Paul Haggis’s Crash (2004) was well-received upon its release. It has a 74% on Rotten Tomatoes, was Roger Ebert’s favorite film of the year, earned the SAG award for Best Ensemble, won several Best Original Screenplay awards (including the Writers Guild prize and Academy Award), and (most notoriously) won Best Picture at the 2005 Academy Awards.
It was certainly a surprise win, over the perceived front-runner Brokeback Mountain, which had won many more Best Film awards throughout the season, and overall seemed the critical darling. Brokeback not winning Best Picture is often considered one of the great oversights of the Academy Awards, while Crash winning is a huge mistake.
I have never felt this way. Crash has always been the superior film to me.
It is a sweeping, all-encompassing look at prejudice, miscommunication, and connection in modern-day Los Angeles. Characters from all different walks of life come into conflict and collision with one another, and we experience the full human spectrum from the lowest and most deplorable acts to genuine humanity and compassion. At times, it feels exploitative, playing off historically institutional racism, and how systemic forces maintain the status quo of inequality and oppression. But it’s also not wrong in the portrayal of these systems as monstrous behemoths, leaving the individual feeling powerless and ill-equipped to surmount them.
It’s a movie that gets a strong reaction from audiences, and it’s not afraid to lay its cards on the table. Issues of inequality and prejudice are, frankly, most of the characters talk about, and all the action is linked to this central conflict of a lack of empathy and connection within such a densely populated community as Los Angeles. This thesis permeates all the action that transpires in the film which, for better or worse, has something to say.
I don’t know if Brokeback Mountain does. Set in the 1960s and 70s, it examines the connection and eventual love that grows between two mid-west sheep ranchers who work together one summer, and find a way to stay in each other’s lives even as they marry, have kids, and build lives away from one another. Their love truly sprouts out of nowhere, and it’s supposed to be the central through-line carrying the film. This unfortunately makes the ancillary characters and action hard to invest in, knowing it’s not the “main” love story despite the lengthy screen time the side stuff receives. And while it’s certainly noteworthy as an LGBT film that got mainstream appeal, its lack of a real message and tragic ending leave me puzzled as to why this is a movie to remember and revisit. The gay experience in mainstream film is plagued with death sentences, and fewer films seem to have the main characters make it all the way to the end, than the ones that don’t. Is it helpful and a good thing for the community to keep hashing out films in which the hero dies because he’s gay?
The Oscars are important to serve as time capsules, speaking to the culture, politics, and people of their respective eras. Crash feels very 2004 (for good and for bad), and it still resonates today for ongoing problems and discussions worth having. Brokeback Mountain may deserve praise for setting the groundwork for future “mainstream” LGBT films, like the excellent Call Me By Your Name and Love, Simon, but on its own, it doesn’t seem to have an important, purposeful reason to stay in the conversation. If the awards ceremony back in 2005 set you off, I’d suggest revisiting Crash; 2005 and 2019 have a lot in common, and it’s still an important movie.