Thursday, March 17, 2011

Best Picture of 2005

There is a contingent of Oscar pundits who consider the result of the 2005 Best Picture race as the Academy's worst decision in its storied history. Indeed, there are plenty who rank Crash as the worst film to have claimed the prestigious title. Of course, there will always be contrarians, for the Academy will never please all of the people all of the time. Besides, there is no real evidence to suggest that their 2005 decision was any more unpopular with the general public than any other year. Yet that myth persists. Comparing the public opinion of Crash with its main competitor, Brokeback Mountain, yields fairly even results. Brokeback Mountain clearly won the battle for the box office, yet Crash boasts a slightly higher score on IMDb's user ratings. (In fact, it just squeezes into IMDb's Top 250.) Over at Rotten Tomatoes, Brokeback Mountain scores higher with the critics, but Crash remains the victor with the audience. So, perhaps this particular contest garnered more attention because of the controversial accusations of the Academy's homophobia. Why else would they have snubbed Brokeback Mountain after it had won the Best Picture award at almost every other ceremony that season? But if that were really the case, it would never have received so many nominations in the first place, let alone won three awards, including a Best Director gong for Ang Lee. In any case, it is certainly not rare for an awards season darling to surrender the Oscar to another film. I say all this not only in defense of the Academy, but also to concede that I am respectfully content with their decision ... Whether it matches my own, however, I am yet to decide...

The nominees for Best Picture of 2005 are:
  • Brokeback Mountain
  • Capote
  • Crash
  • Good Night, and Good Luck.
  • Munich
Interestingly, the list of 2005 contenders is not as diverse as in so many other years. The five films are all intense dramas that deal with some rather serious issues - murder, racism, terrorism, political scare-mongering. I suppose only Brokeback Mountain bucks the trend with its complex love story, but even so, it still spends plenty of time exploring the homophobic atmosphere of its setting, which puts it back in line with the other serious-issue nominees.

Both Capote and Good Night, and Good Luck feature superb performances, not only by their lead actors, but also by their talented ensembles. However, a verdict must be made, so rather unfairly, I will remove these two from the running first for the unjustifiably petty reason that their issues are "smaller" than those of the other pictures. The often gripping Munich will also exit the competition, mostly due to the gear shift it experiences in its final act.

And so the contest is boiled down yet again to Brokeback Mountain and Crash. As I write this, I still can't separate them. Crash's flaws are almost entirely forgotten by its barrage of scenes depicting devastatingly life-changing events for its characters. And those scenes are so powerful that I'm still considering ignoring the film's lack of realism and awarding it my top prize anyway. Brokeback's flaws - namely, the fact that the four leads are simply unbelievable as forty year olds - are minor in comparison to Crash's unrealistic contrivances, yet Brokeback's emotional impact, while potent, is outweighed by the other film's.

For the first time, I'm seriously considering announcing a tie. But that would be weak. Therefore, I will bite the bullet and recognise that my head is in a losing battle to my heart. No matter how hard my head fights against it, my heart clearly wants to award my meaningless Best Picture prize to Crash, and so it is done. Another match with the Academy.

Best Picture of 2005
Academy's choice:


Matt's choice:


Your choice:

You may voice your opinion in the poll above (or in the comments below) and I am especially interested in these results, so make sure to vote. Time now to venture back to the 1970s where we will look at a shortlist that includes several films that have cemented a place in popular culture.

And the nominees for Best Picture of 1973 are:
  • American Graffiti
  • Cries and Whispers
  • The Exorcist
  • The Sting
  • A Touch of Class
Stay tuned...


  1. Well Matt, after a few years of differences of opinion, we are back to seeing eye to eye for the most part.
    The only nominated film from this strong year that I would not have included is Munich. In its place I would have chosen A History of Violence. As I mentioned previously, Munich would still be a top 10 choice. Others joining it would be the popular Batman Begins and a personal favorite, Sin City. I'd also include Walk the Line and Downfall. Pride & Prejudice was a fine remake, but I still prefer the definitive 1995 mini-series.

    As for the remaining four films, my rankings are:
    4. Capote
    3. Good Night and Good Luck
    2. Brokeback Mountain
    1. Crash

    While I believe Crash has some legitimate detractors who just didn't buy into the screenplay and its coincidental structure, I also think it suffered from a backlash of Brokeback Mountain supporters who passionately felt their choice was a landmark film, clearly the most critically acclaimed of 2005. However, as we saw this past year, the most critically awarded movie doesn't necessarily jibe with the views of the AMPAS members. I thought both were very fine films, but Crash was clearly the film I enjoyed the most. It still remains the only Best Picture winner that takes place in Los Angeles.

    1973 will offer more diverse contenders: a classic horror film, a somber art film in a foreign tongue, a classic caper film, a coming-of-age comedy and a throwback to the romantic comedies of the golden age.

    Speaking of Crash, my six year old computer has been showing signs of doing just that, so I purchased a new one and will make the switch early next week. Hopefully I'll be up and running for the next round of discussion.

  2. Ugh! First, Mike, Million Dollar Baby won best picture the year before crash and it is also set in Los Angeles. And you wrote that "However, as we saw this past year, the most critically awarded movie doesn't necessarily jibe with the views of the AMPAS members." This is very true and I can think of Sideways and L.A. Confidential as other examples, but there is a huge difference. The year those two films were up, as well as Social Network, the guilds which comprise members of the ampas voting body also went for King's Speech, Million Dollar Baby and Titanic, the ampas winner. The year Brokeback was up the guilds went for Brokeback Mountain, not crash. A huge and distinct difference. In fact, at that time, Brokeback Mountain was the first film to have won the Producer's, Director's and writer's guild awards and not gone on to win ampas's best picture award. That year became the first year ever, without reason, that ampas Best Picture award went to a film that had not been nominated for best filmby the Golden Globes. In fact, ALL of the general rules that are used to prognosticate what will win best picture were broken that year and it happens to be the year a gay themed film was the undeniable favorite to win? And homophobia wasn't invovled? It's not a myth as Matt suggests.

    Matt, you write about the imdb board and rottten tomatoes perceptions of crash and Brokeback Mountain as evidence of a public acceptance of crash as at least an acceptable choice among viewers for best picture. I would say that, at least the imdb boards, are evidence of homophobia. I've never seen that much vitriol from imdb board geeks as when crash won over Brokeback Mountain. It was like their manhood had been vindicated or something. In any poll that was done they converged ike vultures to vote for crash when no one had even talked about that film much at all in the previous 7-8 months it had been in the theaters. If you say that you are content with ampas's decision then you are content with homophobia, because there is ample evidence, both actual and circumstantial that played a part in crash winning ampas's best film choice that year.

    As for the assumption that it wasn't homophobia because it garnered the most nominations and won three of them, we are talking about the best picture race, not any of the other awards. The Best Picture is the film that represents ampas to the country and there were enough members that clearly were uncomfortable with BBM representing them with Best Picture that they voted for what they perceived as an acceptable substitute. In a field of five, it only takes 20% + 1 vote to win.

    More than your decision to cast your vote for crash as best picture, your denial that homophobia wasn't a reason that BBM lost ampas's award is more disturbing to me, but maybe that's why you chose crash.

  3. Martin, I apologise if I have offended you, but I must take umbrage at your accusation that I am content with homophobia. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am a staunch advocate of gay rights and find any form of homophobia to be abhorrent.

    I feel I have been clear on this blog about the high regard in which I hold Brokeback Mountain. I enjoyed the film immensely and found it very moving. My reasons for not selecting it as my official favourite are devoid of any sinister motives and the explanation for that decision, as laid out in the above post, is genuine.

    Film is art. Art is subjective. Some people will like a film. Others won't. Some will prefer one film over another. Others will feel the opposite. To suggest that the only reason someone could prefer Crash over Brokeback Mountain is due to latent homophobia is entirely unfounded. I don't doubt that there are some bigoted film-goers who feel that way, but it seems unlikely that every single one of the tens of thousands of IMDb users who gave Crash a favourable rating would fall into that category.

    Yes, Brokeback won the PGA, DGA and WGA awards (Crash also won a WGA award, by the way). Yes, Crash wasn't even nominated for a Golden Globe (neither were Gandhi, Chariots of Fire or The Sting, by the way). But this series of events is not as wildly unprecedented as it may seem. If we look at the history of those 3 guilds together with the Globes, we notice that Million Dollar Baby won Best Picture after only winning the DGA award and nothing else. Braveheart won Best Picture after only winning one of the WGA awards and nothing else, which is the exact same scenario as Crash! It's rare, but it happens. Also, it is worth taking into account the American Cinema Editors awards, which are also often cited as a relatively accurate Best Picture indicator. In 2005, ACE gave their Dramatic category to Crash.

  4. But none of these statistical analyses make any difference, because even if you could somehow definitively prove that the statistics favoured Brokeback Mountain as the eventual Oscar winner, we still can't speculate as to the reasons why AMPAS voters decided to vote otherwise. Maybe some of them were homophobic. Maybe some of them couldn't stand Jake Gyllenhaal. Maybe some of them were in love with Sandra Bullock. Maybe some of them genuinely liked Crash better. The point is that suggesting that homophobia was the ONLY reason for Crash's victory is merely an assumption. There are far too many AMPAS members to claim that they all think exactly alike.

    Also, in a field of five films, 20% + 1 vote does not necessarily guarantee victory. Since the Academy doesn't release the final numbers, we can't know for sure how many votes each nominee received. However, it is perfectly conceivable that Capote, Munich and Good Night collectively received a negligible number of votes, totalling, say, 10% of the membership. That leaves Brokeback and Crash to battle it out with the other 90% of the membership, requiring at least 45% for victory. That is, of course, an entirely hypothetical example, but I think it at least illustrates the unlikelihood that Crash won with only 20% of the vote.

    But even if that were the case, AMPAS consisted of just under 6,000 members during the 2005 awards voting period. 20% of that number is about 1,200. Again, it is utterly unfounded to suggest that at least 1,200 people all voted for the exact same prejudiced reason. Nor do I find it convincing that so many voters would be bigoted enough to vote against Brokeback for Best Picture, but would still be fine with allowing it to receive 8 nominations (the most that year) and 3 other wins. If a vast contingent of AMPAS members were truly homophobic, they would have snubbed Brokeback Mountain in a lot more ways than just denying it the Best Picture Oscar.

    Martin, I appreciate your comments and acknowledge that this is a controversial issue. Please understand that I respect your opinion and I sincerely hope that I have not offended you in any way.


  5. Martin, you absolutely right about Million Dollar Baby being set in Los Angeles. I don't know how I missed that one.

    I would however point out that one Guild, The SAG, did give Crash its best ensemble Award, which is usually considered their "best picture" award. While not the prognosticator that the DGA is, it has matched the Academy's Best Picture 6 times out of the last 10 years.

  6. I personally thought Munich was great piece of cinema, it remains one of the most underrated films even after being nominated for Best Picture. Brokeback I found boring to the core, it looked great, but it just felt like the longest movie ever, and I'm Indian so I'm used to 3+ hour movies ;-)