'Crash' takes best pic in upset

'Crash' takes best pic in upset

Befitting a film about the often rocky clash of cultures in Los Angeles, Lionsgate's "Crash" gunned its engines at the last moment to capture the best picture prize at the 78th Annual Academy Awards (HR 3/6).

Focus Features' "Brokeback Mountain" was considered the prohibitive favorite as members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences paraded into the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland on Sunday as it won most of the key walk-up awards. So "Crash" producer Cathy Schulman could only thank the Academy "for embracing our film about love and about tolerance, about truth" when her film beat the odds.

The top acting prizes followed a more predictable script with the presumptive favorites, "Capote's" Philip Seymour Hoffman and "Walk the Line's" Reese Witherspoon rewarded as best actor and best actress.

Ultimately, in a year in which smaller, politically charged films commanded the Oscar spotlight and with the evening's emcee, Jon Stewart, offering further political commentary, Academy voters judiciously divvied up the awards among a wide range of contenders. "Crash" and "Brokeback" both took home three trophies as they split the best picture and best directing honors, which went to "Brokeback's" Ang Lee. The sumptuous "Memoirs of a Geisha" took three prizes that acknowledged the rich look of its cinematography, sets and costumes, and "King Kong" also grabbed three statuettes for its visual effects and sound.

Among film companies, Focus Features led the pack thanks to its three "Brokeback" wins and Rachel Weisz's best supporting actress nod for "The Constant Gardener," while Lionsgate, Sony Pictures and Universal Pictures took three Oscars apiece.

Both Hoffman and Witherspoon were first-time nominees who managed to parlay their nominations into potentially ca-reer-enhancing wins.

Hoffman, an established character actor who now could morph into a leading man after portraying author Truman Capote, expressed his appreciation for his longtime friends and collaborators, screenwriter Dan Futterman and director Bennett Miller. He offered special words of appreciation for his mother, Marilyn O'Connor, who attended the awards. "Her passions became my passions," he said. "And, you know, be proud, Mom, because I'm proud of you."

Witherspoon, who already has established herself as a light comedian, now can also look forward to a career as a dramatic actress after playing June Carter in "Line." Paying tribute to her parents as well as her grandmother, the actress acknowledged the late Carter, saying: "People used to ask June how she was doing, and she used to say, 'I'm just trying to matter.' And I know what she means. You know, I'm just trying to matter, and live a good life and make work that means something to somebody. And you have all made me feel that I might have accomplished that tonight."

Lee won the DGA Award for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" in 2001 but then saw best directing honors slip away at the Academy, when Steven Soderbergh took that year's prize for "Traffic." This year, Lee's DGA win proved a better omen as he triumphed for the gay romance "Brokeback," a movie he insisted was not just about gay men but demonstrated "the greatness of love itself."

Weisz was named best supporting actress for playing a crusading activist in Africa in "Gardener." And George Clooney picked up the evening's first award when he was named best supporting actor for his performance as a disillusioned CIA agent in "Syriana."

Initially cracking wise about his win, Clooney turned more serious, saying, "We are a little bit out of touch in Hollywood every once in a while. I think that's probably a good thing." Noting that Hollywood had confronted such issues as AIDS and civil rights before the rest of the country had, he continued: "This Academy, this group of people gave Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1939 when blacks were still sitting in the backs of theaters. I'm proud to be part of this Academy, proud to be part of this community and proud to be out of touch."

Some of the evening's most eloquent words were spoken, appropriately enough, by the evening's winning screenwriters.

Writer-director-producer Paul Haggis, who shared best original screenplay honors with co-writer Bobby Moresco for "Crash," said, "Tonight, I just want to thank those people who take big risks in their daily lives when there aren't cameras rolling ? who stand up for peace and justice and against intolerance."

Diana Ossana, who was awarded best adapted screenplay honors along with her writing partner Larry McMurtry for "Brokeback," said, "The duty of art is to send light into the darkness of men's hearts. Thank you, Annie Proulx ? for trusting us with your brilliant short story. Thank you to Ang Lee and our brilliant cast for breathing life into our words."

"Brokeback" also earned an award for Argentinean composer Gustavo Santaolalla for the movie's score.

"It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," the rap tune from "Hustle & Flow," with its music and lyrics by Jordan Houston, Cedric Coleman and Paul Beauregard, brought down the house with its win for best original song.

Colleen Atwood, an Oscar winner for "Chicago," picked up her second best costume win for designing the luxurious kimonos of "Memoirs of a Geisha," a movie, she noted, that represented "an effort that circled the globe and came together here in Los Angeles." "Geisha" also copped the award for best art direction, which went to art director John Myhre and set designer Gretchen Rau, who could not attend because of health problems.

The movie's Dion Beebe earned the Oscar for best cinematography.

A complete list of winners is at www.hollywoodreporter.com.