The Oscars just can't quit Jake and Heath.

In this year of critically acclaimed politicized cinema, the Oscar nominations, which came out this Tuesday, sent a strong message of support for "Brokeback Mountain," Ang Lee's film about two cowboys repressing their love. It received the most nominations of the field with eight, a point of note as, since 1980, the film receiving the most nominations won the Oscar for best picture all but four times.

Among the film's other nominations are best actor (Heath Ledger), supporting actor (Jake Gyllenhall), supporting actress (Michelle Williams), director (Ang Lee), adapted screenplay, cinematography, and score. Expect it to come home with at least three statues, if not more.

Also in the lineup for best picture is "Good Night, and Good Luck," George Clooney's film about McCarthy-era politics with six noms, Paul Haggis's contemporary ensemble piece on racism, "Crash," with six, Bennett Miller's biopic, "Capote," with five, and "Munich," Spielberg's allegory on vengeance also with five. This is the first time since 1982 that the same five films are up for best picture and director.

"Munich" was widely considered to be the frontrunner before the Oscar race began, but only received scattered precursor support from the guilds and the Golden Globes. Its inclusion here stands as proof that the predestined frontrunner will receive its pre-ordained spot regardless of critical or precursor support.

And the inclusion of "Munich" likely cost "Walk the Line" a position in the best picture race. "Walk the Line" had a fair amount of pre-Oscar support, most notably at the Globes where it swept all the musical/comedy categories including picture. However, that film did pick up nominations here for its leading stars, Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon.

Reese is widely considered a lock for the best actress win as June Carter Cash, wife of the famous musician. Other nominees for the best actress category include Felicity Huffman playing a transsexual in "TransAmercia," considered to be the only real challenge for Ms. Witherspoon's victory, Judi Dench in "Mrs. Henderson Presents," Keira Knightly in "Pride & Prejudice," and Charlize Theron in "North Country."

Reese's costar is not a frontrunner for best actor for one reason: Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Capote." This longtime character actor and perennial near-miss for nominations in the supporting category finally found the role of a lifetime as writer Truman Capote. He won the Globe, SAG, and a majority of critics' prizes; expect him to be up on stage March 5.

There to give him a run for the money are Ledger, Phoenix, Terrance Howard in "Hustle & Flow," and David Strathairn for "Good Night, and Good Luck," all of whom gave excellent performances. Howard was one of the happy surprises of nominations morning. In a non-Oscar bait role, playing a pimp longing to break out into the music business, he mirrored his true arrival as a Hollywood star this year.

One of the big questions of Oscar night is whether George Clooney will go home with an award. Although never previously nominated, he now has three nominations to his name, for direction ("Good Night, and Good Luck"), original screenplay ("Good Night, and Good Luck"), and supporting actor ("Syriana"). In either supporting actor or screenplay categories he may achieve success.

In supporting, Clooney will compete primarily with Paul Giamatti for the win. Clooney won the Globe, and Giamatti the SAG. But Giamatti's egregious snub for "Sideways" last year may tip the odds in his favor; makeup Oscars are the Academy's favorite way to atone for past errors. Other nominees here include Gyllenhaal, Matt Dillon for "Crash," and William Hurt, an Oscar favorite in the 1980s who won the fifth slot in the category in a tiny but powerful role in "A History of Violence."

In supporting actress, Rachel Weisz in "The Constant Gardener" is considered the one to beat after her Globe and SAG wins for her role as an activist fighting against pharmaceutical companies in Africa. Her likeliest challenger is Williams, but Weisz's larger role gives her the advantage as winners here often have arguably lead actress performances.

Amy Adams's nomination here for "Junebug" is another one of the feel-good stories of the nominees. Most critics ignored her performance as a small-town pregnant chatterbox in a small independent film w. It is certainly one of the most deserving nominations of the year. The other nominees are Catherine Keener as famous novelist Harper Lee in "Capote," and Frances McDormand in "North Country."

Unfortunately, there are always some deserving performances and contributions which are left out by the Academy, and this year is no different. Among those so dishonored this year are Maria Bello and Viggo Mortenson for acting and David Cronenberg for directing "A History of Violence," Joan Allen in "The Upside of Anger," and Jeff Daniels for "The Squid and the Whale." It's a good reminder that the Academy does not have the final say on artistic merit; all these people certainly deserve equal, if not greater consideration than many of the nominated films and performances.

"March of the Penguins" is widely expected to waddle to victory in the documentary film category after earning the second highest gross for a domestic documentary ever, behind only "Bowling for Columbine."

Likewise, "Wallace & Gromit" earned numerous critical prizes and should have no trouble earning the animated film oscar.

For foreign language film, Palestine's "Paradise Now," about suicide bombers, and South Africa's depiction of race and gangs in "Tsotsi" will duke it out for the win, another example of political prevalence.

This year's Oscar films have some of the lowest box office numbers in years. Not only are there no blockbusters, but there are only two films above $50 million?"Crash" and "Brokeback"?and only barely over it at that. The top box office films of the year, including "The Chronicles of Narnia," "Star Wars 3," "War of the Worlds," and "King Kong" all received nominations, but only in the technical categories.

In a year of film full of political content, it seems appropriate that Jon Stewart will host the Oscars. The "Daily Show" host may be especially well suited to the material, but regardless, this year's Oscars are characterized by a little less of the typical superficiality that makes the Oscars such a cultural event. This year, Oscar finally embraced homosexuality in film for the first time. This, coupled with recent trends of increased racial diversity of nominees and acceptance of less respected genres like fantasy, points to the possibility we might be seeing barely perceptible, but real and positive changes in the Academy. Then again, "Rambo IV" is scheduled for release next year, so some things may never change.