March 08, 2006
A thought by James Berardinelli

Thoughts on the ramifications of Crash winning Best Picture... (Since everyone else is weighing in on this, I figured, "Why not?" One more fly buzzing around two days-old roadkill won't make a difference.)

It amazes me the way fans of Brokeback Mountain have reacted to "their" movie not emerging victorious. In an astonishing display of bad sportsmanship, they have played the homophobe card without considering the fact that Phillip Seymour Hoffman won Best Actor for playing a gay man. And Truman Capote was an effete gay man, not the studly sort populating Brokeback Mountain.

In my opinion, Crash and Brokeback were on about equal footing - the two least deserving of the nominees. I'm tempted to say it's a travesty that either one ended up in the Final Five, but that language would be too strong, and it denies the fact that the Academy Awards are more about perception and politics than reality. Nowhere was that more apparent than in the inexplicable denial of a Best Visual Effects nomination to Revenge of the Sith. It's incomprehensible to me that the film was left out in the cold in this category, but it speaks volumes about the nomination process.

So the Brokeback fans are pissed that Crash won. And the Crash fans are pissed that the Brokeback fans are saying nasty things about them. Words like "racism" and "homophobia" are being tossed around. Critics are taking sides. Maybe ABC should have skipped televising the awards and opted instead to show the aftermath. It's turning into a regular WWF smackdown.

For me, the most interesting aspect of the Crash victory is the decision to re-open it in 150 theaters. It's already out on DVD, so this represents a case study of whether audiences will show up for theatrical screenings of a movie they could easily see at home. It would surprise me if the movie does well. My suspicion is that everyone who wants to see Crash has already seen it, and the Best Picture win isn't going to mean that much in terms of box office revenue. It's another matter on DVD, where people are more willing to try "new things." After all, they can turn it off half-way through if they don't like it, and send it back to Netflix the next day. And some DVD collectors will want to add it to their collection because it is a Best Picture. (For the record, it has been in mine since the week it was released on DVD. A screener copy of Brokeback Mountain is also there.)

Earlier today, just for fun, I randomly asked ten people at my day job workplace if they knew what won the Best Picture this year and last year. The results were interesting (although not statistically relevant, since the sample size was so small). Six out of ten knew Sunday's winner was Crash. Three thought it was Brokeback Mountain. And one didn't know (or care, apparently). Five out of ten couldn't remember last year's winner. Four thought it was The Lord of the Rings (which won the year before). Only one remembered it was Million Dollar Baby. So much for the staying power of an Oscar victory.

Next year at this time, it will be interesting to see if even 10% remember Crash. I bet they won't, and maybe that's what's really wrong with the Oscars. Their impact has been diluted by dozens of other awards shows, and one has to wonder whether they're slipping toward irrelevance, following slowly in the path blazed by the Miss America Pageant. (Imagine: 20 years from now, the Academy Awards airing on an obscure cable channel...) To quote from a movie that once was nominated for Best Picture (but didn't win): "It's the pictures that got small." After this year's Oscars, can anyone argue the truth in that line?

Feel free to disagree. I know many of you do.