a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Monday, March 06, 2006

Today's Eye-Rolling Conspiracy Theory....

Film critic Kenneth Turan has an article in today's LA Times, in which he blames Brokeback Mountain's not winning Best Picture on homophobia by the voters.

Writes Turan, "In the privacy of the voting booth... people are free to act out the unspoken fears or unconscious prejudices that they would never breathe to another soul, or, likely, acknowledge to themselves. And at least this year, that acting out doomed Brokeback Mountain."

Of course, some obvious flaws in this argument quickly emerge. Voters certainly weren't against the movie (or homosexuality) enough not to vote Ang Lee best director, or the film best screenplay, or Philip Seymour Hoffman best actor for playing a gay man in Capote.

But it's when you read deeper into the article that the reasons for Kenneth Turan's take become clear --

Kenneth Turan HATED Crash. HATED it.

And in Kenneth Turan's mind, the only possible way that Crash could have won, is because homophobic voters who didn't vote for Brokeback Mountain defaulted to Crash instead.

Writes Turan, "For people who were discomfited by Brokeback Mountain but wanted to look at themselves in the mirror, and feel as if they were good, productive liberals, "Crash" provided the perfect safe harbor. They could vote for it in good conscience, vote for it and feel they had made a progressive move, vote for it and not feel that there was any stain on their liberal credentials for shunning what "Brokeback" had to offer. And that's what they did."


I have a real hard time believing that when the average Academy voter sits down to fill out their ballot, they aren't simply voting for something they liked.

And if one wants to credit the idea that voters would shift their votes away from Brokeback Mountain to another well-meaning movie, wouldn't the more logical choice have been "Goodnight and Good Luck"? Especially if you believe that Crash sucked? Goodnight and Good Luck is an almost universally-acclaimed movie that has none of that pesky LA racism; instead, it's filled with good people doing good, brave things. THAT would have been the safe harbor choice.

In fact, one could easily argue that more voters were uncomfortable with the portrayal of LA being rife with racism, and that many of them would have more logically shifted their vote to the safe, well-reviewed Brokeback Mountain.

(By the way, I don't have a horse in this race. Brokeback Mountain, Crash, Capote and Goodnight and Good Luck were all on my top ten list for the year.)

When you try to make sweeping generalizations about a group of people, you're just asking for trouble. Were there voters who didn't vote for Brokeback Mountain because they are homophobic? Probably. Was it a substantial amount? Probably not.

The amazing thing about Crash is that it won despite the fact that a lot of people totally hate it. It's one of the most divisive movies I can remember.

If you ask the people who have seen Brokeback Mountain to rate it from one to ten, even the people who don't think it is great will give it at least a 5 or a 6.

Crash pretty much splits people down the middle. It seems like either you think it was a 9 or a 10, or a 1. The people it didn't work for (and I can sort of see their side of it) see it as contrived and manipulative, or criticize it by claiming that it is trying to make you feel better about yourself because you aren't as bad as the people in the movie.

Still, even if only 30% of the Academy voters thought Crash was the best movie of the year, and 70% thought it sucked ass, that still would have been enough to easily win the vote. The count could well have been:

30% Crash
25% Brokeback Mountain
20% Goodnight and Good Luck
15% Capote
10% Munich

What this all points up is just how flawed the Oscars are. Winners don't need a clear majority, while criteria for victory is vague at best, particularly in the acting categories.

They are chosen by a group of people who can be easily derided as having conflicts of interest (though they probably don't), or can even be described as being massively homophobic -- despite the fact that Hollywood is one of the most gay-friendly businesses in the world.

They are the faceless mass known as "Hollywood", who are continually credited for giving people awards or not for particular reasons, when in reality they never do anything for any one reason.

My conspiracy theory? Maybe people were just choosing what they thought was the best movie of the year.

Oh well. At least Salma Hayek looked hot.


At 2:57 PM, Blogger taZ said...

"Oh well. At least Salma Hayek looked hot." And that's all that matters.

No but seriously, I agree with you and disagree with Turan. I think this years Oscars was pretty decent and fair.

At 3:00 PM, Anonymous cwmagee said...

I thought Crash was a solid 5.5. The clever bits slightly outweighed the annoying parts. I'm not sure how a person could see only one or the other, though...

At 4:38 PM, Blogger Danny Stack said...

I think the people who made Crash tried to make a genuine and interesting film and because of its themes, the media jumped on it and declared it a triumph but then the audience goes to see it and are miffed because of the hype. To paraphrase Quentin Tarantino on certain public and critical backlash: "I never said I was the saviour of cinema. I never said I was anything. I'm just trying to make good films".

At 4:52 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Not sure I agree with this. Crash didn't get great reviews across the board over here when it first came out; a lot of critics were down on it.

It's just one of those movies that clicks with some people, and doesn't click with others. I don't think either side is wrong, but I also think that if Turan can't understand why someone loves the movie legitmately, then maybe he's out of touch as a film critic.

At 7:35 PM, Blogger Brett said...

I am so glad you said this, cus I couldn;t agree more.

Salma DID look hot.

At 7:35 PM, Anonymous Brabbit McRabbit said...

I don't think it's quite as out there as it sounds. I actually think the Academy picked Crash because they didn't want to risk alienating more of their audience by supporting the pro-gay film. If Brokeback would've won then it would've provided fodder for those who bash Hollywood for its liberal tendencies.

Granted, Crash is still somewhat controversial, but I would contend that racism is a much safer topic these days then homosexuality.

Anyhow, I thought it was interesting that the major statues were spread out among the "important movies" of the year. The Constant Gardener (Weisz), Syriana (Clooney), Brokeback Mountain (director/sp), Walk the Line (Witherspoon), Crash (picture/sp) and Capote (Hoffman) were all rewarded. Of the major critical darlings, only Cinderella Man and Munich went home empty handed.

At 8:52 PM, Blogger writergurl said...

While I'm not in LOVE with "Brokeback", I HATED, and I mean HATED "Crash". I found it too pendantic and hectoring to be enjoyable. Not to mention that it seemed to me to be a "very special" Love Boat episode complete with gaping plot hole and coincidental meeting that used to happen on the Lido deck.

Salma.... mmmmmm

At 10:30 PM, Anonymous chris soth said...

I thought Crash was actually the better movie (sorry WG). Crazy I know. I never even knew I hated gay people...

And my favorite movie is It's a Wonderful I guess I hate...every minority?

The fact is, people vote, and movies are a matter of opinion, right? And how are your prejudices, if you have them NOT gonna influence your vote, and in such an insidious way just seems like a matter of taste, not bigotry?

Hard out here for pimp,


At 11:47 PM, Blogger Erik said...

What this all points up is just how flawed the Oscars are. Winners don't need a clear majority, while criteria for victory is vague at best, particularly in the acting categories.

This is why I think the Academy should use instant run-off balloting. That way people can rank all five choices in order of preference, and something always gets a majority. (It also takes care of that problem where a performer can split the vote against themselves if they get nominated twice.)

At 5:30 AM, Blogger Tom said...

I think what it all comes down to is individuals voting for what they liked, not a group vote. The Academy doesn't vote, the members of the Academy vote. EW had a blind interview with a few members who were regretful that The 40 Year Old Virgin didn't get a Best Picture nom.

Doesn't anyone but me thing Salma's dress had a forced perspective thing going on that gave her one huge right breast? I was leaning over trying to figure it out.

At 5:32 AM, Blogger lad said...

It seemed that people wanted everyone to look at "Brokeback Mountain" as a piece of art and a love story. Now that it didn't when best picture, Turan wants people to vote for it because it was a homosexual story. I believe the Oscar voters saw through the hype and voted for the best film of the year. I believe they used their judgment, and they didn't walk in and make a mindless choice. I couldn't be happier with the Oscars, and I believe that this was a big win for Hollywood.

At 5:33 AM, Blogger Tom said...

Heh...meant to type 'me think' rather than 'me thing'. If I were to read that back in a phony Cockney accent, Eliza Doolittle would slap me for being randy.

At 6:11 AM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said...

There is always an inherent danger when you try to tell someone else why they did something without actually asking them.

We all have conscious and subconscious reasons for liking or disliking things. I know a lot of people who would not like a movie because it starred a certain actor. To me that's crazy.

Lets assume for a fleeting moment that War of the Worlds was phenomenal and it was between it and Brokeback for best picture. What if voters voted for BBM because they didn't like Tom Cruise's off screen antics? Certain prejudices are certainly worse (far worse) than others, but we all have them and they color our world. I personally don't like Westerns. Aside from Unforgiven, as soon as I see a dusty one street town or miles of barren land I just turn off.

The only way I'd agree with the conspiracy theory is if the ballot looked like this:

( ) Brokeback Mountain
(X) Heterosexual Alternative

At 6:17 AM, Blogger Brett said...

Maybe the answer is far less sinister: maybe the columnist had a deadline and was pressed to think of something sure to generate some buzz and attention, so he reached for the always popular "bigot" card. All you have to do is find some person or group who doesn't share your particular viewpoint, then politely and publicly them as racists, or homophobes, or Nazis, or whatever. Great fun. Easy work, too!

Bingo bango, half the room erupts in righteous indignation, you get a flurry of letters and attention (and blog refs), and your editor thinks you're the cat's meow.

And anyone who disagrees with my take on this is quite obviously a seal-clubbing Nazi.
ad homina homina homina B

At 6:20 AM, Blogger Brett said...

"All you have to do is find some person or group who doesn't share your particular viewpoint, then politely and publicly them as racists, or homophobes, or Nazis, or whatever. "

Uh, dropped a verb somewhere. Shoulda been:

"All you have to do is find some person or group who doesn't share your particular viewpoint, then politely and publicly dismiss them as racists, or homophobes, or Nazis, or whatever."

Sometime English me trouble give. Much. Hard is it.
rocket surgeon B

At 7:27 AM, Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

It's comical. Accusing Hollywood of being homophobic.

At 3:27 PM, Anonymous cwmagee said...

Why does all the debate center around the "Oppressometer" aspects of the movies? Reading the blather, you would get the impression that the only difference between the film was the nature of the prejudice that they addressed.

What if hollywood simply prefers plot-based films to character-based ones?

What it if prefers tight structure to organic openness?

What if they prefer an ensemble to a single dominant lead?

The fact is, these two movies went about telling the stories they had to tell in completely different fashions. judging them based on their phobia factor is like chosing between apples and oranges based on their color.

At 8:24 PM, Blogger writergurl said...

Chris, contrary to what you seem to have assumed, I didn't dislike Crash because it was pitted against Brokeback, I simply HATED "Crash". I dislike being lectured (heavyhandedly) to anyone. And to think that it was the "best" is simply (IMHO) absurd. I have told you before (on yur own blog) I didn't think BBM was an ideal movie, it dragged heavily but at least it gave me credit for being intelligent enough to be able to decipher the message, instead of assuming that I needed it beat into me with dialogue that was too on the nose and senseless coincidental "crashes" of people in LA of all places, along with the very hard to swallow... "it's snowing".


At 8:53 PM, Blogger wcmartell said...

Obviously you are a gay-bashing homophobe for even *thinking* that BROKEBACK wasn't the best movie of the year... in fact, the best year of the century!

Nice look at the math behind Oscar winners. The real eye-opener for me was being on film fest juries where the winner is often the film the judges can agree on - and that's often the most bland of the lot. So the best film at Cannes may actually be the least offensive film at Cannes.

Since there's no run-off elections in the Oscars, the winner may have only had *one* vote more than the #2 movie.

And a note to Ken I-hate-James-Cameron Turan: In the privacy of a voting booth - I vote my heart and mind, not what others want me to vote... that's after I jerk off.

At 10:53 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Rodio said...

That whole article is ridiculous. It's a freakin vote, and I bet Brokeback just barely missing getting Best Pic.

It's not like it's 5 people in a room saying "Okay, we'll give Ang Lee Best Director and we'll throw Crash Best Picture...."

Maybe at the end of the day they just didn't get emotionally invested in Brokeback, and maybe it won the awards it should have won (I would have liked to have seen Michelle Williams or Heath get some Oscar love though).

Maybe they couldn't invest in the story of 2 people turning their backs and lying to their families, eventually ruining them all, and instead went with something that made them think and empathize and get angered by.

In reality, neither Crash nor Brokeback were the "best" in my opinion. The fact that Jarhead got NO nominations (not even for acting or cinematography), along with The Squid & The Whale (it only got one nom I think) and Good Night/Luck all going home empty-handed just plain sucks anyway.

At 12:08 AM, Blogger Mac said...

Is that silly voting method seriously the way the Oscars are done?

Wow. I knew it was used for American politics, but I figured for serious use like the Oscars, they'd use a decent voting system.

The main problem with that voting method is that two similar political parties (or movies) will take votes away from each other. That's why countries that are serious about being democratic tend to use 'Instant Runoff' or 'Preferencial' voting.

Consider a simple election between two radical candiates and seven moderates:
* Middle Ground #1 - 10%
* Middle Ground #2 - 10%
* Middle Ground #3 - 10%
* Middle Ground #4 - 10%
* Middle Ground #5 - 10%
* Middle Ground #6 - 10%
* Middle Ground #7 - 10%
* Radical Left - 15%
* Radical Right - 15%

Even though 70% of the voters want a 'middle ground' candidate, using the bizarre US version of voting seems to indicate that the top two candidates are 'Radical Left' & 'Radical Right'.

Preferential / Instant Runoff also avoids the cost of the 'run off' election. It's simple for the votor too - just list the candidates from 1 to 10.

Why doesn't the USA use this for the Oscars and politics ?

(PS: Yes, I realise that Arrow got a Nobel prize for proving that no voting system is perfect. But that's no excuse not to have a good one!)

At 6:40 PM, Blogger Vince DC said...

All this analysis over a simple reality: Crash was a better film. Like it or hate it, it elevated the art of screenwriting. Manipulative? Of course it was! Any memorable film that moves and disturbs will be manipulative. In the end, there may have been some degree of homophobia that cost Brokeback some votes, but Academy members did not bow to PCisim and gave their votes to the most deserving film. That's is, that's all. Good Night and Good Luck.

At 4:36 AM, Blogger Robin Kelly said...

I was more shocked by reading Proulx's comments in the Guardian, Turan's just a critic but she should know better:,,1727309,00.html


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