Saturday, February 26, 2011

2005 - Brokeback Mountain

Another Oscar day has arrived. Since I'm writing this late Saturday night, most of you will be reading this on (or after) Oscar day. Here in Las Vegas, I will be hosting a small party for the cast and crew of Aussie Improv Comedy Explosion. I may not have had time recently to discuss this year's awards race as I had hoped, but for those interested, here are my 2010 Oscar predictions.

As we wait to hear the announcement for the latest Best Picture winner, we look at another nominee from 2005...

Brokeback Mountain
Ang Lee
Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana
(based on the short story by Annie Proulx)
Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, Randy Quaid, Linda Cardellini, Anna Faris
Academy Awards:
8 nominations
3 wins, including Best Director

Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) and Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal) get hired to tend some sheep in the Wyoming mountains over the summer of 1963. Through the lonely months, the two men develop a friendship that slowly blossoms into passionate intimacy. Knowing that their bond will likely be frowned upon back home, they part ways at the end of the summer. In Wyoming, Ennis marries Alma (Williams) and they raise two daughters. Meanwhile, in Texas, Jack meets and marries Lureen (Hathaway) and they raise one son. After four years, Jack visits Ennis and, under the guise of a fishing trip, they rekindle their romance. Unable to go public, the two men must make do with periodic "fishing trips" while attending their families.

The opening act of Brokeback Mountain exudes a very comfortable mood. Life in the mountains seems quiet and easy, the perfect complement to a budding romance. The Oscar-nominated cinematography not only includes stunningly beautiful landscapes but also a stunningly beautiful (if a little misplaced) shot of Heath Ledger brooding in front of a colourful fireworks display. Adding to the feeling of comfort is the affectingly simple score, touching and romantic.

The Oscar-winning script also takes advantage of simplicity, maintaining an efficiency of dialogue. The pleasant pace of the opening scenes as Ennis and Jack's relationship develops is counteracted by a certain swiftness when it comes to other major life events. Before we know it, the two men have found wives and are already starting families.

Much has been said by reviewers far more competent than I in regards to which label should be given to the leading men's sexuality. Clearly, popular culture refers to the film as the gay cowboy movie, but both men freely engage in sexual encounters with women and appear to be just as affectionate, so it would seem not too inappropriate to identify them as bisexual. Having said that, the story paints a picture of two men who are trying to discover exactly what it is they feel, so perhaps labels of any kind are useless.

Director Ang Lee won an Oscar for his delicate touch guiding a fine young cast, three of whom received Oscar nominations - Heath Ledger as the emotionally stunted Ennis, Jake Gyllenhaal as the frustrated Jack, and Michelle Williams as the humiliated Alma. Although without a nomination, Anne Hathaway is delightful and fun as the playful Lureen. All four of these actors play their characters as they age some twenty years. Despite such stirring portrayals, it becomes somewhat tough to accept these 20-something performers in their roles once their characters are in their mid-forties.


  1. I'll comment on the Oscar predictions before I get to Brokeback Mountain.

    What a unique year. We have four differences in our predictions:

    Song: I picked "If I Rise" - a long shot, but my only bone to 127 Hours.

    Foreign Language Film: I picked In a Better World from Denmark

    Score: I went with The King's Speech

    Director: I again went with the King's Speech and Tom Hooper.

    Director was my hardest decision. I personally think that David Fincher deserves it, but I just think it is The King's Speech's year. If you go with The King's Speech for Best Picture and you are swayed by the Director's Guild's track record, it is hard not to pick Hooper. If Fincher were to win, it would only be the third time in over 60 years that the Academy wouldn't match the DGA/Best Picture combo. Once in 1972 with Bob Fosse and once in 2002 with Roman Polanski. Yet it is hard to ignore Fincher's dominance with the critics awards.

    Enjoy the show and good luck. Tomorrow, your project will get extended by one more award year.

  2. I watched the Blu-ray DVD of Brokeback Mountain for the blog, not having seen the film since early 2006. The cinematography was just breathtaking, and I appreciated the subtle score more than I remembered. The story remained just as tragic and sad, particularly in its closing moments.

    I also must confess that as a heterosexual male I wasn't exactly clear on the emotional motivations of the characters. To me, the story's main focus was on the fear and social repercussions of coming out of the closet, particularly during that time period. I also believe it was a love story and only secondly a story of infidelity. There didn't seem to be any indication that Ennis's character was interested in other male partners throughout his life. Jack's sexual needs put him in riskier situations. Beyond that, it would be mere speculation on my part, to try to come to conclusions on their character's attitudes and behavior.

    Though not a strong link, I did think of the movie Same Time, Next Year. In it, two people married to others carry on an affair once a year over a nearly 30 year period. Unlike Brokeback Mountain, the movie only takes place at the seaside resort where they meet, and it is only through their dialogue that you learn about their married lives and family.

    Brokeback Mountain is a landmark film, told with compassion and competence by Ang Lee, and superbly acted by all cast members. Heath Ledger gives one of the great internalized performances captured on film. A tough year for best actor, but I do believe his performance resonated the most with me.

  3. I'm commenting about your line about the characters' sexuality. The film is a singularly gay story about two men who are closeted. It's about living in the closet where gay men have had to have sex with women because society expected it of them. Having sex with someone doesn't mean you are gay or straight. The only reason you said there had been so much written about it is that it seems hard for straight people who reviewed the movie to comprehend what living in the closet must be like, where a gay man had to get married and have sex with women. I can sit down and play the piano but it doesn't automatically make me a pianist.

  4. This movie deserved to have been selected as the best of the year. A very moving movie. More so now considering what is going on the subject of same sex marriages.

    Science is on the opposite side of the unrealistic religious folks. Hope that truth will win out.