Monday, March 06, 2006

Seriously, Crash?

Well, I just finished going through the Academy Awards on tape, Stewart was great, 3 Six Mafia was weird, and then things went down hill when it came to the best picture, a completely inexplicable decision. Crash is a film that's so decidedly good, not great, it's a strong misjudge to call it best picture.

Now, I have issues with Crash on two fronts. The first is that it's so clearly melodramatic, in the worst sense of the word. Brokeback is a great example of melodrama done well, allowing the choices that the characters make to seal them in their own cycles of suffering and hurt. Crash seems more like the writers were manipulating a bunch of chess pieces, with each piece representing an ethnic stereotype.

The second is that Crash is such a poor example of the Altmanesque structure, something that's especially apparent when you have a whole sequence giving tribute to Altman just an hour before. Altman's work was structurally similar, but much looser and more real. He would have taken 3 hours to tell the story that Crash tells, and what really hurts Crash is that there's too much for the running time, so that you have no time to relax and know the characters.

And of course giving Crash the best picture when Magnolia didn't even receive a nomination is like calling a classic rock cover band down at your local bar one of the greatest artists of all time. Crash attempts to reach the emotional heights of Magnolia and doesn't even come close.

Awarding Crash and avoiding Magnolia illuminates one of the primary problems with how people view film, and even live their lives. There's this belief that ordinary life isn't interesting enough to be worth watching, everything needs to be packaged in these tight, manipulated narratives, the more realistic drifting of Magnolia or Wong Kar-Wai is seen as insubstantial, even though Magnolia's scope dwarfs Crash. Why can't people see that just because John C. Reilly didn't harass Bill Macy a few days before he helps him at the store, it doesn't mean that it's not of significance?

What's really weird for me is the fact that Crash came back. As I said in my original review of the film, "The crowd I was at with this film didn't really seem to like it, practically everyone was gone before the final shot even ended," and after a few weeks, the film was gone from theaters and it seemed to be over. The reviews when it first came out were alright, of the 3 star variety, but somehow it got annointed as a best picture candidate, and then somehow became best picture. Well played, Lions Gate, you must have run quite the campaign.

Ultimately, it doesn't really matter that Crash won the award, it doesn't change the content of the films themselves, but the thing about the Academy Award is that it pretty much ensures a film's place in history. In fifty years, people probably won't remember most of what came out this year, but you'll always have 2005 - Crash down there, and it's sad that such a mediocre film wound up as the one film to go in the historical "time capsule."

And Crash's view of humanity really bothers me. We are all more than just skin deep, and I really hope that people out in the world don't think of each other just by where your parents and grandparents came from. For a film that is supposedly about hope, Crash instead seems to present a vision of people so trapped in the mindset that ethnicity and race determine who a person is, it's incredibly defeatist about the direction of humanity. It's a lot more interesting to watch real developed characters "crash" into each other, than a bunch of stereotypes with a slight twist.

So, if you've seen Crash, and haven't seen Magnolia, go watch it, it's like Crash but with emotional involvement, real characters, and the boldest use of film technique you'll ever see.


Keith G said...

Well, I agree that Magnolia is the superior film, but even as a five-horse race, Crash is clearly the weakest of the film's nominated. And you're right - it's ironic that they give Altman a Lifetime Achievement Award and then give an Oscar to a pale imitation...

Patrick said...

Yeah, it was clearly a case where Brokeback was so far in the front, people who didn't like it had to unite behind something, and Crash became that film. It's much more a case of the film sort of getting anointed as best picture, when it first came out, there was no buzz for anything beyond perhaps an acting award for Matt Dillon.

Keith G said...

"Crash" got incredibly mixed reviews - not that a film needs to be well-reviewed to win Best Picture...

But you know what? If anything other than Crash had won, I wouldn't be complaining. It didn't need to be Brokeback - it just should have been something other than Crash!