Was ‘Crash’ Really the Worst Oscar Winner Ever? … Ever?

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by Connor Foote

Lotus Land Correspondent, White Cover Magazine

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This just in: people aren’t crazy about Crash.

Sure, the movie was good, but good isn’t great. Good isn’t Best Picture. Good isn’t Brokeback Mountain, or even Capote or Good Night, and Good Luck. Or, Munich. When Paul Haggis’s shallow swipe at racism in America worthy of a 9 p.m. slot on the Hallmark Channel (although, what else can you expect from a Canadian?) won Best Picture in 2005, the initial reaction was to give the film some credit. It was nominated for none of the major Golden Globes (hello, Beasts of the Southern Wild?) but it somehow snuck in the backdoor to crash (pun absolutely intended) Jon Stewart’s only ever Oscars hosting gig.

The travesty and the controversy, of course, was that Crash beat the obviously superior and more loved Brokeback Mountain, a film about two gay cowboys rolling around in Wyoming together. The Academy wasn’t ready to give the Oscar to a film about homosexual passion. We know that now. We knew that then. It was just much easier to give it to Crash. The Academy has yet to honour a film that targets the same prejudices as Brokeback does (did), and nobody has dared to make a film like it since.

Can you blame them?

Sure, Ang Lee won Best Director (which has always been the Academy’s way of tossing a bone to the guy they knew should have really won the big prize, right Mr. Spielberg?), but everyone now knows they’ll have to wait until it’s truly passable and acceptable to make a film that actually challenges our pre-set functions and notions. If they don’t wait for the right time, or until it’s already passe, they won’t win Best Picture.

Think about the other big movie that has won Best Picture, post-2005, about a “man with something to overcome”:

  • The King’s Speech was about a royal man with a stutter. Boo hoo. I’ve had a stutter since I was five-years-old and, yeah, it sucks, but it’s a damn stutter. It’s nothing to cry over. You just start sounding out your H’s and bracing for hard consonants that begin words and you get on with it. (And, no, I wasn’t more moved by the fact that the stutter in The King’s Speech was in an English accent.)

You’re already a King. So what? Stop whining.

Is a stutter in any way an equivalent battle to what Gyllenhaal and Ledger had to deal with?

It’s easy to see it now: the next film that is seriously and truly about gay rights or gay love will be worse and pussier all-around than Brokeback.

“The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has awarded a lot of terrible films its biggest prize, but none worse than Paul Haggis’ high school civics lesson masquerading as a movie,” wrote Hollywood.com, which gave Crash its award for the worst Best Picture winner in the last 84 years. “Complex racial issues are reduced to hotheaded shouting matches, self-righteous monologues, and dizzying plot turns: Ludacris emancipates enslaved Cambodians! Sandra Bullock’s hatred of minorities is so great, it causes her to fall down a flight of stairs!”

“I’m choosing to relive the greatest mistake Oscar ever made: 2006 Best Picture winner Crash,” wrote Grantland‘s Mark Lisanti, who has posted a live blog of him trying to watch the film just before today’s Oscar ceremony.” I just need to feel something, and so I’m strapping myself in, cranking up an Amazon Instant Video window, and live-blogging my way into the middle of the nearest intersection, hoping for the kind of meaningful collision than can violently shake me from the emotional torpor of the interminable Oscar death march.

(Spoiler Alert: He doesn’t feel anything.)

Now, I feel they’re being a little too hard on Crash. It wasn’t Haggis’s fault that he interrupted and permanently delayed what could have been the Oscars’ entrance into the 21st Century. (We’re still waiting, by the way.) Seeing the London, Ontario native celebrate on that stage (post-win) now is like seeing a Fascist regime march through the streets of some European capital.

You almost imagine that he hates gay rights, which obviously couldn’t be further from the truth (I’m assuming… I mean, he is Canadian.)

It almost feels like Haggis set out to implode the city of San Francisco.

In truth, he just made a good movie that triumphed over one vastly superior but more mentally stimulating film and four pretty forgettable films that barely made it onto your radar that year.

Sometimes, the Oscars just don’t have a lot to work with. Look at 1987: The Last Emperor beat out Moonstruck, Hope and Glory, Fatal Attraction, and Broadcast News. I’ve only seen Fatal Attraction, and I’m shocked it was even considered. Broadcast News just seems like a decade-later swipe at the audience still holding onto Network, and the other three could serve as interchangeable losers for any other Oscar year.

1987 just wasn’t a good year.

Then, there’s 2008. Sure, Slumdog Millionaire was good. Okay, it was great, but was it really a Best Picture winner? Probably not.

Of course, take a look at the other nominees from ’08: MilkFront/NixonBenjamin Button, and The Reader.

Um, is there anything else? Seriously, is that all?

All good movies, but none will remain in our shelves. You can’t remember any of them losing, which means they weren’t great enough to win.

Now, The Dark Knight just wasn’t nominated and — looking back now — should have easily won. It was the best movie by a long shot, and Heath Ledger turned in one of the greatest cinematic performances of all-time. It remains Christopher Nolan’s finest achievement, and that’s saying something because Inception probably should have stolen the Oscar away from The King’s Speech (there you are, again, Old Sport) two years later.

The fact is, the Academy should always award its top prize to the film we’ll look back on in 25 years and say, “Yeah, that was a great film. Wow. What a movie.”

It’s why Shakespeare in Love should have never beaten Saving Private Ryan (although Spielberg did win Best Director, so be happy, right?). It’s why Dances With Wolves should have lost to Goodfellas. It’s why Forrest Gump is a questionable win over both Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank RedemptionThe English Patient beating Fargo.

Ordinary People walking over Raging BullKramer vs. Kramer toppling Apocalypse Now. Even Rocky beating All the President’s MenNetwork, and Taxi Driver.

It’s not always obvious, and it certainly isn’t today.

Between the nine films nominated for Best Picture in 2013 (for 2012), all are pretty much entering today with a blank slate. My money thinks it should go to either Argo or Django Unchained (although I haven’t yet seen Zero Dark Thirty). Of course, Bigelow, Affleck, and Tarantino weren’t nominated for Best Director. It would be hard to see the Academy give one of those films the top prize now, wouldn’t it?

Personally, I would hate to see Les Miserables or Lincoln win. It’s not that I don’t think they’re good enough. It’s that they’re boring choices, and neither seems to have done anything brave or risky. They took already-established stories and story lines and just added more CGI or special effects then were available the 50 years ago or so when the last film about their subjects was shoved together.

Beasts of the Southern Wild could surprise everyone, but only because nobody’s seen. So, would that be a good surprise or just an Oscars surprise?

Nobody’s seen Amour, either, but the Academy will probably just let it ride off with Best Foreign Film and none of us will ever speak of it again.

Life of Pi and Silver Linings Playbook deserve credit, but not all the credit.

Yup. It’s another tough year for the kind fo people who watch movies for 365 days and call it a struggle.