By Larry Gross
OK, the votes are in and now we all, or those of us who care, will have to wait till March 5 to find out whether the high water mark of the Year of the Queer in Hollywood will have been the nominations sweep by “Brokeback Mountain,” Hoffman, Huffman, etc. In other words, did the Academy voters actually mark their ballots for this year’s apparent favorites? Will the foxy stalwarts of cable talk shows be proved wrong again?
When the “Brokeback” wave first broke over the industry, the predictable consensus of the bloviators was that the “gay cowboy” film would bomb once it ventured outside the coastal enclaves into the heartland, but that it would clean up at that March madness of the lavender left known as the Oscars.
At the head of the Fox pack, of course, is Bill O’Reilly, who assured his viewers back on Dec. 20:
But I don’t care about the movie. I’m going to make the prediction. The movie will get a lot of Academy Awards, because again Hollywood is very sympathetic to the gay movement…. But I will submit to you this movie does not do big box office outside the big cities. It won’t. They’re not going to go see the gay cowboys in Montana. I’m sorry. They’re not going to do it.
John Gibson, never one to let Big Bill take the heat all by himself, took a courageous stand:
I’ve been getting no small amount of grief about the fact that I’ve been making fun of ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ the gay cowboy movie. I’ve been making fun of it because it seems to me to be a movie in defiance of its audience. I don’t think it’s going to be a box office hit. It will make no money at least in Hollywood terms. I’m sure it will be a critical hit. Hollywood may, in fact, want to give every Oscar it can find to the first gay cowboy movie. But I think most people do not want to go into a darkened room with a tub of popcorn and munch away watching two guys get it on. I just don’t…. I still think it’s a gay agenda movie and as such it might sweep the Oscars. I just have my doubts about whether America will make it an actual box office hit. - “The Big Story With John Gibson,” Jan. 2, 2006
The same day, appearing on “Fox Special Report With Brit Hume,” Charles Krauthammer summed it all up: ” ‘Brokeback Mountain’ will have been seen in the theaters by 18 people, but the right 18 and will win the Academy Award.”
Well, the first part of this consensus has been proved wrong: “Brokeback” has been doing great business across the country, and that includes Montana, Bill. According to an account in Salon.com on Feb. 2, in Missoula, a town of just under 60,000, the film was a big hit since it opened at the cavernous Wilma Theater, grossing $33,006, cumulatively, in its first four weekends there. Bill Emerson, who manages the 85-year-old theater, confirms that “Brokeback,” in terms of its draw, has had “one of our best starts for a movie we’ve ever had.”
The GLAAD website, which has followed and trumpeted the “Brokeback” saga, now features a box office tally that, as of Feb. 21, has reached $111,038,000 worldwide, and the film has broken records for the highest opening per-screen average for any film in 2005, and the highest opening per-screen average ever for any live-action film. [link].
OK, so Bill, John, Charles and the rest of the gang got that part wrong: the stix didn’t nix the flic. But what about the other shoe: will “Brokeback” go home with the little guy on Sunday night? Here it’s harder to be sure, but it seems likely that the Academy will disappoint the oracles of Fox. While I’ve never played the Oscar prediction game, it seems a pretty safe guess that Philip Seymour Hoffman, the star of “Capote,” will continue his triumphal march to the Kodak Theatre stage, as Hollywood once again goes for the biopic choice, but it’s far less certain that “Brokeback” will achieve the breakthrough to first gay-themed Best Picture.