As my impeachable moral code dictates, I am the first to admit when I’m wrong. So… I was wrong. Despite overwhelming evidence that Brokeback Mountain was the best picture of the year (Golden Globe, DGA, PGA, WGA, dozens of critics prizes, plus, you know, popular freakin’ opinion!), the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences, in their infinite wisdom, decided to forgo this groundbreaking, progressive and socially relevant film in order to bestow the highest prize in all of cinema to a hackneyed, cluttered ensemble piece whose central message was that, surprise, people still don’t like other people. Like, whoa, you’re telling me there are still bigots, racists, narrow-minded fools and rampant global-ignorance? I am stunned that it took Matt Dillon to teach me about the evils of isolationism.
The biggest upset in Oscar history. Bigger than John Wayne robbing Dustin Hoffman back in 1968. Bigger that Shakespeare in Love buying a Best Picture win over Saving Private Ryan. Bigger than Marisa Tomei and all the conspiracy theories surrounding the way she won. It’s not often you get to watch history literally unfold, but boy, we got that chance last night. What was up until that point a relatively predictable Oscar telecast (I was right about the Clooney win), became the most exciting Oscar ceremony in nearly a decade. It reminded me of the Rams/Titans Super Bowl back in 2000. That last play was so amazing that the entire attitude toward that game was changed. I remember a boring Super Bowl with an exciting final few minutes, everyone else remembers the greatest Super Bowl in the history of the NFL. In ten years people will remember this Oscar show as tense, surprising and exciting. They will say it was the funniest Oscar show they have ever seen. I’m telling you, don’t believe them. This was a boring, tepid Oscars, overrun with silly clip montages, poorly choreographed Best Song numbers and unfunny, dull acceptance speeches. This was a mild show with an unbelievable climax. Memorable television, that does not make.
So here I am, recapping the second Oscars in a row where Paul Haggis fooled us all. I hated his Million Dollar Baby, calling it unsubtle, manipulative and pretentious. I couldn’t have dreamed that he could write a more on the nose film. Again, I was wrong.
You know, it’s not so much that I was so in love with Brokeback Mountain and desperately wanted it to win, as it is that I so vehemently disliked Crash. I am befuddled by the critics that lavished praise on Crash, calling in a searing examination of modern day racism. I don’t understand the people who were touched by the “redemption” of the Matt Dillon character, and who were moved by the scene where the little girl is “shot”. What I saw was a bunch of well-known actors saying words that were designed to manipulate and provoke preset emotions and not intended to decipher the problem and attempt a resolution. Where some saw subtlety, I saw a weak, unconfident narrative. You know what you do when you want to write about racism but don’t have any answers to the problem? You have people talk openly about racism, then show them being racist, albeit with moral consequences.
I don’t need to be told there are racists still alive today. I don’t need to see obvious racism in action. And I especially don’t need to be told that I should feel bad that there is racism. Of course I feel bad. It’s but one of many things about life that I feel bad about. Racism, poverty, anti-Semitism, homophobia, genocide, ignorance, bad education, drugs, sexual and physical assault, abuse in any form, child molestation, violence in schools, gangs… and so on; there are bad things happening in this world, and having Thandie Newton and Terrence Howard complain about it is not the way to make me reach into my heart and open the floodgates.
And furthermore, what side was that movie on, anyway? Did it even take a side? Sure, they fell on the “racism is bad” side, but you know, of course they did. What I’m saying is, I know everything they showed me, and I wanted to see something more. I wanted to walk out of that movie thinking that the film tried to do something about the effects of racism, that the filmmakers took some time to examine the problem and attempt to visualize a solution. I wanted to see that they had more on their mind than giving Sandra Bullock a chance to gain some indie cred.
Crash was a bad social studies lesson with no central plot. What was the movie about? Don’t tell me that all there was was a group of characters that coincidentally crossed each other’s paths. Don’t tell me that the writers of the movie had no roadmap to the end credits, that they didn’t create a traditional (and necessary) three-act story structure, or that I am expected to marvel at a screenplay about ten little stories woven together with character bumpers. Because if I’m being told these things it is because Crash was weak, that it had no spine. You know what you do when you don’t have the talent to write a single story so powerful that it deserves its two-hour length? You write several moderately powerful stories and modulate the major emotional scenes so that you have one slam dunk after another. Sure, it’s seems powerful and heart-rending, but in reality it’s just manipulative, small filmmaking. I didn’t need to see ten different B-plots about gay men in society because Brokeback Mountain had a central story strong enough to propel in an entire film.
And let me change gears a bit and talk about the Academy, a group of people so blind to the world that they couldn’t recognize social change if Paul Haggis wrote a three-part epic about it. I think they were afraid of the mid-west. I think they were afraid of what it may look like to conservative Americans if they gave their highest honor to a “gay cowboy” movie. That if someone in the Heartland was watching the Oscars and complaining about how “nebbishy” Jon Stewart is (Like, way to bring the Yiddish, Heartland), and when Jack opened the envelope and said Brokeback Mountain they would have swelled with homophobia and at that moment absolutely refuse ever to go to the movies again. How bad would it really have been to name Brokeback Mountain our Best Picture of the year? What was so wrong and scary about saying that the film that touched hearts, opened lines of dialogue and that informed people about a subject that had previously been ignored, that it is the best representation of what cinema offered in the year 2005?
The Academy has always like being a proponent of social change. They awarded Driving Miss Daisy, an intimate look on race relations in the south. They awarded Rain Man, a optimistic look about overcoming mental retardation. They awarded Kramer vs. Kramer when divorce was beginning to become a real problem in society. They awarded Gandhi, Schindler’s List, Midnight Cowboy and The Bridge Over the River Kwai. So am I to understand that the Academy is more than willing to award film that explore social change, as long as it isn’t homosexuality? In fifty years Brokeback Mountain will still be an important film. It will still be a glowing example of how film can change society’s way of thinking. Crash will just be another ensemble movie, a footnote in Oscar history. The way we will forget Chicago, Out of Africa and Around the World in 80 Days. I want my Academy to be a place where they value daring cinema, and who cares if certain people don’t like it.
Coke, GM and whoever else bought airtime would not have refused to sponsor the Oscars if Brokeback had won. It’s the Oscars; nothing will stop people from watching. They could have set a strong message. They could have set a daring precedent. They could have done some good. I need the Best Picture of the year to blow my socks off. I need to feel like when my son goes to film school that he’ll come home from class one day, call me up and go “Dad, they showed me Braveheart today. Man alive, that was a great film.‿ I want the Best Picture to inspire kids to want to be filmmakers. I don’t need the Best Picture to be a bargain-rate social studies class. That’s what we have high school for. The Oscars are supposed to be about something more. And last night they let me down.
In time I will get over this. I will grudgingly accept that the last two Best Pictures have been films that I loathed. I will hope against hope that I fall head over heels in love with the next five Best Pictures. That maybe the Academy will climb a ladder, get over their selves and give Martin Scorsese a freaking Oscar already. That maybe Paul Giamatti will eventually get this Oscar (As will Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Ed Norton and Tom Cruise). In time I hope that my Oscar parties only get better and better (Though last night was a ton of fun. Thank you to everyone that came.). I hope that they bring back Jon Stewart and let him grow into the national stage; he was not bad, but not great (Though I did love the Keira Knightley crazy-hotness commercial).
I hope… I hope that one day I will catch Crash on TNT and be surprised to find that I was wrong. That I just missed it the first time around. That I fall in love with the film and regret all the things I just wrote about the film. I hope all these things happen, but do I think they will? No… probably not.
Congratulations to all the winners; congratulations to Paul Haggis, may he strive to do better work so that I may start respecting him and respecting his films, his Best Pictures.