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'True stories' not always so

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The Oscar chances for movies based on true stories can be damaged if the films stray too far from the truth.

Many in Hollywood think that's what derailed Denzel Washington in "The Hurricane" two years ago. So the makers of "A Beautiful Mind," "Iris," "Ali," and "Black Hawk Down" this year have acknowledged changes they made to real-life stories and used praise from the people they depict to blunt criticism.

"A Beautiful Mind" has weathered the most scrutiny for its account of John Forbes Nash, a mathematician who won a Nobel Prize after battling schizophrenia for decades. "I think Nash believes it faithfully captured the spirit of his life," said director Ron Howard, who communicates with Nash through e-mail. "He's seen the film several times and doesn't feel betrayed by it."

"A Beautiful Mind" has eight Academy Award nominations, including best picture, director, and actor, for star Russell Crowe.

Although Nash and his wife are shown as a devoted couple throughout his years of psychosis, in reality he had an affair, fathered an illegitimate child, and was divorced by his wife. They re-married years later.

Howard said unflattering details were excised because they distracted from the story of Nash's struggle for sanity.

"I think that yields a fresher, more compelling, and more valuable story than a docudrama biopic about all the other aspects of his life," Howard said.

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