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GOING FOR THE GOLD

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This year’s list of Academy Award nominees is peppered with the names of Brooklyn natives, new Kings County residents and actors who portrayed borough luminaries on the big screen.

Topping the list are Boerum Hill couple Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams, who were nominated for best actor and best supporting actress for their achingly beautiful performances in 2005’s most-talked-about film, "Brokeback Mountain."

Frequently referred to as the "gay cowboy movie," filmmaker Ang Lee’s latest effort is the story of Ennis (Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal), two ranch hands who fall in love while tending sheep in 1963 Wyoming. Although the men try to forget the affair, they spend the next 20 years reuniting for brief, passionate trysts they hide from their wives.

"It was a beautiful story," Ledger, the Australian star of "A Knight’s Tale," "Casanova" and "Monster’s Ball," recently told reporters in New York. "I don’t think I would have done it if it were in anyone else’s hands. Ang was the perfect director for it.

"I looked at it as a wonderful opportunity to get in the head of this character. I never saw it as a huge risk that everyone else was seeing. It’s all relative to the person you are and how relaxed you are with people and the people around you. I was very happy to tell a story that hadn’t been told, and I thought it should have been told."

In the film, which also earned Oscar nods for best picture, director and supporting actor (Gyllenhaal), Williams plays Ledger’s long-suffering wife, a woman who suspects the guys are more than just fishing buddies, but doesn’t know how to broach the subject with her husband until it’s too late.

"It takes her a long time, but she does finally leave him, which nobody in her family had ever done and probably none of her girlfriends ever did," said Williams, star of last year’s offbeat Brooklyn romance, "The Baxter," and mother of the couple’s 4-month-old daughter, Matilda Rose.

"I think a lot of it was a financial decision. She couldn’t leave Ennis. She couldn’t support two daughters by herself," she continued, adding that she doesn’t leave until she finds a nice, safe man who can support her family. "She gets out of [her marriage to Ennis], but just barely. I think she’s a miserable, broken, uglier woman for it; she just barely got out. She’s not happy about it. She’ll always love Ennis."

Despite the couple’s terrific performances, they have been beaten out for virtually every award this season by their fellow Oscar nominees Rachel Weisz, who plays an activist in the thriller, "The Constant Gardener," and Philip Seymour Hoffman, who portrays scribe and former Brooklyn Heights resident Truman Capote in "Capote." In addition to Weisz, Williams is also competing in the race for Oscar gold against "Junebug" star Amy Adams, "North Country" actress Frances McDormand and Catherine Keener, who plays Capote’s best friend, Harper Lee, in "Capote."


Capturing ’Capote’

For Hoffman, star of films like "Boogie Nights" and "Cold Mountain," the hardest part about playing the iconic author of "Breakfast at Tiffany’s" was capturing Capote’s spirit without making him a caricature.

"What was making him tick? I knew if that wasn’t happening, all the technical work I was doing would be fruitless," Hoffman recently explained to reporters, adding how he tried to understand what motivated the man rather than simply assuming his speech patterns and mannerisms.

That said, Hoffman admits it was important to give the character a voice moviegoers would recognize.

"It would be impossible [not to]," he contended. "I can’t just go up there and say, ’Hi, I’m Truman Capote,’ and act like me. People would have been walking out in droves. Part of the story is that he is the guy who he is in Kansas in 1959, and that’s part of the drama."

Recalling the author’s time researching the murders of a Kansas family and interviewing their killers for his sensational book, "In Cold Blood," "Capote" is also nominated for the Oscars for best picture, director and adapted screenplay.

Competing against Hoffman and Ledger in the best actor category are Terrence Howard for "Hustle & Flow," Joaquin Phoenix for "Walk the Line" and David Strathairn for "Good Night, and Good Luck."

Representing the borough in the best-supporting-actor category is critical darling, Paul Giamatti, who lives in Brooklyn Heights. Nominated for his work in Ron Howard’s Depression-era boxing movie, "Cinderella Man," Giamatti will face off against "Syriana" actor George Clooney, "Crash" star Matt Dillon, "Brokeback Mountain" cowboy Gyllenhaal and "A History of Violence" villain William Hurt.

Accepting his Screen Actors Guild Award in Los Angeles earlier this year, the nice guy star of "Sideways" and "American Splendor" declared, "I can’t imagine a greater honor than being acknowledged by my peers."

"Being an actor is a hell of a thing," he added. "It’s a hell of a thing. It’s up and down. It’s great, but I found the best thing about it is hanging around the craft-service table with the other actors and crew people, eating doughnuts."


Allen vs. Baumbach

Brooklyn writers are also being recognized for their work in 2005.

Legendary filmmaker Woody Allen could scoop up another Oscar for best original screenplay when Oscars are handed out on March 5. Although Allen didn’t do a lot of press to support "Match Point," the London-set tale of infidelity, wealth and obsession that movie critics are describing as his finest film in years, his leading man, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, had plenty to say about working with the Flatbush-born auteur.

"It’s not a film that is trying to buy its way into people’s hearts. It’s not a $300 million, ’Let’s blind you with special effects’ extravaganza. And yet it is gaining the same attention as those films are and more," Rhys Meyers said of the reception the film got at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and its subsequent rave reviews.

Rhys Meyers attributes the movie’s success to the soft-spoken, though sometimes controversial, man who wrote and directed it.

"Woody Allen is a great director - whatever people’s personal ideas on his films are," the actor contended. "There would be no comeback for Woody Allen if Woody’s films made $100 million every time they come out. He would just be a golden man. So, if someone is really that gifted, people tend to pry into how they are as a human being and their personal life.
"Everybody likes to, I suppose, tear people down, don’t they?" he mused. "Build them up and then knock them down. I just think it’s great that at his age, Woody can still pull a genius film out of him and a very, very different film from the other films that he has done."

Up against Allen in the same category this year is Noah Baumbach, who returned to his Park Slope roots for his 1980s-era divorce comedy, "The Squid and the Whale."

"In a way, ’The Squid and the Whale’ feels like my first film," the writer-director told GO Brooklyn last year. "It technically is my third film, but it feels like the first one. From the script stage, all the way to making the movie, I kind of feel like I discovered the kind of writer-director that I am and want to be."

Baumbach says the film, starring Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney and Billy Baldwin, was also his most personal to date.

"I think I was able to very much write from a very personal place without a filter," noted the son of film critics Georgia Brown and Jonathan Baumbach. "Without worrying about what people would think - like, ’Is this commercial?’ - stuff that screenwriters can distract themselves with. Because I was drawing on very personal experience, I was able to write more clearly and more effectively than I have before. The script is very fictionalized, as well, but I felt like [that at] every stage, there is what you have in your head and what ends up on the screen and, for me, this is the closest the two have ever been."

Also nominated for best original screenplay are "Crash," "Good Night, and Good Luck" and "Syriana."

As Edward R. Murrow often said, GO Brooklyn wishes all of the borough’s nominees a "good night" and even better luck.

The 78th Annual Academy Awards, hosted by Jon Stewart, will be aired live on ABC on March 5 at 8 pm.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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