BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - The gay cowboy romance "Brokeback Mountain" positioned itself as a key Oscar competitor Tuesday, roping in seven Golden Globe nominations, including best dramatic picture and honors for actor Heath Ledger and director Ang Lee.
Other best drama picture contenders were the murder thriller "The Constant Gardener," the Edward R. Murrow tale "Good Night, and Good Luck," the mobster story "A History of Violence" and "Match Point," a drama about infidelity.
The Globes were a triumph for smaller budgeted films over big studio productions.
"This is the first time in the history of the Golden Globes that all of the best (dramatic) film nominees are independent movies made for under $30 million," said Philip Berk, president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which presents the awards.
The Globes have a separate category for musical or comedy films. Nominated were the theater tale "Mrs. Henderson Presents," the Jane Austen costume pageant "Pride & Prejudice," the Broadway musical "The Producers," the divorce story "The Squid and the Whale," and the Johnny Cash film biography "Walk the Line."
The Globes were the latest recognition for "Brokeback Mountain," a critical darling that has received top honors from critics groups in New York City, Los Angeles and Boston.
Still, the film has an uphill trail to the Oscars, whose voters may hesitate to anoint a gay-themed movie as its champion.
"It's going to be a front-runner, but it really has a mountain to climb, because never have we seen a gay romance in the best-picture race before," said Tom O'Neil, who runs theenvelope.com, an awards Web site.
Movies with gay angles have earned acting honors, Tom Hanks winning for "Philadelphia" and Hilary Swank for "Boys Don't Cry," but those movies did not break into the best-picture pack.
Yet "Brokeback Mountain" has proved a favorite at film festivals and debuted with huge box-office grosses last weekend, taking in almost $550,000 in just five theaters. The movie goes into wider release over the next few weeks, its backers hoping it will find a broad audience despite the subject matter.
"Clearly, we felt that because the film speaks a very universal emotional language; it's going to surprise people, when it comes out, how accessible it is," said James Schamus, a producer on "Brokeback Mountain" and co-president of Focus Features, the NBC Universal banner that released the film.
Best dramatic actor nominee Ledger plays a husband concealing a homosexual affair with an old sheepherding buddy from his family. Other nominees included three actors playing real-life figures: Russell Crowe as Depression-era boxer Jim Braddock in "Cinderella Man," Philip Seymour Hoffman as author Truman Capote in "Capote," and David Strathairn as newsman Murrow in "Good Night, and Good Luck." The fifth nominee was Terrence Howard as a small-time pimp-turned-rap singer in "Hustle & Flow."
"Good Night, and Good Luck" was tied for second-most film nominations with four, along with "Match Point" and "The Producers." The Murrow tale earned a best-director nomination for George Clooney, who also had a supporting actor movie nomination for the oil industry thriller "Syriana."
Felicity Huffman received two nominations - best dramatic actress in a film for her role as a man preparing for sex-change surgery in "Transamerica" and best actress in a TV musical or comedy for "Desperate Housewives." Her "Desperate Housewives" co-stars Marcia Cross, Teri Hatcher and Eva Longoria also were nominated, and the ABC show earned a best TV comedy bid.
ABC also scored three nominations for best dramatic TV series: "Commander in Chief," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Lost." Bids also went to Fox's "Prison Break" and HBO's "Rome." Other nominees for best comedy or musical TV series were HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Entourage," UPN's "Everybody Hates Chris," NBC's "My Name is Earl" and Showtime's "Weeds."
Other best dramatic film actress nominees were Maria Bello as a wife learning painful secrets about her husband in "A History of Violence," Gwyneth Paltrow as an unstable math genius' daughter in "Proof," Charlize Theron as a woman leading a sexual harassment lawsuit in "North Country" and Ziyi Zhang as a poor girl who becomes the belle of Japan's geisha houses in "Memoirs of a Geisha."
Based on a short story by Annie Proulx, "Brokeback Mountain" grabbed a supporting actress nomination for Michelle Williams as Ledger's wife, who chooses to ignore his affair with a man (Jake Gyllenhaal) to hold her family together. The movie also scored a directing nomination for Lee and received nominations for best screenplay, score and song.
For best actor in a movie, musical or comedy, Globe voters nominated Pierce Brosnan as a burned-out hit man in "The Matador," Jeff Daniels as a husband unglued by divorce in "The Squid and the Whale," Johnny Depp as candyman Willy Wonka in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," Nathan Lane as a Broadway con man in "The Producers," Cillian Murphy as a cross-dressing Irishman in "Breakfast on Pluto," and Joaquin Phoenix as country legend Cash in "Walk the Line."
Best musical or comedy film actress nominees: Judi Dench as a 1930s British dame who opens a nude theatrical review in "Mrs. Henderson Presents," Keira Knightley as the romantic heroine in "Pride & Prejudice," Laura Linney as a divorcing wife in "The Squid and the Whale," Sarah Jessica Parker as a woman hated by her fiance's relatives in "The Family Stone," and Reese Witherspoon as country singer June Carter in "Walk the Line."
Besides Lee and Clooney, the directing contenders were Woody Allen for "Match Point," Peter Jackson for "King Kong," Fernando Meirelles for "The Constant Gardener," and Steven Spielberg for "Munich."
In addition to Clooney, supporting movie actor nominees were Matt Dillon for "Crash," Will Ferrell for "The Producers," Paul Giamatti for "Cinderella Man," and Bob Hoskins for "Mrs. Henderson Presents."
Playing a bigoted cop who dotes on his sickly dad, Dillon was the lone acting nominee from an ensemble of great performances in "Crash," which interweaves multiple story lines on a single tension-filled day in Los Angeles.
"It was honest and truthful to what I believed was an L.A. cop, not typical of what every cop is," Dillon said. "It went and explored these two extremes ... bitter racist cop and really loving son who cares about his sick father. These are the complicated things we see in life."
Supporting actress nominees: Scarlett Johansson for "Match Point," Shirley MacLaine for "In Her Shoes," Frances McDormand for "North Country," Rachel Weisz for "The Constant Gardener," and Williams for "Brokeback Mountain."
Two years ago, the Golden Globes correctly predicted Oscar winners in all key categories, including best-picture champ "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King."
But a year ago, the Globes missed the mark, picking "The Aviator" as best picture, an honor that went to "Million Dollar Baby" at the Oscars.
Winners of the Golden Globes will be announced Jan. 16, five days before polls close for Oscar voters. Oscar nominations come out Jan. 31, and the awards will be presented March 5.