As befits the provocative subject-matter that characterises thisyear's Academy Awards race, the major Oscar categories are dominated by storiespartly bankrolled by a dynamic new breed of wealthy financier willing to takethe kind of production risks being increasingly outsourced by studioconglomerates.
Of the five best picture nominees, Brokeback Mountain was made for Focus Features with thepartial backing of Bill Pohlad's River Road Entertainment.
Good Night, And Good Luck was co-financed by Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban's 2929Productions and Jeff Skoll's Participant Productions (which had a hand in four films and 11nominations.)
Capotewas partly funded by Infinity Media, and Crash benefited from the deep pockets of BobYari before being picked by Lionsgate.
Only Munich, a co-production between director Steven Spielberg's DreamWorksand Universal, bears the traditional imprimatur of the Hollywood studio system.
As it happens, DreamWorks was recently sold to Paramount Pictures, underlyingjust how difficult it is for even Spielberg to stay true to his artisticambitions while being financially self-sufficient.
Against this backdrop, dynamic self-financed entrepreneurs areseizing the opportunity to apply their deep pockets to films willing to tackle the kinds of cerebral or daring stories that Hollywood isafraid to touch on its own.
The net result of this ground-shift, claims Infinity's MichaelOhoven, has been "a fantastic year for brainy films", a sentimentechoed in the words of most of those interviewed today.
"What's happening in America is akin to what happened in the1970s," Crashdirector, producer and co-writer Paul Haggis said. "People are findingtheir voice and saying it's their responsibility to tell these stories. Now thedistributors and financiers are looking at this and realising that this kind offilmmaking is working right now. It's an exciting time."
Below is a selection of other reactions from creatives andexecutives involved with some of the leading nominated films:
"I read AnnieProulx's short story and it haunted me throughout the two years I worked on Hulk," director Ang Lee said. "Iwasn't familiar with the environment - gay ranchhands in Wyoming -but the story was so elegaic and the more I was attracted to it, the more I washumbled by it. It's a gay love story, but also a love story and you have to go beyondthat and see how it informs humanity."
Producer and co-screenwriter Diana Ossana added: "When Ifirst read Annie's story back in 1997 it touched me deeply and was so intense thatI wanted my loved ones and friends to experience that feeling. It's about loneliness- which every person on the planet has experienced at one time or other- and of course it's about love."
"It was the perfect combination of Ang, the cast and crew,and Focus Features, which is single-handedly saving the film industry withbrave and honest work,' supporting actress nominee Michelle Williams said: "Myresponsibility was to uphold the integrity of the project with my portrayal ofthis whole, really pained human being."
"Being nominated for an Oscar - and in such sterlingcompany - is an honour, and I'm so proud to have been a part of Ang Lee'sBrokeback Mountainteam," cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto said.
"My heartfelt thanks to the Academy for thisnomination," composer Gustavo Santaolalla said. "I am absolutelythrilled to be recognized for my work on this beautiful and important movie. Mygratitude to Ang Lee for giving me the opportunity to score a great film."
The Constant Gardener
At the centre of itis a man in grief for his dead wife, which is a situation I know from personalexperience and that spoke to me immediately," Jeffrey Caine, who took fouryears adapting the screenplay, said. "The theme of impropriety bypharmaceutical companies harnessed to the love story made for an interestingpackage. John Le Carre was a generous writer and encouraged me to stray from hisstory farther than I was ready to go."
"This is certainly the best music to my ears, so thank you tothe members of the Academy! I loved working on The Constant Gardener, and I'm pleased that valued colleaguesfrom the film were also recognized," composer Alberto Iglesias said.
"Working with director Fernando Meirelles on The ConstantGardener was wonderful,"editor Claire Simpson said. "I'm very proud of the way our film's lovestory is conveyed through the editing, and I'm pleased that the members of theAcademy appreciated my work."
Pride & Prejudice
"Because I started writing thescore before shooting began, I had to write some themes that I knew I'd be ableto develop once the images came in," composer Dario Marianelli said."It was a challenge. I wrote some piano pieces that Keira would be able toget her hands around and she did a tremendous job. I wanted to express thestrength and independence of her on-screen character Elizabeth Bennet."
"We spent a glorious summer making this film in lovelyEngland, with lovely, lovely director Joe Wright," Keira Knightley saidfrom the set of the sequels to Pirates Of The Caribbean. "It was great news to wake up toafter along night shoot on a pirate ship - four wonderful nominations!I'm so proud."
"Every one of these movies [Brokeback Mountain, TheConstant Gardener, andPride & Prejudice]shares a unity of purpose of spirit amongst the people who made them and thatmakes a huge difference," Focus Features co-chief David Linde said."We were fortunate to go along on a ride with such a talented group ofpeople. Some of our nominees - be it Ang Lee, Jeffrey Caine or RachelWeisz - are being honouredfor a body of work. We also have amazing emerging talents like Heath Ledger andMichelle Williams, and then of course there's Jake Gyllenhaal. What unifiesthem is their extraordinary ability."
"We never eventhought this film would get made," Paul Haggis, director, co-writer andproducer, said. "Thank god for Cathy Schulman and [producer] and Bob Yari [financier], and Don Cheadle, the first actor to sign up and who also produced. He gave it credibility because nobody knew who the hell I was. I'm so proud to be on the list with all these other filmmakers. There was something in the air five or six years ago when all these projects were percolating. What's happening in America is akin to what happened in the 1970s - people are finding their voice and saying it's their responsibility to tell these stories. Now studios and financiers are looking at this andrealisingthat this kind of filmmaking is working right now. It's anexciting time."
"We bought the picture back in June and it turned out to beeverything we thought it would be," Sony Pictures Classics co-chief TomBernard said. "We aspire to get this type of recognition because theelements of this movie were that good. It started with three young mencrossing paths in their teens - Philip Seymour Hoffman, BennettMiller and Dan Futterman - and what's amazing is it's so relevant today.Truman Capote was the first guy who melded together media and the arts.In Cold Blood is an incredibly important book and foreshadowed many things."
"This is a fantastic year for brainy films and from theget-go we knew we had something incredible with an amazing line-up oftalent," producer Michael Ohoven said. "It was very tricky to get thismade, but thankfully Michael Barker and Tom Bernard from Sony Pictures Classics stood up and saw what a jewel this was."
"I am so happy to be part of such a great movie and amgrateful to Bennett Miller for including me," said supporting actressnominee Catherine Keener.
Good Night, And Good Luck
Grant Heslov, producer and George Clooney's co-screenwriter, researched the story for 18 months with Clooney before sittingdown opposite his colleague at a writers desk and bashing it out infive months. "It was an opportunity to talk about a period in ourhistory that was a defining moment in broadcasting and politics ingeneral, and one that is resonant today," Heslov said.
"Dana [Adam Shapiro, co-director] was a journalist andbrought the story to my attention," co-director Henry Alex Rubin said."We got lucky and met our main characters at the world championships in Sweden. We treated it very much like a narrative story as wefollowed their lives, very much with Rocky and Best Years of Our Lives inmind. We wanted to get away from being overly sentimental and show these people who lead more active lives than most of us. We wanted to celebrate them as athletes who don't want applause for picking upa fork; they want applause for winning sporting medals. People with disabilities are swept under the rug in this country: if you don't have shiny white teeth and a tan you're overlooked, so it'sexciting to turn these quadriplegics into stars, which is as it should be. Hopefully we've made a dent in perceptions in this country."
Rubin recently learned that for the first time ever there will bepartial coverage on NBC of the Paralympics in 2008.
March Of The Penguins
"When I went to Antarctica I saw something so powerful that Itried with all means possible to convey the story to people,"director Luc Jaquet said. "The Emperor Penguin is an amazing characterthat has beauty, strength and commitment - traits that can be foundin humans. It magnifies what we all experience as living creatures."
"On behalf of everyone at Participant Productions, we couldnot be more thrilled with the 11 nominations projects we are involvedwith received this morning from the Academy of Motion Picture ArtsSciences. We are honored to be a part of Good Night, And Good Luck, Murderball, North Country and Syriana, and salute the filmmakers and creative teams of each on their accomplishments." - Jeff Skoll,founder and chief executive officer.
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit
Co-creators Nick Park and Steve Box spent five years creating the feature. "We'd wanted to do this since Steve worked as ananimator on The Wrong Trousers," Park said, referring to his 1994 Oscar winning short. "We were filming simultaneously on 30 sets and passingall sorts of tasks back and forth working with a team of about 250people, and we knew every scene like the back of our hands. We'd getthrough two or three seconds a day and in a good week we'd get about two minutes done."
NOMINEES FOR BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE PICTURE
Christian Carion, Joyeux Noel (France):
"I wanted everybodyto know that this actually happened. It says a lot about humanity and I'mvery proud of this nomination. In France this story is taboo but sincethe release in France it has been a big success and it's very nice tobe part of that." The French authorities didn't authorise theFrench production to shoot in France, so the crew went to Romanicinstead.
Gavin Hood, Tsotsi (South Africa):
"The film has a timelessand universal quality today and combines a beautiful story ofredemption and self-discovery and responsibility. We struggle to articulateour humanity in a world that isn't easily categorised as good or evil,and therefore we have to work in a grey zone. The film's located inthe city where I grew up, Johannesburg, and I didn't know it wouldplay well beyond our borders and what's happened is beyond what any ofusimagined. I have to thank Daniel Battsek and Kristen Jones atMiramax, who saw this picture at Edinburgh before it had won any awards and made an offer to purchase it right there. People took risks onthis film and I'm incredibly grateful. Without Presley [the lead actorin the role of Tsosti] and his emotional presence we wouldn't betalking about this film. He comes from a tough township like the one inthe film and his mother always insisted he stay off the streets andtake acting classes. It was extraordinary to find a young man who understood this world and who has dedicated himself to becoming an actor."
Marc Rothemund, Sophie School: The Final Days (Germany):
"Sophie and her brother Hans belonged to The White Rose, Germany's most famous resistance group, and about the time I was getting together the financing in the autumn of 2003 they were voted our country's best Germans in a public poll. There are 190 schools named after them. Although everybody in Germany is very aware of the story, Idiscovered some unpublished Gestapo documents during my research that shed more light on the events. It's an important story about freedom ofspeech and freedom of religion and they were fighting for values that are fundamental to our existence. It's wonderful that people are now seeing this film and learning about this story."
Hany Abu-Assad, Paradise Now (Palestine Authority):
"It's a realistic story told in a way that allows the audience to go somewhere real without being unsafe. It's part of our history now and it's becomean almost monthly happening. We filmed over four months in 2004 under occupation when the military was the boss of our town and therewas a lot of paranoia and trouble. We had to endure curfews and missile attacks. It was a miracle we shot it so quickly."