Defend This $#!%: Crash (2004)
If there is one universal truth from throughout human history, one thing that can connect us all beyond all of the bullshit barriers like politics or religion, one basic fact that is woven into the fabric of what it means to be a conscious, living, breathing, self-aware life form, it's that Crash is an overrated piece of garbage made by a hack that stole the Best Picture Oscar away from the much, much, much more deserving masterpiece that is Brokeback Mountain.
What I'm here to propose is that maybe Crash isn't that bad. Maybe Paul Haggis isn't a racist monster hack that ripped Brokeback Mountain's as-good-as-engraved Oscar right from the hands of the producers. Maybe this emotional movie filled to the brim with great performances from A-list actors with a powerful and relevant message is actually good.
I am not here to disparage Brokeback Mountain too much. For the most part it's a near perfectly acted, well crafted, heartfelt tragic tale of forbidden love. Heath Ledger delivers maybe his greatest performance opposite Jake Gyllenhaal who is also there. The plains, lakes, and mountains are photographed beautifully. It also shattered the stereotype of the overly effeminate gay male, by having the leads be the ideal manly all-American cowboy. It's more than ten years later and that is still frustratingly groundbreaking with shows like The Middle and The Real O'Neal's only seeking to reinforce it.
I can't really praise Crash too much either. It's melodramatic to the point of ridiculousness and very in your face. The main question is, what is wrong with being blatant? Every message that it wants to convey is said directly. There is no questioning what the movie is about. Everyone is racist, racism is incredibly complicated and bad. Hate breeds hate, but at the end of the day we are all human. Is subtlety really that much more valuable as a storytelling technique, that Crash is considered bad and Brokeback Mountain good due to it, even though they both boil down to the same theme of injustice? I guess that that comes down to personal taste. For my money, films are a visual medium above a storytelling medium, so being as explicit as possible is usually the right way to go.
I'd argue that the most disgusting scene in Brokeback Mountain, where Jack Twist is brutally murdered in a hate crime, is played off flippantly. It happens in eight seconds with quick cuts and distracting voiceover. There is the argument that this is happening in Ennis's imagination and Jack really did die in the accident that his wife describes, but for the sake of this article let's just assume the former is true. It lets you off the hook instead of making you witness the tragedy in order to make you tear up rather than face the music. What could have been a horrifying, thought provoking reality is forgotten soon after.
Crash does not have this problem. Every racial epithet and stereotype there is is thrown in your face over and over again. It's uncomfortable. It's disheartening. It's exaggerated, but it is real. You aren't crying during the opening scene of Selma. You don't have time to. When the young girls are exploded through the air in slow motion due to an act of white supremacist terrorism on a black church, you are stunned and disgusted. That really happened. Playing the moment out rather than shying away is the simplest way to make sure the audience understands the gravity of the situation. The loss of life is calculable, not just a moment in a movie to bring a tear to your eye.
So, did Crash particularly deserve its Best Picture win over Brokeback Mountain? I don't know. It just comes down to what style of filmmaking you prefer. Brokeback is boring at times, but offers a compelling love story and some great "why can't I be there?" visuals. Crash is downright dumb at times, but never boring and remains arguably the most diverse picture to win the top honors in all 89 years of the Academy Awards. Both feel like big Hollywood productions, and both present socially relevant themes with heightened moments perfectly tuned to make you cry your eyes out.
Wait... Good Night, and Good Luck was nominated against them that year? Yeah that should have won.