‘Brokeback Mountain’

Jess Cox
(Courtesy of Lions Gate)
Jess Cox
(Courtesy of Focus)

Let’s start with the obvious: “Brokeback Mountain,” while a personal favorite, is probably not the best movie of last year.

Neither, for that matter, is “Crash.”

But as even the most casual cinephile could tell you, best picture does not mean best movie. In the Academy’s eyes, to name a film best picture is to immortalize it, to mark it in history as the film that most represents the production and cultural foundation the industry is built upon.

In these terms, “Brokeback” was without question the best – and really, the only – choice to take the award. The spare, devastating story, the daring performances, the paralyzing landscapes: It’s all the stuff of Academy dreams, far outreaching any of the other nominees in all conceivable aesthetic facets.

How, then, did “Crash” pull one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history?

Logistically speaking, it was timing. “Brokeback” came on very strong very early, hitting its stride mid-January and fighting off the inevitable backlash before the nominations were even announced at the end of the month. “Crash,” on the other hand, had nowhere to go but up after a quiet, early-summer release and wildly mixed reviews. It gained buzz right as “Brokeback” steadily lost it.

But that’s not very interesting, and besides, it goes far beyond that. Pundits will no doubt place much of the credit for the “Crash” upset on the fact that the film struck a chord with the greater American moviegoer (not least of all with the huge number of L.A.-based Academy voters). Of course, “Brokeback” is just as socially relevant as “Crash” and more effective in its attempt to get a clear, coherent point across, but sometimes, the most articulate person in the room loses out to the one who yells the loudest.

Granted, “Crash” is an important film, and has individual moments of startling power, but its pageant of shallow, often painfully contrived cross-sections (many of which fall to sloppy closure) in its final third misses the mark on too many fronts. “Brokeback” has a concisely pointed, gorgeously crafted story at its core that builds to a cumulative emotional effect rivaling any American movie of the past decade. “Crash” made waves, but “Brokeback” is here to stay.

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‘Crash’

The tagline for one of the most controversial movies in recent memory and newly anointed best picture “Crash” reads: “You think you know who you are. You have no idea.” Suddenly becoming the film everyone loves to hate, “Crash” has come under fire for everything from overt ignorance to artistic ineptitude and sophomoric storytelling.

Perhaps the film is an acquired taste; it’s so up-front and brash that most viewers are left stunned the first time around. Still, anyone who believes “Crash” is artistically unworthy of winning best picture award is deluding himself. Its fractured storytelling serves its purpose equally as tactfully as the smooth strokes of “Brokeback Mountain.” Racism is ugly and, like it or not, it still exists. This is a story that can’t be told in a beautifully colored, picturesque film. The blunt, harsh cuts in “Crash” are necessary to its story, and are utilized to perfection.

Each year, with scarce exceptions, every nominee (and even four to five unnominated films) deserve to win the award. “Crash” is not one of the rare exceptions. Behind its cover of curt, perhaps near-sighted portrayal of subjects involved in a routine carjacking, lies a powerful message about the specter of racism that remains the most controversial issue in America.

The best of films challenge notions about our society we take for granted, and “Crash” is no different. It’s contrived and not a strictly real-world depiction of how prejudices may play out, but that’s beside the point. Regardless of how we may feel about what “Crash” has to say, it’s impossible to deny that it’s among the most introspective films in recent memory.

Now I liked “Brokeback Mountain” and wouldn’t have been disappointed if it won, but I admit, I didn’t want it to. “Brokeback” was a beautiful film, but what exactly is its great contribution? Homosexuality is hardly a new theme in Hollywood. Of a hoard of socially motivated films, “Crash” most brazenly embodies an issue America continues to struggle with. This isn’t to say “Brokeback” had nothing to say, simply that “Crash” has more insight into its respective flashpoint issues.

But the best characteristic of “Crash” is that it boldly takes on America’s fascination with the belief that the days of racism are gone. It’s a different film than “Brokeback” and a comparison is only marginally fair. Yet as long as they are in the same category, “Crash” is the most worthy film.

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