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Why Crash Won Best Picture


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The L.A. Times’ Oscar Site, The Envelope, has a pitch-perfect assessment.


I do not for one minute question the sincerity and integrity of the people who made "Crash," and I do not question their commitment to wanting a more equal society. But I do question the film they've made...it is, at its core, a standard Hollywood movie, as manipulative and unrealistic as the day is long. And something more. For "Crash's" biggest asset is its ability to give people a carload of those standard Hollywood satisfactions but make them think they are seeing something groundbreaking and daring.

Let’s be honest: it was made by wealthy white people for wealthy white people, and they wanted to feel like they could address racism. When I originally reacted to “Crash," I really, really disliked it. My thought was that it was very manipulative of racial tensions, that it exploited them (though I’m not cynical enough to say it was for entertainment, I’m sure the intentions were noble) into unrealistic dramatic structures, and that felt wrong to me. I argued that we should be looking past these tensions, or even allowing them to exist in our stories, but using them? The movie’s overdramatic thrust was far too clumsy to possess the delicacy needed. In the end it still felt like a Big Hollywood Film, a high-profile star-driven drama that was trying to" think", and this rarely works. No matter the high-minded moral intentions, it still was supposed to be entertaining. And for that reason it actually seemed immoral to me. It just rang hollow.

Last year the New York Times published a cynical and insightful article called “The Trouble With Films That Try To Think":


The studios (and their artier specialty divisions) back these films for the same reason celebrities double as political pundits: producers and studio heads like to be taken seriously, too. What's whispered, yet rarely said out loud, is that Hollywood producers know that most of what they churn out is junk, and they are happy to seize an opportunity - especially if it's cost-efficient and Oscar-ready - to prove they are people who think. Because these movies are Hollywood products, though, they need to navigate between inoffensively pleasing a mainstream audience and actually saying something. What results is a genre of timid films with portentous-sounding themes, works that offer prepackaged schoolroom lessons or canned debates. Hollywood may be drawn to Big Ideas, but it is always more comfortable with sound-bite-size thoughts.


I never saw Brokeback Mountain, so I can’t blame that for not being good enough. But somehow I don’t think that’s really why Crash won.


Against the tyranny of the montage!

4 Comments

    Anonymous Kyle 

    Wonderfully well fucking put.

    I see virtually all of the best picture nominations as evidence of an emerging political trend: neo-liberalism. It's what we're up against.

    Great post (not just b/c I agree).

    Anonymous Kyle 

    Obviously, neoliberalism isn't new or emerging. But its artistic head is rearing.

    Anonymous Blake 

    Kyle-

    You might be interested in Walter Benn Michaels’ article in the third issue of N+1 (not available online, though), called “The Neoliberal Imagination”. He suggests, for example, that the neoliberal understanding of class difference is actually an understanding of culture difference, leading to the comfortable assertion that one can “Respect the Other” (which is the same thing, maybe the “diversity version” as right-wing egalitarianism: Respect the Poor).

    This is “what we might call the fantasy of a left politics, a politics defined by its opposition to racism, sexism and homophobia and hence by the idea that what we should do with difference is not to eliminate it but appreciate it.” Michaels concludes that the neoliberal imagination counts prejudice, and not poverty, as the pervasive problem, and thereby, in contrast to the traditional liberal imagination being a desire “not to have to think about class difference,” the neoliberal imagination “is the desire to not have to get ride of class difference.”

    It’s a kind of showy respect for difference which is self-congratulating and allows one to shift the goal from the elimination of poverty to simply respecting the poor.

    Anonymous Austin 

    For the sake of a differing opinion here's an article by Roger Ebert in defense of "Crash." Though he mainlyl approaches it from the "it's better than brokeback" angle he does raise some good points.

    While I agree with many point you make in the post I'm just wondering if films should always shy away from saying something, or trying to make a point? I think Clooney made a good point in his acceptance speech when he said he was glad Hollywood was a bit out of touch because those in Hollywood were among the first to speak out for civil rights and among the first to address aids.

    I guess I'm just not completely convinced that making a point and being entertaining at the same time is a complete contradiction or immoral. Not that I want to to defend every "thinking" movie Hollywood has ever made, but maybe we shouldn't ban them from attempting to make a point.

    And I agree with Kyle, most of the nominations could be fall under the title of "thinking" of "Big Idea" movies.



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  • Blake
  • Chicago, IL, United States

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