Those in the Oscars race

Beverly Hills

The cowboy love story Brokeback Mountain led the Academy Awards field on January 31 with eight nominations, among them best picture and honors for actor Heath Ledger and director Ang Lee.

Also nominated for best picture were the Truman Capote story Capote; the ensemble drama Crash; the Edward R Murrow chronicle Good Night, and Good Luck which George Clooney directed; and the assassination thriller Munich. The Johnny Cash biography Walk the Line was shut out of that category, though Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon earned acting nominations.

Three films were tied with six nominations each — Crash, Good Night, and Good Luck and Memoirs of a Geisha.

In the foreign film category the German movie Sophie Scholl - The Final Days, by Marc Rothemund about a young girl’s fight against the Hitler regime was nominated along with Paradise Now, a film about two Palestinian suicide bombers. Also nominated for best foreign film were Don’t Tell from Italy and Joyeux Noel, a movie from France.

The Oscar field often includes fluffier, happier films, but the lineup this time offers a wealth of challenging, stimulating stories.

Along with directing and screenplay nominations for Good Night, and Good Luck, Clooney earned a supporting-actor slot for the oil-industry thriller Syriana. His two movies were among the rush of nominees taking on political and social issues, a sign that Hollywood may be returning to a sense of activism not seen since the Watergate days in the 1970s, Clooney said.

Brokeback Mountain leads a wave of Oscar nominees touching on gay and transsexual themes. Transamerica picked up a best-actress nomination for Felicity Huffman as a man undergoing a sex change, while Philip Seymour Hoffman was nominated for best actor as the gay title character of Capote, chronicling the author’s struggles on the true-crime novel In Cold Blood.

Joining Hoffman and Ledger as best-actor nominees were Terrence Howard as a small-time hood turned rapper in Hustle & Flow; Joaquin Phoenix as country-music legend Johnny Cash in Walk the Line; and David Strathairn as newsman Murrow in Good Night, and Good Luck.

The best-actress race looks like a two-woman contest between Huffman and Reese Witherspoon as Cash’s soul mate, June Carter, in Walk the Line. Two past Oscar winners earned best-actress nominations, Judi Dench as a society dame who starts a nude stage revue in 1930s London in Mrs. Henderson Presents and Charlize Theron as a mine worker who leads a sexual-harassment lawsuit against male coworkers in North Country. Also nominated was Keira Knightley as the romantic heroine of the Jane Austen adaptation Pride & Prejudice.