The 78th Annual Academy Awards race is into its final week. The telecast airs Sunday, March 5 on ABC, and most of the Academy’s 6,000-plus members have sent off their ballots (due by 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28).

Predicting which film will take home the most Oscar statuettes is a ritual for many of us, but before we do so, let’s consider this year’s nominees. Is there any message or common theme among the latest Oscar crop – something that represents a cultural moment, or seismic shift?

Of course, the press piranhas already have dissected the major nominees and have concluded … something. Something about homosexuality. Something about racism. Something about courage. The Academy reportedly has accepted the first, repudiated the second and embraced the third. What else is there to say?

Quite a bit on this site, because Crosswalk, for a variety of reasons, has not fully reviewed a few of the major nominees.

So let’s catch up with all five Best Picture contenders – "Brokeback Mountain", "Good Night and Good Luck", "Capote", "Crash", and "Munich." Do these films offer any lessons – good or bad – about cultural trends, the Red/Blue divide in America, or the movie business in general?

Yes. For one thing, despite the rampant talk about the limited combined box-office grosses of the major nominees relative to past years, there is little correlation between box-office performance and artistic quality. The industry looks back fondly upon the years when artistry and box-office success coincided – a recent example is the Best Picture win for "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"  – but much of that talk is driven by the bottom-line interest of the TV network airing the program. The more popular the nominated films, the theory goes, the more people will tune in for the Oscar telecast – a major event, for which advertisers pay top dollar. When a lesser-known film has the inside track to victory, the TV suits start to get nervous, fearing that no one will bother to watch the telecast.

But Oscars, at their best, aren’t about the bottom-line interests of network TV. They’re designed to highlight the best the motion-picture industry has to offer. Although the Academy often falls short by failing to nominate the best films of the year, it also offers a major boost to good films that might be overlooked absent the Oscar attention.

The year 2005 is an excellent case in point. None of the films released in this timeframe can be easily dismissed and some are exceptional. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the politics of the filmmakers or even with the politics of the films themselves (a much murkier thing to discern), the subject matter of each of these films has had, and will continue to have, a strong impact on our cultural conversation.

A brief overview of the five films follows, beginning with the general perception of each film, based not on scientific research, but on anecdotal evidence: personal conversations, media reports, and online conversations with other Christian film critics.

Lastly, I name “the ones that got away” – a few films that were unjustly overlooked in major Oscar categories.


BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN

Still the front-runner for Best Picture honors, this story of two male sheepherders who fall in love with each other defied the odds by breaking out of the art-house circuit and finding paying customers across the country. It’s already a landmark film, and will remain so, even if it loses out on Oscar night.

Director Ang Lee ("Sense and Sensibility", "Eat Drink Man Woman") brings a delicate touch to this story of heartbreak and betrayal. When Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) spend a summer tending sheep atop "Brokeback Mountain," their friendship takes a sudden turn, and the two enter into a sexual relationship that will endure over the years, even as both men, while separated from each other, pursue marriage and family life.