All entries for Monday 06 March 2006

March 06, 2006

A slight rant.

Ok, I know I stated that I'd refrain from commenting on the Oscars until I'd caught up with a couple of films, but umm, f*ck that?!

The choice that the Academy made last night might well go down as the most horrific one that they've EVER made. Yeah, even worse than Ordinary People over Raging Bull, Dances with Wolves over Goodfellas, How Green Was My Valley over Citizen Kane, Braveheart over anything.

Let me articulate – the reason WHY this decision is causing shockwaves through the cinema-loving community is because AMPAS were effectively handed this year's Best Picture winner on a plate. Brokeback Mountain is not only the finest film of the year IMO, but it is also a critical and cultural juggernaut. It infiltrated the mainstream consciousness in a way that NO other film this year did – albeit often in a negative way (that "gay cowboy" film).

I'm not sure if there are any people who follow the Oscar season closely like myself round these parts, so for those who don't I'll explain just why this is such a colossal slap in the face.

There are certain 'rules' to the art (obsession?) of Oscarwatching as such. Basically, you need precursor support + box office. Brokeback had both. It entered Oscar night bestowed with 22 accolades from other awards bodies - compared to 3 for Crash. Yeah, that's TWENTY-TWO. Moreover, it's been breaking box-office records since its release. To date, it's made almost $79 million in the USA, a ridiculous number for a gay indie flick. One of the Oscar 'rules' is that your film has to make the Top 25 highest-grossing movies of the year to win the big one. Currently, Brokeback is #26, and is poised to enter the top 25 (had it won the Oscar, it might well have entered the top 20). Crash, with a gross of $53.4 million, sits at #49.

The industry success enjoyed by Brokeback was so great that I read discussions about whether it was THE biggest frontrunner and/or "lock" for the Oscar ever. At the end of the day, when it came to casting their ballots, what it came down to for Academy members was this: you either vote FOR Brokeback or you vote AGAINST it.

Now I'm not saying that all the votes casted within AMPAS for Crash were by people who don't care for the film. And I'm certainly not saying that everyone should share my own mindset and appreciate Brokeback Mountain. However, statistically, Brokeback has won EVERY single big award this Oscar season (Golden Globe and BAFTA most notable among them). When a situation like this occurs, you've got to ask yourself – why did it win everything except the big one?

Fact of the matter is, the Academy's penchant for mediocrity (or in this case, flat-out SHIT) is showing itself once again. Take a look at the most recent winners of Oscar's Best Picture:

2004 – Million Dollar Baby (horrific Oscar-bait crap) beats out The Aviator (not superb, but certainly more deserving)
2003 – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (overblown shit) beats out Mystic River (again, not amazing, but more deserving) [btw, I realise that my opinion on this one is in the minority, so ignore it if you so wish]
2002 – Chicago (lightweight fluff) beats out The Hours and The Pianist
2001 – A Beautiful Mind (speaks for itself) over Moulin Rouge! (the ACTUAL musical that should've won) and Gosford Park
2000 – Gladitaor (mediocre 'epic') over Crouching Tiger, Hidcden Dragon (elegiac epic)

Seriously, considering their history I should have anticipated this. But how could I when Brokeback was steamrolling everything else into oblivion? Of course, it's clear now that it wasn't. So what the Hell was going on?!

First of all, it's important to acknowledge (and deride) the influence of the media in all of this. With Brokeback so far out in the lead, there was very little excitement in this year's race. Consequently, they latched onto the safest bet they could find - and that was Crash, a film that appeals to the lowest common denominator. Suddenly, stories started appearing about how Crash had the potential to upset (despite having won NOTHING). Originally, I dismissed these reports as ridiculous media hype, but it's now become evident that they sadly played a part in the mess that was the 2005 Oscars.

What part did the film's studio have to play in all of this? Oscar season is notorious for the lavish campaigns spent upon making a studio's Oscar-baby a viable contender, and Lion's Gate certainly did that for Crash. Sending out 120,000 screener DVDs to every single member of the American cinema guilds ensured that their film would remain fresh in voter's minds whilst others grappled with the notion of whether or not to see a gay cowboy movie.

One of the most distressing reasons for Brokeback's loss (and let's make this clear, last night was about Brokeback LOSING, not Crash winning) that I've read about is the accusations of homophobia within the Academy. I don't want to believe it in this day and age, but the argument has been put across so well. The issue of homophobia is more overtly rife within America than that of racism, and you can't help but wonder how big a part this played with the Academy members. How many, do you think, were so worried about their own masculinity that they couldn't handle 10 seconds of gay sex on-screen? The film's box-office would indicate otherwise, but then these seem to have been countered by reports of a BrokeBacklash in Academy circles, who aren't willing to alienate the mainstream Right.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't give this argument any credence, but the stature of Brokeback's loss is so unprecedented that such ideas seem increasingly plausible. Hollywood isn't ready for the gays. Yes, the film won 3 other awards - but they went to Ang Lee (a heavily overdue director), Larry McMurtry (a heavily overdue writer) and the movie's undeniably gorgeous score. The only way to acknowledge Brokeback's thematic content would have been to vote the film as Best Picture. You could argue that Philip Seymour Hoffman won for Capote, but he was playing an outrageous de-sexualised gay intellectual - and outrageous and de-sexualised seems to be exactly how Hollywood likes its gays. I won't even bother going into Tom Hanks' win for Philadelphia in the early 90s.

You're wondering why I give so much of a damn aren't you? Well, aside from considering Brokeback the finest film of the year, I should make it clear that I consider Crash to be one of the most offensive pieces of trash ever to have found its way onto cinema screens, and I hope, and know, other film literates that feel the same.

It is a poorly executed white-liberal fantasy, constructed solely as a bad form of escapism – and, frankly, when you're dealing with an issue as complex and sensitive as racism, I don't think escapism is the right treatment for it. Paul Haggis (now my least favourite person on the planet) seems to think that showing us a bunch of decent actors on autopilot performing a series of blatantly artificial scenarios works on film. It doesn't. Watching Crash you'd think the entire population of Los Angeles spend night and day engaging in not-so-intellectual confrontations about racism. The amount of racial slurs used to illustrate this belief is laughable, as is the compulsive need for each character to utter the word "fuck" every other minute.
Haggis takes a heavy-handed approach to his subject and literally wallops his audience with a sledgehammer, ramming these issues down our throats. For what purpose? At the end, he pats us on the back and tells us not to worry, because everyone is racist anyway – just to varying degrees. How does he arrive at such a conclusion? By presenting his characters in their best and their worst lights – with NO grey area inbetween. What he ends up doing is playing with stereotypes that are unnecessarily offensive, particularly with regards to the Asian characters. He shows us the type, then half an hour later subverts it, but leaves no room for character development inbetween. Sandra Bullock falls down the stairs and suddenly her Hispanic maid is her best friend? Good Lord.
Crash is like Magnolia in its undeniably contrived set-up, but worse. The criss-crossing of the characters verges on the unbelievable, but unlike that latter film, Crash lacks the heart to make itself remotely commendable.
It's a credit to the abilities of Terrence Howard and Don Cheadle that they manage to rise above all this commotion and manage to inject some humility into their characterisations. Unfortunately, it's not enough to save this disastrous exercise from the realm of utter crap.

And you're telling me this shit wins Oscars?! That this "little film that could" beat out one of the most devastating cinematic love stories, well, ever, smacks of hypocrisy from a Hollywood that likes to call itself liberal. As a straight liberal (presumably one who should think like the Academy, then?) I'll say that they had the opportunity to acknowledge a truly great cinematic achievement. And they wasted it. Big time.

Funny how Academy's refusal to acknowledge Ennis and Jack's love parallels Ennis' own in the film, doesn't it?

I'm gobsmacked. This year's awards were meant to reaffirm my faith in the Oscars, to show that they can, in fact, be a barometer of artistic excellence every now and again. What a cop-out on their behalf…

Anyway, I've been ranting stupidly for ages now so I'll stop. What I've said is probably nonsensical bollocks to many, and that's fine. I just can't help but feel that this is a terrible day for cinephiles, considering the Oscars hold so much clout and significance (although hopefully, following this stunt, that will begin to recede). If you want to read an article that articulates everything FAR better than I possibly could then go here:

An article by Kenneth Turan

March 2006

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