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