Many Oscar winners and nominations for Best Picture have been subject to debate and some people argue that the Academy's decision comes down to a 'flavour of the year' attitude. Crash is a film that has sparked much controversy among film critcs after winning Best Picture in 2005. As a film buff I subscribe to both Empire and Sight and Sound magazines but do not pay attention to the reviews; essentially, it is down to personal opinion whether a film is worthy of praise or not. After finally watching Crash on Monday, I believe that it was most worthy of winning the Oscar over the other nominations: Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Good Night, and Good Luck and Munich.
When I initially heard about Crash I conciously avoided it. I remember the advertising campaign when the film was released and did not realise the film would be socially concious and concentrate on such an important and relevant issue. From what I gathered, the film was just another star-studded crime thriller. Considering this, it is interesting to trace the history of Best Picture winners. Past winners including The Godfather and The Departed are not films that delve into societal issues and impact life outside of the cinema, they are just well shot crime dramas with an epic twist. Personally, I believe that a truly brilliant film should explore themes like a good book but portray them uniquely in the way that only moving image can. Crash applies to this as it is not only slickly shot, it also explores the lives of a mixture of ethnicities while elaborating on two themes: Race and redemption.
Crash is not a film that overtly intends to seek viewing pleasure. It does not offer escapism to the viewer; it rather presents an uncomfortable reality. Saying this, while watching the film I was thoroughly engaged with the story and found the film enjoyable thanks to the slick cinematography and straight-talking dialogue. It can be argued that these things simply gloss over the serious nature of the film but I felt it was very refreshing to see all the conventions of a Hollywood blockbuster applied to a story that is stereotypical of independent filmmaking. There is an air of sophistication in Crash; it may not portray reality in all its grit but issues are presented accessably to the viewer via a variety of ways. However, this aspect of viewer manipulation has caused much of the debate in relation to Crash's success.
This argument is exemplified in Scott Foundas's response to film critic Roger Ebert's Crash review. While Ebert praised director Paul Haggis in potentially making his audience better people by moving them to "have a little more sympathy for people not like themselves", Foundas (from LA) believes that Haggis doesn't accurately reflect the city of Los Angeles. He sarcastically comments that he has "made lots of meaningful connections with others, none of which have been the result of a car accident" and unlike Ebert's praising of realistic characters, Foundas beleives that the characters in Crash are calculated, "plugged by Haggis into a schematic thesis about how we are all, in the course of any given day, the perpetrators and the victims of some racial prejudice." To some extent this is true, but Foundas fails to see the positive implications of presenting people in this light, especially in terms of progression and changing one's beliefs. I agree with Ebert that the strongest performance in Crash is by Matt Dillon, playing the racist cop John who is in anguish over his father. However, Foundas simply describes his story as "A white racist cop sexually assaults a black woman, then the next day saves her life." While watching the scene where he saves her from the burning flames, I initially held the same pessimistic view but I reminded myself that the film is not just about racism, it's about redemption and how situations are not always as black and white as they seem; people should look beyond what is presented before them. In regards to whether Haggis's manipulation with audience expectations has positive or negative implications, the only way to find out is to watch the film again, not distracted by the unpredictable heart-string pulling scenes or the slick cinematography.