Tuesday, December 15, 2009

2005: Brokeback Mountain vs. Crash

Although I rarely watch the Oscars (last year may have been the first time in my life that I watched it from beginning to end; I must be getting old), I do usually pay attention to who's nominated and who wins. Unlike the Emmys, which tend to leave out deserving shows (The Wire was never nominated. End of conversation), or the Grammies, which have become a complete and utter joke, the Academy's choices are usually competent and defensible to some degree.

However, they almost always seem to get the Best Picture winner wrong, in my not-so-humble opinion. To me, the voting shouldn't be that hard. Which film will hold up best over time? Which one will people still be watching and analyzing 10 years later? You want people to look at the list of winners and say, "Yeah, I remember when that came out" rather than "What's that one about again?" The most egregious modern example is, of course, 1998's travesty of Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan. It honestly pains me a bit to even write that. Last year wasn't as bad, but in a few years people will look back on Slumdog Millionaire as a heartwarming romantic novelty, not a timeless, politically charged piece of art like Milk.

Nevertheless, at least I liked Slumdog. The same cannot be said for Crash, 2005's winner.

is the kind of movie teenagers think is "deep." Teens typically don't like dramas unless they're extraordinarily heavy-handed, which Crash is, in spades. I can't site a lot of specifics because I only saw it once, a few years ago, but I recall a lot of anguished slo-mo scenes.

Then there's the pseudo-intellectual babble of the film's coda: "It's the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We're always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something."

What does that even mean? People in Los Angeles get into car accidents because they long for human contact? There's really no other way to interpret it, is there? No deeper metaphorical level I'm missing? To me, that statement epitomizes the film. It aims to be a brilliant and incisive swirl of clashing cultures and identities, but it's ultimately hollow at its core.

Prediction: In ten years, people will say, "What's Crash? Is it that one where Matt Dillon's a racist cop, or is it the one where James Spader gets in car accidents to get his rocks off?

Contrast that with Brokeback Mountain. Will people ever forget this movie? It's become a cultural touchstone. Sure, the argument could be made that it's mostly known as a source for comedy routines. But that's only because the movie's breathtaking beauty made it a big enough mainstream success that everyone gets the reference.

Consider that if this film wasn't pitch-perfect in every way, what a mockery it would've become. Most of the jokes that are made put others in the film's situation (like this one); they typically don't poke fun at the film itself.

Anyone who's seen it knows there's little that's funny about the situation. It's heartbreaking, tragic, and revolutionary. Ten years from now, it will be known as a landmark of American film, and people will scratch their heads and wonder, "How did that not win Best Picture?"

Good question.

Nolanometer Final Grade for Crash: C+
Nolanometer Final Grade for Brokeback Mountain: A-


Lance Christian Johnson said...

I agree 100%. The thing is with Crash is that I remember saying that I liked it when it was over. I even bought it (although it was cheap, and I mostly did so because Kirsti asked me to). Guess what? We haven't watched it. The more I think about it, the more I realize how totally heavy-handed it was.

I also bought Brokeback Mountain. I've watched that a couple of times, and I think that I'll probably write about it for one of my Movie-a-Day posts.

Nolan said...

That's really gay of you, Lance.

I thought I'd be getting a lot more static for this. I know there must be people who really liked "Crash;" Ebert named it the best film of 2005. I'm kind of looking forward to someone taking umbrage, actually, especially since I've only seen "Crash" once and can't definitively say what I dislike about it.

dules said...

well, i watched crash twice and loved it both times. the scene that sticks with me the most is when the viewer thinks the little girl gets shot - i sobbed BOTH TIMES, and this was before i was a mother. i guess that is what moved me the most. brokeback mountain? a phenomenal film. tim and i watched it on our "all-gay weekend." we literally watched 5 or 6 gay-themed movies, shows, etc. that weekend. i think the reason i love that movie is because #1 jake gyllenhall (sp?) is hotter than dog shit, even when he's gay, and #2 it is one of the best love stories i've ever seen (next to dirty dancing that is...don't hate me for saying that, okay?). anyway, after all is said and done, i have to agree with you...people will always remember what brokeback mountain is all about. crash? not so much.

Dave Garfield said...

I've been vary wary of the Oscars ever since E.T. lost out to Ghandhi back in 83. Things got worse when they committed even more attrocities by awarding 'best picture' to the likes of 'Shakespeare in Love' and 'Chicago'. Then in 2006 they topped it all by comitting the mother of all travesties when the exquisite 'Brokenback Mountain' lost out to the very ordinary 'Crash'. I have sinced loathed the Oscars with passion, regarded them as an international embarrassment, and never paid any attention to them. The academy voting members are a bunch of moronic baboons.I doubt if they could ever spot a future classic if it stared them in the face.

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing.