07 March 2006

final thoughts on the Oscars

I know you're all chomping at the bit for the next segment in the 100 films series (which is past the half-way point, by the way), but first some final thoughts on the Oscars

As some of you noticed, yours truly did quite well in the Oscar prediction game, correctly naming 20 of the 24 categories (21 out of 25 if you count the honorary award to Robert Altman, but that doesn't really count). It was good enough to win me money in my Oscar pool, but more importantly is better than the predictions of 84 of the 85 Oscar "experts" in the entire country, according to this webpage. And I've never heard of the guy who got more than me, so for all I know he's the guy who counts the ballots. If you were crafty enough to use my predictions to win any cash, feel free to send me a cut.

One of the four I got wrong was Best Picture, even though I should have known better than to bet against my Best Picture theory: most of the time, the worst of the 5 nominees will win. I tend to view this as an indication of the widespread mediocrity in Hollywood, or it could just be that no one agrees with my opinion. Both, I suppose, are equally likely. According to me, the nominees ranked as follows:

1. Brokeback Mountain
2. Capote
3. Munich
4. Good Night, and Good Luck
5. Crash

There's a small gap, in my opinion, between Brokeback Mountain and the rest of the field, another small gap between Munich and Good Night, and Good Luck, and a sizeable one between Crash and the rest of the field.

The problem with Crash (which I liked, but not enough to think it deserves a Best Picture nomination) is twofold 1) It is a rather derivative version of Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia (1999), only with racial conficts instead of family ones. It has the feel of a film made in response or tribute to a great one, and films like that usually end up as second-class citizens[1]. So Crash comes off as a film that's stealing from Magnolia, right down to the closing song that's eerily reminsicent of Aimee Mann's "Save Me". 2) Paul Haggis is not a mature enough filmmaker to have yet found his artistic voice. He's clearly still riding with training wheels. This makes his film come off as simplistic at points, and lends itself to a situation where his film gets worse with repeated viewings. Great films do not suffer from these problems. In terms of pure quality, Crash is somewhere along the lines of Anderson's Hard Eight, good but flawed.

So how is it that Crash is able to leap-frog the field and win? Well, there's probably a couple of reasons. More than the middle three films, Crash struck an emotional chord that hid it's flaws. In a large voting group like the Academy, this is a notable factor. Also not to be discounted is the fact that a large number of actors were in the film, and likely voted for their own film, as you'd expect them to. But the largest factor is the homophobia one. It seems to be common knowledge in Hollywood these days that most of the "old guard" was unwilling to even watch Brokeback Mountain, let alone vote for it. Obviously, this is unfortunate, and smacks of all kinds of irresponsibility and hypocrisy on their part, as no one is willing to actually admit the subject matter was too much for them[2]. Some have likened it to the dillema of voting for a black President. Everyone thinks it's a great idea, but when you get them in the voting booth, it's a different story.

This has all led to a great deal of unfortunate bickering between the two sides, with the Crash side claiming that it is the superior film, and the Brokeback Mountain side claiming Crash won because of homophobia. The answer, I think, is somewhere in the middle. Few intelligent people who saw all five films would even dare argue that Crash is on par with the rest of the nominees[3], let alone a supperior film. Most recognize that it was lucky to get nominated. This may explain the anger of the Brokeback Mountain supporters. Had it lost to Capote or Munich, the response would have probably been different. It doesn't take a film historian to realize that time will not be kind to Crash, especially now that it has this stigma of being the film that didn't deserve Best Picture[4], while the other four nominees will probably age quite well. I suspect Brokeback Mountain will be viewed as a classic and Munich may age better than the rest, once our society can get a little bit farther from the politics involved.

Time will heal all wounds, though. As you may remember, until recently, it was pretty hard out there for a pimp.

[1] Unless you go the Tarrantino route and steal from movies hardly anyone has seen.

[2] It also seems unfair, since I had to sit through the utterly terrible Chicago (2003).

[3] Rogert Ebert is the notable exception, but sometimes he tends to lose his bearings.

[4] Think Shakespeare in Love (1998)