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Why 'Crash'? Some theories...

In the weeks leading up to the Academy Awards, certain Oscar prognosticators had diverse theories about why dark horse "Crash" might overtake supposed front-runner "Brokeback Mountain" for the Best Picture award. Among them:

* Interest in "Brokeback" peaked too early, voters were tired of hearing about it and no longer saw it as the loveable underdog. Besides, it was going to win anyway, so why not vote for something else?

* "Crash" was an actors' film (with a very large cast), shot in Los Angeles. And by far the biggest block of Academy voters are actors living in and around Los Angeles (Pasadena, Burbank, North Hollywood, Pacific Palisades, Brentwood...). "Brokeback," on the other hand, was shot largely in Alberta, Canada, with a small cast. (Little irony: Longtime L.A. resident Paul Haggis, co-writer and director of "Crash," was born in London, Ontario, Canada.)

* "Brokeback," with its overt homosexual love story in a classic Western setting, was too risky and alienating to voters (even though it had by far the biggest box-office tally of the five B.P. nominees); "Crash" -- as a film and as subject matter -- provided a safer, more traditionallyconservative liberal choice, in the vein of familiar Hollywood racial-tolerance message movies like "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?"

* Academy voters, according to some who claimed to talk to a lot of them, just said they hadn't seen, and didn't want to see, "Brokeback Mountain" (for whatever reasons) -- and voted for "Crash" because it was touted as the film most likely to beat "Brokeback."

* "Brokeback" was slow and emotionally tamped-down, whereas "Crash" was unabashedly ablaze with emotional pyrotechnics that were more likely to catch Academy voters' attention.

But now that the Oscars are in -- and, in terms of numbers, it was a four-way tie, with three statuettes apiece for "King King," "Memoirs of a Geisha," "Brokeback Mountain" and "Crash" -- these and other theories are circulating like whirlwinds in the aftermath. Think of the array of Oscars as tea leaves spread around for pundits and critics to interpret. (And see Roger Ebert's response to some of the "Crash" critics here.) What follows are some of the readings on the Morning After:

* * *

What eventually put "Crash" into the thick of things is that most everyone thought "Brokeback" would win and someone else would vote for it. 
(David Carr, "New York Times)

* * *

In the end, "Brokeback Mountain" was very much in the same boat as "Sideways" was last year. It needed all the attention to assure box office and awards, but all the early attention gave people plenty of time to fall out of love and to find another. 
(David Poland, The Hot Button.)

* * *

"It's just a crapshoot. You go to Vegas and you put your money on number 17. There is NO lesson to be learned from all this. It doesn't mean a thing." 
(Richard Walter, UCLA screenwriting professor, quoted in the Associated Press story, "Was There a 'Brokeback' Backlash?")

* * *

The "Crash" upset simply certified what many football poolers know: bet on the home dog (the underdog playing on its own field). As we’ve been saying in the magazine and online the past few weeks, Los Angeles is the company town of the movie business, and "Crash" is the ultimate L.A. movie—anyway, the gaudiest freeway funhouse mirror. Besides, this huge ensemble effort employed close to a hundred L.A. actors. As Stewart urged the crowd in his opening monologue, “Raise your hands if you were not in 'Crash.'”

The victory also validated the old rule that the Editing Oscar is the savviest predictor for Best Picture. The theory is that people, even Academy members, don’t know much about the craft of editing—the extent to which the cuts in a film are determined by the script—so they vote for the movie with the most stuff going on. "Crash" was certainly the busiest film nominated. And the noisiest. Whereas the other four nominees ("Brokeback," "Capote," "Munich" and "Good Night, and Good Luck.") kept seeking reconciliation within their social and political conflicts, "Crash" let its arguments bubble over, like an overheated car radiator, into angry confrontations. The movie shouted, and the Academy heard it, over the urgent whispers of the other films.

It also hit plenty of nerves, in its collision of races and classes, and Hollywood loves issue movies that push the hot button. But what about "Brokeback"? Didn’t that film pioneer man-love in a pup tent? Sure, but homosexuality is just not an issue in Hollywood. 
(Richard Corliss, "'Crash' Is King,"

* * *

"Crash"'s win probably says a great deal about male Academy members' discomfort with "Brokeback Mountain." 
(Anne Thompson, "Risky Business Blog," Hollywood

* * *

Did the Academy voters reject the idea of a movie about gay love taking home the big prize? I doubt it.

What I think happened: For reasons that are somewhat unclear, Focus Features — which released "Brokeback" — is a little like the pre-2005 Red Sox. They cannot close the deal.

It doesn’t help that Focus is notoriously paranoid about press, and has a basically unfriendly attitude when it comes to marketing its movies. "Crash," on the other hand, was steered to victory by many of the same folks who worked on past Miramax campaigns that brought glory to "Shakespeare," "Chicago," "The English Patient," and, in other categories, "Good Will Hunting," "Cider House Rules," "Chocolat" and others.... [They] knew how to make theirs an underdog story. 
(Roger Friedman, "'Crash' Causes Near-Cultural Earthquake,"

* * *

"This is a very broad-based professional organization. When it came down to the craft of filmmaking, I think the academy decided that Ang Lee deserved the director award, but in terms of the themes of the film, they were much more interested in 'Crash.' The membership is older and more conservative than some of those other groups, and I think it was reflected in the choice that they made." 
(Peter Guber, former studio head and chairman of Mandalay Pictures, quoted in "Los Angeles Retains Custody of Oscar," New York Times)

* * *

"Sometimes people pretend to like movies more than they actually do. But this film ["Brokeback Mountain"] wasn't really THAT good. What it tried to do was great, sensational. But what it actually accomplished wasn't so great. You can't really buy the love story." 
(Richard Walter, UCLA screenwriting professor, quoted in the Associated Press story, "Was There a 'Brokeback' Backlash?")

* * *

“Crash” thinks it’s important. “Crash” thinks it’s saying something bold about racism in America.... Yes, we all bear some form of racism — that’s obvious. Yes, we all “stereotype” other races in some fashion — that’s obvious. (Particularly obvious in the Los Angeles of “Crash,” where so many characters are stereotypes.) But, no, we don’t easily give voice to our racist sentiments. And that’s why “Crash” rings so false.... 

... [T]he most potent form of racism in this country is no longer overt but covert. Once upon a time, yes yes yes, it was overt, which is another reason why “Crash” sucks. It’s doing what simple-minded generals do: It’s fighting the last war.... Put a little pressure on somebody and they blurt simplistic racist sentiments. Right in the face of someone of that race....

And on and on and on. In every scene. Worse, none of it feels like sentiments these characters would actually say. It feels like sentiments writer/director Paul Haggis imposed upon them to make his grand, dull point about racism, when a more telling point about racism might have emerged if he’d just let them be. “Crash” is like a Creative Writing 101 demonstration of what not to do as a writer. To the Academy this meant two things: Best screenplay and best picture. 
(Erik Lundegaard, "'Crash'... and burn,"

* * *

The awards calendar, stretched to suit the Olympics, left "Brokeback" dangling out there as a favorite, which meant that by the time many voters popped the DVD into their machines, they had been told that not only would they love the film, they should love it. Many had suggested that the academy had an obligation to award Ang Lee's brave decision to balance a movie on a gay love story, and it did, splitting the hair precisely to give him a best-director award that never seemed to be in doubt. But many members did not see why a story that was essentially a tale of two men cheating on their wives — albeit with each other — should be chosen to represent Hollywood's best effort of the year.

" 'Crash' was far more representative of the our industry, of where we work and live," said David Cohen, one among hundreds of Hollywood players joining in the festivities. " 'Brokeback' took on a fairly sacred Hollywood icon, the cowboy, and I don't think the older members of the academy wanted to see the image of the American cowboy diminished."
(David Carr, "Los Angeles Retains Custody of Oscar," New York Times)

* * *

Clearly the gritty racial drama set in Los Angeles struck a chord with the largely West Coast academy. The win shows that a fractured narrative is not too daring or extreme for the voters, who are sometimes seen as stodgy. And that top-to-bottom stellar acting can pay off. The win also will give hope to serious films that come out in the spring and even summer, perhaps breaking Hollywood of the "Oscar pictures are for winter" attitude. Crash has been out since spring and on DVD for months. Lionsgate made headlines by flooding voters with DVDs. This could become common strategy, and Oscar-nominated films could arrive on DVD even sooner. 
(Claudia Puig and Scott Bowles, "So, what does it all mean?," USA Today)

* * *

"Crash," the film that polarized not only audiences but also its own producers, was named best picture Sunday... Despite "Brokeback's" passel of wins from earlier kudocasts, some pre-Oscar coverage perceived a late groundswell for "Crash," director Paul Haggis' multithreaded drama. Part of that had to do with how strongly the movie resonated in Los Angeles, home to the majority of Oscar voters. 
(Brian Lowry, Variety)

* * *

... "Crash" is a valley movie. It is a film that was made by people who are, for the most part, longstanding members of the Hollywood (literally, Hollywood, Los Angeles, Burbank) community and the Academy is made up mostly of people who can also be described as the same. And in specific, all politics are local and the Academy race is nothing if not political. And with Cheadle-Dillon-Bullock-Fichtner-Esposito-Fraser-Howard-Phillippe-Sirtis-David-Danza-Tate-Ludicris-Newton all in play for longtime TV vet and recently film vet Paul Haggis on "Crash" … well, you can add up the votes even better than people in Florida. 
(David Poland, The Hot Button.)

* * *

Yes, "Brokeback Mountain" deserved the Academy Award and flags were flying at half-mast in the Castro and it's a sad day in supposedly rebellious "out of touch" Tinseltown (sorry, George Clooney) when a movie finally and universally deserving of Best Picture gets snubbed in favor of typical, safe and actually fairly schlocky moviemaking in the form of a paint-by-numbers flick no one actually saw. OK? Everyone agree? Good....

But, again, oh well. No one really looks to the Oscars for anything resembling cultural depth and true taste. You watch for the clothes, the cleavage, the celebs fanning themselves with money and ego. 
(Mark Morford, "Brokeback Mountain was robbed!," SFGate Culture Blog!)

* * *

"Crash," huh? Well, its victory provided presenter Jack Nicholson with a good opportunity to present Jack Nicholson. He pronounced the syllable with just the right note of surprise, combining incredulity with reassurance and saying warmly, with his eyebrows, "That's Hollywood."

This is the space where I should be parroting the notions that Paul Haggis' ensemble drama hit the jackpot by speaking to Angeleno automotive culture, that its promotional campaign combined shock and awe, that its take on race approached a Serious Issue in just the right tone. You needn't look any further than last night's self-congratulatory montage of "confrontational" films—by the way, did that include "Something's Gotta Give"?!—to see that Oscar will award you many more points for effort than he will for subtlety. 
(Troy Patterson, "How To Watch the Oscars,"

* * *

I don't care how much trouble "Crash" had getting financing or getting people on board, the reality of this film, the reason it won the best picture Oscar, is that it is, at its core, a standard Hollywood movie, as manipulative and unrealistic as the day is long. And something more.

For "Crash"'s biggest asset is its ability to give people a carload of those standard Hollywood satisfactions but make them think they are seeing something groundbreaking and daring. It is, in some ways, a feel-good film about racism, a film you could see and feel like a better person, a film that could make you believe that you had done your moral duty and examined your soul when in fact you were just getting your buttons pushed and your preconceptions reconfirmed.... 

Hollywood, of course, is under no obligation to be a progressive force in the world. It is in the business of entertainment, in the business of making the most dollars it can. Yes, on Oscar night, it likes to pat itself on the back for the good it does in the world, but as Sunday night's ceremony proved, it is easier to congratulate yourself for a job well done in the past than actually do that job in the present. 
(Critic Kenneth Turan, "Breaking no ground," Los Angeles Times)

* * *

... [T]he presumptuousness of [Turan's L.A. Times] piece still strikes me as one of the real main reasons why "Brokeback Mountain" didn't make it all the way uphill.

And keep in mind.... I don't like "Crash." If forced to vote between "Crash" and "Brokeback Mountain," I would have voted "BBM." But I do still understand, as an American, that others are alowed to have opinions. And if there is an important lesson in the "Crash" win, it is becoming that people with good intentions can be more McCarthy-like than the phantom censors in their heads.

It would also be all too easy to yet again explain why "BBM" is even more old-fashioned than "Crash," but tricked people into thinking it meant a lot more than it really did by using the dramatic trick of restraint of emotion. But that would be unkind and petty. 
(David Poland, "Ken Turan Embarasses Himself Again," The Hot Blog)

* * *

Hollywood showed tonight it isn’t the liberal bastion it once was. That’s pitiful if you’re a progressive, and pleasing if you’re a conservative.... [After an earlier column...] Hundreds of angry emailers accused me, and Hollywood, of trying to promote “the homosexual agenda” by somehow “forcing” them to see a movie they found sexually reprehensible. What those emailers failed to comprehend was that the Oscar voters shared their distaste for it.

At the time, I explained that the real Best Picture issue wasn’t which film was better. The real issue was which movie was seen by the Academy. I found horrifying each whispered admission to me from Academy members who usually act like social liberals that they were disgusted by even the possibility of glimpsing simulated gay sex. [...] "Brokeback" lost for all the Right’s reasons.

So, red-staters licking their lips to give Hollywood a verbal ass-whooping will be chagrined tonight. I’ve been keeping a running tally on just how political were the 78th Academy Awards. And the answer is overwhelmingly hardly at all. GOP politicos hoping to use that old saw of “Boy hidey, those show-biz folk are just a homo-promotin’, liberal-media-embracin’, minority-lovin’, devil-worshippin’, pimp-hustlin’, terrorist-protectin’ bunch of pansies, commies and traitors” are going to have to find another way to discredit Hollywood’s actor activists when they campaign come the midterm elections in November. 
(Nikki Finke, "What Did I Tell You?," Deadline Hollywood Daily)

* * *

Author Larry McMurtry, who won the Oscar for best adapted screenplay in writing "Brokeback Mountain" with Diana Ossana, was asked backstage if "Crash" won because the Academy voted for a favorite son. "Yes, I do. Hometown movie," he replied. 
(Reuters, "Hollywood awards local film best picture)

* * *

John Calley, the former Sony Pictures chairman who is now a producer, discounted notions that either provincialism or homophobia played a role in the outcome.

"Nobody likes to think of themselves as being from Los Angeles," Mr. Calley said. "I don't know anybody that wants to be buried here. I think it was less about that or any problem with 'Brokeback' than in the end, it comes down to a subconscious shuffling of the pecking order and you just go with the film that was most affecting to you personally." 
("Los Angeles Retains Custody of Oscar," New York Times)

* * *

"Members of the Academy are mostly urban people," McMurtry, who won the adapted screenplay prize with Diana Ossana, said backstage at Sunday night's ceremony. "We are an urban nation. We are not a rural nation. It's not easy even to get a rural story made." 
(Associated Press, "Was There a 'Brokeback' Backlash?")

* * *

The fact is that last night a lot of good-hearted people, bottom line, were essentially cheering the fact that a bunch of retro-graders and hang-backers in the Motion Picture Academy voted for "Crash" for the wrong reasons.

Is anyone besides me seeing the irony here...the irony that howled and flooded the skies above Los Angeles last night? The very thing that "Crash" laments -- prejudice against people of different stripes and persuasions -- is what tipped the vote and delivered the Big Prize?....

So let's all keep it going and dig into our hearts this morning and extend some of that "Crash" compassion to the small minds and timid souls who voted against (and in many cases probably didn't even see) "Brokeback Mountain." I'm not talking about those who love and respect "Crash" for what it is -- they're fine and approvable. I'm talking about the duck-and-hiders.

Squeamishness, old-fogeyism (not the kind you can measure in years but which can be found among people of all shapes, ages and nations) and puptent-phobia snuck into the room, and then slowed and stalled the "Brokeback" bandwagon and finally turned it down an alley. 
(Jeffrey Wells, For Shame, Hollywood Elsewhere)

* * *

"Brokeback Mountain" has another major problem at this date… too much love. Nothing ruins a movie experience more than dramatically heightened expectations. 
(David Poland, Movie City News, Dec. 22, 2005)

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