Friday, March 10, 2006

Crash and Burn

"In There Deep":

"It's the sense of touch... In L.A., nobody touches you... I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something."

So, Crash. Best Picture. That happened.

Unlike many people out there, I wasn't really upset. If anything, I was a little amused. I chose to look at it, not as Crash winning, but as Brokeback Mountain losing. I happen to think they're both pretentious, mediocre, ultimately vapid movies that have had way too much importance ascribed to them by people all-too-eager to see what they wanted to see – The Emperor's New Best Picture Nominees. So I was rooting for neither one to take home the prize. However, I knew that it was going to be one or the other, so I spent some time before the Awards debating which was the lesser (or should I say "greater?") of two mediocrities?

My biggest problem with Crash is that it fails to reflect the realities of racial tensions and the realities of the way that real people interact with one another in Los Angeles in the year 2005. A part of me wondered, as I left the theater, whether or not Haggis and co. actually intended to make a very hyper-real film – almost a satire. Yet, in all the undeserved praise I've heard lavished upon this movie – both from admirers and the people who made it – I think Haggis is just that divorced from reality (I'm not the first to point out that this was clearly foreshadowed by the horribly one-dimensional, stereotypical portrayal of a redneck family in his Million Dollar Baby).

My problems with Brokeback are manifold, but they primarily stem from my inability to buy that Jack and Ennis were in love. Maybe this is me applying my modern views or my urban views or my heterosexual views to a decidedly non-modern, non-urban and (debatably) non-heterosexual "love" story (I can't decide whether it's a very progressive thing or a very unprogressive thing that I've heard no uproar from the gay community that this "monumental" film was entirely written by, directed by and acted by heterosexuals). Maybe I was mislead by the pre-release hype (I really need to see it for a second time, knowing what to (and what not to) expect). Whatever the reasons, I just couldn't get invested emotionally in the film's central "love" story (or "lust story"). Aside from (or because of) that, I found the whole movie rather slow and tedious and redundant (much like its Academy Award-winning score). Throw in some truly atrocious, laugh-out-loud dialogue, embarrassing aging makeup and a bad Sling Blade impression, and well, no amount of pretty Canadian landscapes is gonna convince me this is the Best Picture of the year.

So, given the choice between a movie that doesn't work in relation to the real world (and may in fact do more harm than good) but does kinda work as a movie and a movie that has its heart in the right place but doesn't work (for me) as a movie, I'd have to give the Oscar to the movie that works (more or less) as a movie. More than that, if I were to be stranded on an island with only one of these two movies, I think I could bear more repeat viewings of Crash before taking my own life than of Brokeback. It just seems more "watchable."

And as insufferable (and inexplicable) as Crash fanatics are (what happened to Roger Ebert?), Brokeback's champions are even more self-righteous. It was like the second coming of The Passion of the Christ. A religious experience. I don't for a second question the sincerity of its adherents, though I do believe, as with The Passion, Brokeback served a severely underrepresented portion of the population and reflected a true dearth of something (be it Christianity or a gay romance) in the marketplace. In this non-Christian, non-gay's eyes, both audiences were so starved (and rightly so) for that something that they over-praised movies that didn't truly deserve it.

The thing that really bothered me was this pervasive attitude that attacking – or even not liking – this movie made one a homophobe. The same thing happened with critics of Schindler's List being called anti-Semitic or critics of The Passion being called anti-Christian. Sure, many of Brokeback's admirers were more tolerant than this, but as in most situations, the most vocal were the most extremist.

Granted, there were many people who hated this movie because they hate gays… but then, I feel confident in saying that most of them refused to even see the film before judging it. But in some people's eyes, someone like me, who was ready and willing to be wowed by this movie and wasn't wowed, is lumped in with crackpot homophobes like Ann Coulter. Sure, for a moment the company makes me question my position, but I think of it as like when Osama bin Laden came out to endorse John Kerry. I didn't like being on the same side as him, but I'd be damned if I was going to let him influence my vote one way or the other.

This "If you're not with us, you're against us" campaign vocalized by Brokeback fanatics continued after it lost Best Picture to Crash. Suddenly, the Academy (which had seen fit to bestow the most nominations of any movie this year on Brokeback, had nominated Capote for Best Picture, given Philip Seymour Hoffman an Oscar for playing a character who happened to be gay, nominated the even-gayer-than-Brokeback Transamerica for two awards) was filled with homophobes. That could be the only explanation possible for not voting for Brokeback (no word on if Munich and Good Night, and Good Luck were also too gay for the Academy).

Whispers abound that many (presumably older) voters refused to even see Brokeback because of its content. If that's true, then that's reprehensible and those voters should turn in their Academy memberships. If you can't (or won't) see all the films nominated (especially the five Best Picture nominees) you have no business voting (though I'm sure many voters every year fail to see all nominated films). That said, I wonder how many voters refused to see Munich because they heard it was favorable to terrorists or anti-Israel. Or how many suffered epileptic fits during the opening of Moulin Rouge! and failed to see it through to the end. Or how many popped out the tape of Pulp Fiction because of the language. Or the tape of Goodfellas because of the violence. Or how many died of boredom while watching Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Again, none of this should forgive actual homophobes in the Academy who refused to screen the movie out of bigotry. I'm just suggesting that there's never a level-playing field when it comes to awards that are entirely based on subjective, personal tastes.

So, yeah, I took some joy in seeing the undefeated champ blowing it in the big game (now I know how all those Texas fans felt after the Rose Bowl – or to be more precise, how all those Bruins fans felt). Sure when I look back at the movie that won Best Picture in 2005 I'll be a little disgusted… but at least I'll have lots of company.

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