By Arthur Spiegelman
Director Ang Lee's gay-cowboy romance "Brokeback Mountain" solidified its status as the front-runner for Oscar glory on Sunday when it was named best picture of the year by the Producers Guild of America.
In 11 of the past 16 years, the winner has gone on take home the Academy Award for best picture. Last year was an exception with "The Aviator" winning the Producers Guild Award but losing the Oscar race to "Million Dollar Baby."
Oscar nominations will be announced on January 31 and winners unveiled on March 5 during the 78th annual Academy Awards.
The other contenders for the Producers Guild Award were the historical dramas "Capote," "Walk the Line" and "Good Night, and Good Luck," and the contemporary ensemble piece "Crash."
"Brokeback Mountain," which stars Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as two lovelorn cowboys, led the pack last Monday at the Golden Globe Awards, another Oscar bellwether, winning four awards, including best drama and best director for Lee, a Taiwan native.
The Producers Guild usually honors big-budget films but this year the group's members went for smaller picture over the high-profile likes of "Cinderella Man," "Munich" and "King Kong."
Of this year's five nominees, only "Walk the Line" was distributed by a major studio, Twentieth Century Fox, and its relatively modest budget of $29 million dwarfed those of its rivals. The saga of the burgeoning romance between country music singers Johnny Cash and June Carter, has earned just more than $100 million at the box office.
"Brokeback Mountain" has earned about $42 million to date but has not played widely yet. It was distributed by Focus Features, a unit of General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal. Fox is a unit of News Corp.
With only the awards from the Writers Guild, Screen Actors Guild and Directors Guild to come before the Oscars, "Brokeback" looks hard to beat despite its unconventional theme.
In other awards given out by the Producers Guild, "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" was named the year's best animated movie and HBO's "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers" was named best made for television film. ABC's "Lost" was named best television series and HBO's "Entourage" best television comedy series. Jeff Fager received the producer of the year award for producing CBS's "60 minutes."
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