The morning after Brokeback Mountain lost I got an email from a reader, a very young reader in a foreign country, who told me that he would have killed himself that night had he not found Oscarwatch. The reason was mainly that he’d found a place where people were bitching about it – loudly, as is our wont. We knew it meant a lot that Brokeback Mountain, which had won an unprecedented amount of awards heading into the race – taking even the Producers and Directors and Writers Guild awards. But one other movie was pushing through the crowd, one that won the SAG ensemble, the Eddie and the Writers Guild. Crash had a couple of things going for it over Brokeback Mountain, though for many of us (with the exception of a scant few like David Carr, for instance) it was unthinkable. Not to dump on Crash continually as I don’t think it’s the worst film to win Best Picture, but all four of the other nominees were superior in terms of ambition and artistry.

But Crash had much in the way of appealing to actors. It was also strong on themes of race and at that time racism trumped homophobia. Perhaps it still does. Perhaps you can’t even compare the two as I don’t think you can. They represent separate histories, separate fights, separate aches. The Academy could do the racism thing back then but they just couldn’t go there wholly with Brokeback Mountain, this because many of them refused to see it. The same fate was awaiting 12 Years a Slave if voters hadn’t put their might behind a film that would mean more than just the usual “like” button being clicked. So good for them – I feel confident that if they saw 12 Years they would be more than proud of their vote, just as if they’d seen Brokeback Mountain they would have seen one of the most richly told and moving stories of 2005.

Looking back on it now I can see how it would have been too confrontational for them, even though as confrontation goes Brokeback is easy on the eye. It was a year I will never forget, however, one that changed the way I saw the Oscars. The thing I remember most about it was Kenneth Turan’s op-ed in the LA Times the following morning, which follows this post.

But that year wasn’t just Brokeback vs. Crash. It was also the year many of us proclaimed Munich the film to beat before it was even finished. It was the year we all learned (or some of us learned) the lesson about determining a winner sight unseen. Critics and audiences wanted Munich to be a different movie than it turned out to be. But watch it again. It is a lot better than you remember, I bet.

Capote is a magnificent work – a perfect film, with one of the best performances by an actor – EVER. Philip Seymour Hoffman WAS Truman Capote. But the film also captured much of the mystery and haunting tragedy that lingers even now with the murder of the Clutter family.

And finally, George Clooney’s best film, Good Night, and Good Luck – a movie we should all watch every year to remind ourselves what journalism is supposed to mean. Also Clooney’s ambition only went unrewarded because it was going up against such magnificent films.

And so that is why Crash gets a bad wrap – not just for beating Brokeback Mountain in an 11th hour shocker. But for beating Capote, Munich, and Good Night, and Good Luck. They are all five good movies – but this was a year like 1976 – Rocky is still remembered and appreciated, but it will never be All the President’s Men. It will never be Network.

Ang Lee, by the way, is now John Ford on the eve of How Green Was My Valley beating Citizen Kane. Ford had won two Oscars for directing but had yet to win Best Picture along with those.

What questions might you have? We’ll be recording some time soon.

`Brokeback’ dreams crash and burn as the academy’s voters play it safe
{THE OSCARS} | CRITIC’S NOTEBOOK
March 06, 2006|Kenneth Turan | Times Staff Writer

SOMETIMES you win by losing, and nothing has proved what a powerful, taboo-breaking, necessary film “Brokeback Mountain” was more than its loss Sunday night to “Crash” in the Oscar best picture category.

Despite all the magazine covers it graced, despite all the red-state theaters it made good money in, despite (or maybe because of) all the jokes late-night talk show hosts made about it, you could not take the pulse of the industry without realizing that this film made a number of people distinctly uncomfortable.

More than any other of the nominated films, “Brokeback Mountain” was the one people told me they really didn’t feel like seeing, didn’t really get, didn’t understand the fuss over. Did I really like it, they wanted to know. Yes, I really did.

In the privacy of the voting booth, as many political candidates who’ve led in polls only to lose elections have found out, people are free to act out the unspoken fears and unconscious prejudices that they would never breathe to another soul, or, likely, acknowledge to themselves. And at least this year, that acting out doomed “Brokeback Mountain.”

For Hollywood, as a whole laundry list of people announced from the podium Sunday night and a lengthy montage of clips tried to emphasize, is a liberal place, a place that prides itself on its progressive agenda. If this were a year when voters had no other palatable options, they might have taken a deep breath and voted for “Brokeback.” This year, however, “Crash” was poised to be the spoiler.

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 may be true, as producer Cathy Schulman said in accepting the Oscar for best picture, that this was “one of the most breathtaking and stunning maverick years in American history,” but “Crash” is not an example of that.

I don’t care how much trouble “Crash” had getting financing or getting people on board; the reality of this film, the reason it won the best picture Oscar, is that 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. It is, in some ways, a feel-good film about racism, a film you could see and feel like a better person, a film that could make you believe that you had done your moral duty and examined your soul, when in fact you were just getting your buttons pushed and your preconceptions reconfirmed.

So for people who were discomfited by “Brokeback Mountain” but wanted to be able to look at themselves in the mirror and feel as if they were good, productive liberals, “Crash” provided the perfect safe harbor. They could vote for it in good conscience, vote for it and feel they had made a progressive move, vote for it and not feel that there was any stain on their liberal credentials for shunning what “Brokeback” had to offer. And that’s exactly what they did.

“Brokeback,” it is worth noting, was in some ways the tamest of the discomforting films available to Oscar voters in various categories. Steven Spielberg’s “Munich”; the Palestinian territories’ “Paradise Now,” one of the best foreign language nominees; and the documentary nominee “Darwin’s Nightmare” offered scenarios that truly shook up people’s normal ways of seeing the world. None of them won a thing.

Hollywood, of course, is under no obligation to be a progressive force in the world. It is in the business of entertainment, in the business of making the most dollars it can. Yes, on Oscar night it likes to pat itself on the back for the good it does in the world, but as Sunday night’s ceremony proved, it is easier to congratulate yourself for a job well done in the past than to actually do that job in the present.

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“A lot of people say this town is too liberal, out of touch with mainstream America … ,” Stewart said. “I don’t really have a joke here. I just thought you should know a lot of people are saying that.” Clooney’s riposte: “This group of people gave Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1939 when blacks were still sitting in the backs of theaters. I’m proud to be a part of this academy … and proud to be out of touch.”