Oscars Controversies: In Defense of “Crash” (2004)

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.



This blog post is part of the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon 2019 hosted by Aurora’s Gin Joint, Outspoken & Freckled, and Paula’s Cinema Club. Check out the full lineup here!

Six Feet Under (2001-2005)

I have never seen a TV series as emotionally devastating, and perhaps as satisfying, as HBO’s Six Feet Under.

Over the past year or so, I have worked my way through five seasons with the Fischer family, who run a funeral home in Los Angeles. As can be expected with a series with such content, it is often very grim and filled with heavy thematic material. In addition to death, we are often confronted with issues of intrafamily conflict, drug abuse and addiction, terminating pregnancies, infidelity, incest, and everything in between. For a show this serious in tone, it certainly earns its chops.

While it does balance these themes with glimpses of humor and fantasy, the show is mostly a realistic but wholly human drama. Six Feet Underdoes not try to take the easy way out of any storyline or reduce its wonderfully developed characters to caricature. The artistic, liberal daughter surprises herself by falling in love with a conservative lawyer. The uptight mother occasionally literally lets her hair down and barrels through bottles of wine and drug experimentation. The list goes on and on.

This show is so special and so extraordinary because it fosters these characters who are consistent yet surprising; this is a difficult balance that most shows do not achieve, and do it convincingly. Over a mere sixtysomething episodes, this family does become alive to us, and makes the finale that much more heartbreaking.

The series finale is easily the most emotionally traumatic episode of television I’ve ever seen. Hands down. The loss of the “main” character Nate (even though all the Fischers, and then some, are essential to the show) was devastating enough, but watching the deaths of all of the family and those we the audience have come to love has upset me in a way no other television, or maybe artistic work period, has. THAT, however, is the hallmark of great television. It transcended the line between what is fiction and made it real to the viewer, overcoming the nearly impossible challenge all art faces.

I initially became interested in Six Feet Under because creator Alan Ball also made the excellent HBO series True Blood, and I am so happy I put in the effort. He has given us a wonderfully ambitious series, that meets and surpasses any expectations of a show that tackles death on a weekly basis.This is a series that often challenges and provokes the meaning of life and what we can do to make our short time on Earth worthwhile. It does not try to offer any easy answers and it does not condescend its audience to teach us any lessons. What it does do, very effectively, is present us a five-year window into the lives of a family that we can’t help but see ourselves in, and forces us to re-examine our own lives and how to make the most of what we have. This is one of the few TV series I can call important and even essential viewing.