Monday, March 06, 2006

Oscar Gets It Right

In what is being dubbed a major upset at the Oscars, the movie Crash beat out favorite Brokeback Mountain to win best picture. Even to a casual observer like myself, this is a surprise. Brokeback Mountain seemed to be one of “those” movies, critically acclaimed, culturally significant and artfully made—the kind of movie known as “film.” The kind of movie Oscar likes to reward once a decade or so as a kind of penance for its usual habit of giving the award to box office schlock like Chicago, Gladiator and Titanic.

Of course, Crash also meets the critically acclaimed, culturally significant criteria. Perhaps even more so. While Brokeback Mountain became known as the “gay Cowboy movie” it was really just an interesting and timely twist on the old story of forbidden love. Crash, on the other hand, was about race. That’s not just its theme, that’s its plot synopsis. And in a year that Hollywood seemed almost desperate to remind us that they still matter, what better movie to award Best Picture than the one that unapologetically tackled a story centered around America’s greatest asset and its greatest cause of friction?

I could easily bash Hollywood for being pretentious, moralizing and elitist. After all, most movies with such a blatant theme are horrid. But the thing is, I enjoyed Crash. In fact, it is one of the best movies I’ve seen in the last few years. Rather than being moralizing, it is contemplative and layered, the characters real and multi-dimensional. And race is not depicted as just an identity or an obstacle. It’s given a far more sincere treatment, a much more authentic representation.

In the end, Crash lives and breaths not in the two-dimensional rhetoric of racial politics, but in the very real grays of America where racism exists among all races but where race is, even to the most racist, only one factor in life—a frame of reference much more than a frame of existence. In this nation, we are often defined by race and yet we also transcend race. Crash does a superb job of making that point while still telling an engaging even gripping story.

I’m sure others will disagree, but I think the Oscars got this one right. The best films, like great art, must be able to hold deeper meanings. Crash does that better than any movie I’ve seen in quite awhile.

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