How Crash UpsetThe 78th Academy AwardsSasha StoneMirror film criticWhen the final award of the night was about to be read by the King of Hollywood, Jack Nicholson, most thought it would be Ang Lee’s critically acclaimed Brokeback Mountain. Even Nicholson must have thought so because when the word Crash flew out of his mouth, he took a step back and smirked. It looked for a minute like he was going to say “just kidding,” and give us a big Jack grin. But, no. The Best Picture was indeed Crash, a teeny tiny upset a few people expected, but not enough to count.As a result of Crash’s upset, many journalists were in an uproar. The thought that a film as wildly acclaimed as Brokeback could lose to one that wasn’t all that well-reviewed, didn’t really capture hearts across America but basically told a story of racism in Los Angeles seemed to be the biggest shock in Oscar history. The Crash win came on a night of mostly predictable wins. You know you have a predictable awards show on your hands when the toughest call of the night is Documentary Short. And as it was, the major awards mirrored the general consensus – George Clooney and Rachel Weisz for supporting Reese Witherspoon and Philip Seymour Hoffman took the top acting prizes, Ang Lee won Best Director, Brokeback took adapted screenplay and Crash took original. Only Best Picture, the top award of the night was the one only a few saw coming.There is a process to this whole awards game that mostly works. The Directors Guild or the Golden Globe generally predicts the Best Picture – going back decades. In recent years, the Producers Guild and the Screen Actors have added their votes with mixed results. The PGA matches Oscar often, as does the SAG ensemble. But it as random as a New England weather pattern in the final analysis. The current argument appears to be over whether or not the Academy are homophobes. Let’s put it another way – there is a reason people like Jodie Foster don’t come out of the closet. It isn’t just Hollywood; it’s the people “out there” who fund Hollywood. Why do you suppose most television shows and movies are about straight, white people? To date, an openly gay actor has never won an Oscar. When Ian McKellen was up for Gods and Monsters, he had won virtually every award there was going into the race. But he lost to Roberto Benigni for Life is Beautiful. Some say they just wanted to see the monkey dance all over the seats but some say something more sinister was at work.When Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven was the critics’ darling and was winning one award after another, the Academy turned up its nose. It would seem that it is ready to reward out-of-nowhere geniuses, just not outwardly gay ones. Even Chicago, which was directed by out Rob Marshall, lost its director prize to Roman Polanski. Whether it’s right or wrong, whether fair or unfair no one can deny that there is definitely an issue there. There was an issue with rewarding African Americans not so long ago. Before Halle Berry and Denzel Washington won the same year, no black woman had ever won a lead Oscar. No black director has ever won – and when Spike Lee made Do the Right Thing the film was roundly rejected by the Academy. It would seem that they like racism themes, just not when they’re coming from minority directors.The war between which was the more pressing issue is now being fought on the internet and in newspapers – racism vs. homophobia. When Roger Ebert came out in support of Crash, naming it as his number one and predicting it for the Oscar win, ballots were still outstanding. He said that he thought it was the only film of the five that had the best chance of changing people’s minds about racism. He has since said he believes, simply, Crash was the better film. But tell that to the Directors Guild, the Producers Guild, the National Society of Film Critics, the London Film Critics, the BAFTAs, the Broadcast Film Critics, and so on. Perhaps it is simply that Academy members wouldn’t feel the pain of what it is to live your life as a homosexual in this country or in other countries for that matter. For many gay men, especially those who are afraid to come out, Brokeback Mountain was more than just a great film collecting accolades – it was validation that their pain is real. But it seems, at least in the Academy’s eyes, their issue takes a back seat to racism.Too much ink has already been spilled on this topic and I will waste no more. It is not my intent to say Crash was a bad film. It was anything but. Whether or not the Academy is homophobic is hard to say. But what I do know is that this upset will unfortunately put Crash in that rare group of films that history will not treat kindly. It doesn’t really deserve it but it will be uttered with disdain nonetheless.The morning after the Oscars, Kenneth Turan wrote in the LA Times:“In the privacy of the voting booth, as many political candidates who’ve led in polls only to lose elections have found out, people are free to act out the unspoken fears and unconscious prejudices that they would never breathe to another soul, or, likely, acknowledge to themselves. And at least this year, that acting out doomed Brokeback Mountain.”A few voices will say that fear did not kill Brokeback Mountain at the Oscars, but all you have to do is watch the film to see what fear can do. Crash was the film more Academy members could relate to. They vote for what they like. As a result, you have a collection of films that really mean nothing in terms of film history except as a time capsule as to what the Academy was feeling at the time. Nothing more, nothing less. It is our obsession with them that is the real head-scratcher. Sasha Stone is the editor of oscarwatch.com.
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