Just a few really thoughts on the Oscars now that a few days have passed. First of all, I find it absolutely ridiculous that the media has continued to keep the whole “Why didn’t Brokeback Mountain win?” thing going. The rest of America has moved on, quite obviously. We have baseball players to crucify and World Baseball Classics to ignore. (I’ll get to those another day.) CNN.com has run a new story on it every couple hours since Sunday night. They call it a major upset and liken it to 1999 when Shakespeare in Love upset Saving Private Ryan. I want to take issue with a few of these arguments before putting the Oscars and the pathetic 2005 movie year to rest.
1 – This is nothing like 1999. That was a travesty of the voting process in the Academy. There was not a single good reason why Saving Private Ryan should have lost. You couldn’t justify that in the least. I have attended a lot of movies over the years. There are TWO that ended with the audience sitting in silence and then quietly filing out the aisles – too stunned and emotionally drained to speak. The first was Schindler’s List, which is still my #1 all time movie. The second was Saving Private Ryan. I was so stunned that it lost that it wasn’t even funny. I really think that it had to be a bunch of people who didn’t want to honor Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg again. Honestly, can anyone justify it? When the Best Pictures nominations came out, I though that Shakespeare in Love was just the fifth spot holder (like Four Weddings and a Funeral in 1995). In addition, Shakespeare in Love could not hold Crash’s bedpan. It was not like there were two amazing movies in 1999 that people had trouble deciding between. There was one absolutely jaw-dropping movie and a sweet movie. I love Shakespeare, I like Joseph Fiennes, I even think Gwynneth Paltrow is okay. But only one of those movies is going to become a national treasure, destined to be shown commercial-free on television on national holidays. And it ain’t the one with Ben Affleck in it. It’s the one with his writing partner Matt Damon in it.
This year, there were a ton of people who though Crash was the better movie (obviously). I look at a lot of movie grades as well, and saw that across the board, Crash got scores that deserved the award. So this is not like 1999 in the least.
2- I don’t think you can really call it an upset. Yes, Brokeback Mountain won the Director’s Guild award for Best Picture. And it won the Producer’s Guild award. And it won the New York Film Critics award. But Crash won the Screen Actors Guild – the largest voting bloc in the Academy. So let’s see which each film had going for it. Brokeback had the backing of the directors (and Ang Lee was named Best Director), the backing of critics, and the backing of an absolutely insane media push. Crash had the backing of the actors and the general public. So how can you be stunned by this? I haven’t seen either film, so I can’t say which group was right. But I can see that the split could have been anticipated, so it wasn’t an upset.
3 – Is the Academy racist? That is actually an accusation flying around. Actually, it is also being labeled by some as racist and by others as being too conservative and bigoted. Huh? This is the same Academy that Jon Stewart joked was “out of touch with America” due to its rampant liberalism? Ang Lee’s brother accused the Academy of racism because they didn’t want to honor a Chinese. But HE won Best Director?!? If they were racist, it would have been the other way around, wouldn’t it? And how do you account for Three 6 Mafia winning the Oscar? There were others who said that the Academy isn’t ready to honor a film that is so blatantly gay. What? Who makes up the Academy? Am I missing something? This is the same group that gave Tom Hanks an Oscar for the gay AIDS patient in Philadelphia? You can accuse Hollywood of a lot of stuff – making crappy movies, losing originality, catering to fringe groups, showing too much violence. But I think it is ridiculous to accuse them of being TOO CONSERVATIVE. I really think it came down to the best of the not-so-mediocre this year – and there wasn’t a whole lot separating those five films. So then it comes down to preference. And they went with the movie about Los Angeles that dealt with the issue of race. Stinking racist voters.
4 – Where does this leave Brokeback Mountain in the grand scheme of things? I think that it leaves it as just another movie about a risky topic. I don’t think it was groundbreaking. There have been other movies that dealt with gay issues – and that did so in a much more effective way in the general consciousness (Philadelphia comes to mind – which was an astounding movie). There have been better westerns (Unforgiven, Dances with Wolves). There may not have been any better movies about gay cowboys. But without that Best Picture win, it cannot claim the kind of place in movie history that its supporters (the media, the critics) wanted it to have. I mean, it won as many Oscars as King Kong, Crash, and Memoirs of a Geisha (three). That is not that big of a deal. For it to have the long-term impact that it was supposed to have had, it would had to have cleaned up. I think it goes down as a well-made, controversial movie. But I don’t honestly think that it is going to be a film that changed anything.
5 – Personally, I think that this was a very very weak movie year. I don’t know if any of these movies would have been nominated in a year like 1995 or 1990. In ’95, the five nominated films were Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, Shawshank Redemption, Quiz Show, and Four Weddings and Funeral. The nominated films this year may have taken that last spot. Moreover, I think that any of those first four films would have crushed everyone this year. In ’90, the list was Dances with Wolves, Godfather III, Goodfellas, Awakenings, and Ghost. Would any of this year’s even cracked that group – maybe bumped out Ghost. What would have happened if Lord of the Rings had come out this year? It would have swept 11 Oscars. I don’t think any of the 2005 films will really go down in history – except maybe Batman Begins. Seriously. It will be remembered as the film that resurrected that franchise and that raised the bar for comic book films. It will have a longer lasting impact on the film industry than any other nominated film. I hope that this year is better.