'Mountain' Tops

Other interesting Oscar stats: The inclusion of Golden Globe also-rans Crash, Capote, and Munich in the Best Picture race marks the biggest Globe-to-Oscar disconnect since The Cider House Rules, The Green Mile, and The Sixth Sense all made Oscar's short list after being snubbed by the Globes in 1999. After last year's record-setting performance by black actors, who made up one quarter of the acting nominations, Hustle & Flow's Terrence Howard was the only acting nominee of color. William Hurt's surprise nod for Supporting Actor in A History of Violence was his first in almost 20 years. And what was George Lucas' reward for wrapping up his Star Wars saga? One nomination...for Best Makeup.

Meanwhile, the nominees for Best Picture and Best Director matched up 5-for-5 for the first time in 24 years — good news for Capote's Bennett Miller, who was nominated for his first narrative feature. Even so, Miller isn't exactly prepping his acceptance speech. ''Quite honestly, I am so completely relieved of any kind of desire for receiving anything,'' he says. ''This is a rare opportunity in life, to want for nothing, to be grateful. Maybe other people are strategizing on our behalf, but not me. I'm sitting back and enjoying.''

So can any movie topple Brokeback Mountain? Let's poll the competition. ''No, and I don't think anything should,'' says Haggis. ''It's a wonderful film.'' Clooney seems resigned to his fate as well: ''We are the bridesmaid. And that's okay. Go back to 1976 and look at the movies that didn't win: All the President's Men, Network, Taxi Driver, and Bound for Glory.'' But Capote producer William Vince sees things a bit differently. ''Interesting things can happen,'' he says. ''You get into this season, and everything is reevaluated.'' It's up to Brokeback producer (and Focus Features co-president) James Schamus to make sure his horse doesn't die in the homestretch. ''We're going to continue to stay by our playbook that we have had from the beginning, which is, It's always about putting the movie front and center,'' he says. ''As long as we can get people to see the movie and think about the film, we've done our job.''

Whatever the outcome, Howard sees an encouraging trend in this year's top nominees: ''They all owe their magic to their actors. Their casts are the hearts of their films. This year, in my opinion, is about the return of acting in movies.'' (Additional reporting by Jeff Jensen, Michelle Kung, Josh Rottenberg, and Christine Spines)

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