, dominated the nominations for the Oscars, and three generations of women led British hopes.

Oscar winner Dame Judi Dench (71) was pitted against Keira Knightley (20) in the best actress category, and Golden Globe winner Rachel Weisz (34) was also shortlisted for her supporting role in The Constant Gardener.

Three-times Oscar winner Nick Park was also singled out again by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his first full-length Wallace and Gromit film, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, which was nominated for best animated feature.

Park said he and co-director Steve Box were shocked and surprised at their nomination after their film unexpectedly topped the United States box office in October. Five years in the making, it took $57million at the box office to become the fourth-biggest film in the United Kingdom last year. ”We’re absolutely delighted,” said Park. ”We’re over the moon.”

But it is the critically acclaimed tale of romance between two cowboys that has become the film to beat at the 78th annual Academy Awards on March 5. Brokeback Mountain scooped eight nominations in major categories, including best picture and best director, with its stars, Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Williams up for best actor, best supporting actor and best supporting actress respectively. Williams is widely known for her role as Jen in the television series Dawson’s Creek.

While Steven Spielberg’s Munich collected five nominations, including best picture and best director, the academy turned its back on the populist appeal of the year’s three big-budget blockbusters. Star Wars, King Kong and War of the Worlds all collected nominations, but were confined to the obscurity of the sound mixing and editing, art direction, visual effects and make-up categories.

Instead, Hollywood showed a willingness to embrace themes that are anathema to President George W Bush and much of mainstream America. Members of the academy nominated Felicity Huffman as best actress for her depiction of a transgendered man in Transamerica and also backed Golden Globe winner Paradise Now, the story of two Palestinian suicide bombers that has been nominated for best foreign film.

Hany Abu-Assad, the Palestinian director, said he was confused and happy at its latest nomination. ”It’s amazing. You can create hope with your film. People on the streets of Palestine from both sides are happy that they’ve been recognised. Even some Israelis have congratulated me. Some of them are mad, but it’s recognition for the film. Mostly it’s about recognition that you are part of civilised society.”

The civilised world of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has led Knightley to an Oscar nomination for her performance as Elizabeth Bennet. She could become the youngest-ever winner of the best actress award, beating Marlee Matline, who was 21 when she scooped the prize for Children of a Lesser God in 1986.

But she is up against Dench, who delighted audiences with her portrayal of society lady Laura Hen-derson in Mrs Henderson Presents and won best supporting actress in 1999 for her brief, if memorable, appearance in Shakespeare in Love. ”I’m so happy to be nominated for something. I loved filming every single day,” said Dench, who has been nominated on four other occasions.

The bookies’ favourite for best actress is Reese Witherspoon for her role as June Cash in the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, which was expected to garner more than its three nominations.

George Clooney picked up two nominations: best supporting actor in Syriana and best director in Good Night, and Good Luck, which picked up six nominations alongside Crash and Memoirs of a Geisha.

While British talent figured prominently, British-backed films — The Curse of the Were-Rabbit aside fared less well. The Constant Gardener was not among the nominees for best film. Weisz said she was thrilled to be nominated but disappointed that her co-star, Ralph Fiennes, was not recognised in the best actor category, where Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote and David Strathairn in George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck are heavily backed. ”I’m really disappointed that Ralph wasn’t nominated for best actor, because he is so good in the film. My job is to support him. So my performance doesn’t make sense without Ralph’s.” — Â

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Dan Glaister
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