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<i>Crash</i>, <i>Brokeback Mountain</i> Earn Top Honors at Oscars

"Crash," a film about racial tensions, and the cowboy romance "Brokeback Mountain" earned top honors at the Academy Awards, or Oscars, Sunday night. Winners say this year's leading films are about tolerance.

Jack Nicholson's announcement for best picture drew a gasp of surprise, as a small-budget film about racial strife in Los Angeles earned the Oscar for best picture.

"And the Oscar goes to… Crash."

The film overtook the favored Brokeback Mountain. Crash also won Oscars for its original screenplay and film editing.

As expected, Taiwan-born filmmaker Ang Lee was named best director for Brokeback Mountain, a tale of unexpected love between two cowboys. Lee said the film's characters taught him something.

"They taught all of us who made Brokeback Mountain so much about not just all the gay men and gay women whose love is denied by society, but just as important, the greatness of love itself," said Lee.

Brokeback Mountain was also honored for its adapted screenplay and original score.

George Clooney was named best supporting actor for the espionage thriller Syriana. In a year with films that tackled controversial issues, Clooney said Hollywood and the movie academy, which presents the Oscars, are at times outside the mainstream. He says that is not a bad thing.

"We're the ones who talked about AIDS when it was just being whispered, and we talked about civil rights when it wasn't really popular. This academy, this group of people gave Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1939 when blacks were still sitting in the backs of theaters," said Clooney. "I'm proud to be part of this academy."

A film about country music legend Johnny Cash and his wife, singer June Carter, earned best actress honors for Reese Witherspoon. She played Carter in the film.

The actress said two women, Carter and her own grandmother, inspired her performance.

"You know, I'm just trying to matter and live a good life and make work that means something to somebody, and you have all made me feel that I have accomplished that tonight," said Witherspoon. "So thank you so much for this honor."

Philip Seymour Hoffman was named best actor for portraying writer Truman Capote in the film Capote.

Rachel Weisz earned the Oscar for best supporting actress for her role as the activist wife of diplomat in Kenya in The Constant Gardener. Another film set in Africa, the South African entry Tsotsi, was named best foreign language film.

Backstage, Crash director Paul Haggis said this year's nominated films are telling "risky human stories."

"And, we're so proud to be listed among them," he said. "This is a hell of a year to be nominated."

The Japanese-themed Memoirs of a Geisha earned Oscars for costume design, art direction and cinematography, and the fantasy King Kong was honored for visual effects, sound mixing and sound editing.