Back in mid-October I predicted that King Kong would tank at the box office. But hold off on combing through my archives, I’ll save you some time; I never put the claim in print. Too much persuasion from too many places made me weary of my intuition. As it turns out, I was right about the box office. Kong should be at $250 million right now (and climbing), but instead will limp to reach that number. I feel like a fool for not putting my money where my mouth is, and subsequently promised myself that the next time I had an intuition about a film’s success, that I would put the claim on this website in big bold letters. Two weeks ago I had another intuition…
Brokeback Mountain will win the Academy Award for Best Picture of 2005.
A few days after Brokeback posted the highest per screen average IN THE HISTORY OF MOTION PICTURES (over 100k per), I started surveying the films of the year, and began handicapping the Oscar race. It didn’t take me long to figure out the frontrunner. With Brokeback scoring the most Golden Globe nods, including one for Best Picture, with the box office up in its second week of limited release, and with the buzz high on this controversial movie, Brokeback Mountain was primed to take over the landscape of awards season.
Today, this is where we stand on Brokeback Mountain:
- 7 Golden Globe nominations, the highest of any film this year, and only two fewer than the all-time leader in nominations (Nashville)
- Best Picture nominee, Producers Guild of America Awards
- Best Adapted Screenplay nominee, Writers Guild of America Awards
- Won the Venice Film Festival
- Won the NY Film Critics Circle Award
- Won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award
- Won the San Francisco Film Critics Circle Award
- Won Boston Society of Film Critics Award
As well, Heath Ledger (!) is the early Oscar frontrunner for Best Actor and Ang Lee is the early Oscar frontrunner for Best Director.
The film has everything going for it, and more than any other film in the race, far less working against it. Critics have rightfully ignored the debate over the film’s sexual content, and instead embraced this film on its own merits. Brokeback has a tremendous pedigree, with its source material written by Annie Proulx, and award-winning journalist, its screenplay co-written by a celebrated author (Larry McMurtry – Lonesome Dove), and directed by Ang Lee, a world renowned filmmaker who knows a thing or two about directing Oscar contenders (Sense and Sensibility, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon).
The only question mark that still remains is how the film will fare when it moves to a wide release later this month. But I think the film will ride a crest of good buzz, as well as a tidal wave of Oscar nods, and will eventually pull in around $65 or $70 million, making it a big commercial hit, and a certified financial success (The budget on the film is estimated at $14 million).
I’ve seen the film, and while I didn’t fall in love with it, I do have to admit that it was beautifully shot, directed with tight, purposeful precision, and impressively acted by its Ledger and Gyllenhaal, as well as its two supporting female leads (Anne Hathaway and Michelle Williams). My only concern is that the film is lacking the “big idea” that people can latch on to, which is how Million Dollar Baby was able to capture last years Best Picture Oscar (i.e. the film’s debate over euthanasia). But the film succeeds in playing it straight (no pun intended), avoiding clichés about societal views on homosexuality, and instead focusing on how the relationship affects the two people involved, and not how it affects the community around them. Consequently, the film then becomes less a message picture, and more of a traditional love story, albeit yes, with two men.
Now, as for the concern of the film being a “gay cowboy movie”, that label is precisely why the Academy will honor the film. Oscar winners have lately become more edgy (Million Dollar Baby, American Beauty), and have shied away from the stereotype that a Best Picture must be an epic. In fact, in the last seven years, only two epics have won Best Picture (Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Gladiator), and Lord of the Rings only won because the series was due, and not because it was the best film of its year (which was probably either Mystic River or Lost in Translation). With no epics in contention this year (King Kong will not be nominated, and Munich is not an epic), odds are the Oscar race will be between a group of “small” films, with the critical reaction being the tiebreaker.
Let’s take a look at Brokeback Mountain’s potential competition, and see if any other film has a chance of stealing Oscar gold.
- A History of Violence – Too small to win and not enough commercial support to carry Oscar ballots.
- A New World – Surprisingly low support for a Terrence Malick movie.
- Cinderella Man – Would be a frontrunner had it been released in November, now merely a cautionary tale. Also, the Academy would not honor two boxing films in a row.
- The Constant Gardener – Well received critically, but underperformed commercially for a Best Picture winner As well, the film is lacking in Oscar buzz.
- Goodnight, and Good Luck – Not enough people saw this movie, and George Clooney has less friends in the Academy then he thinks he does.
- Match Point – An illusion of a Best Picture. Woody Allen hasn’t delivered a true Best Picture contender in 20 years (Hannah and Her Sisters).
- Munich – Too much negative controversy, and the film was ignored by the Golden Globes; though it will get nominated for Best Picture.
- Pride and Prejudice – Is a fantastic adaptation and sure-fire Best Picture nominee, but the Academy is not interested in British period pieces (see Gosford Park for a prime example).
- Syrianna – The plot is too convoluted, and the film is way, WAY too left-leaning.
- Walk the Line – Everyone in the world has forgotten about this movie. Also, it’s not very good.
Down the line, none of them are shooting aces, except for Brokeback Mountain. The film has the pedigree, the buzz, the box office and the significance factor behind it. Don’t forget, the Oscars are a celebration of the best films of the year, but are also a sounding board for social change. Driving Miss Daisy touched on race relations in the south, and captured Oscar gold. Platoon examined the Vietnam War, and won the gold. Kramer vs. Kramer was the first film to focus on the rise in divorce rates in America, and that too won the award. And now Brokeback Mountain is the first to successfully showcase the situation faced by the gay and lesbian community.
Ignore the outcries from certain ignorant areas of the country. Ignore the brow-beating of conservative news pundits that would like nothing more than to have gay people deported. Ignore the way our government disallows gay marriage, and continues to restrict the rights of gay people. Brokeback Mountain is a watershed in cinema. It is a triumph for turning out so well, a triumph for its supporters, and a triumph for even getting made. The Academy will honor the film for what it set out to be, for what it turned out to be, and for what it may do for social change.
Brokeback Mountain may not be the best film of the year, but yes, you heard it here first, the film WILL win the Academy Award for Best Picture.