Top 10 Film Industry Stories of 2006 #3:
Crash Wins Best Picture over Brokeback Mountain

By David Mumpower

January 2, 2007

Strange. She doesn't look very happy about the news.

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The movie made its debut at the Toronto Film Festival in September of 2004. There was some positive buzz, but nothing much was expected of this sleepy little Lionsgate release. On March 12th of 2005, Crash entered theaters for the first times. 175 exhibitions quietly earned $372,000. Since it had missed Oscars season, there was little hope for it to behave like end-of-year platform releases. This intense exploration of racial tensions in Los Angeles was simply too insider to do well across the country. Analysts were certain of this. Crash would make respectable business due to its big name cast, but it would be long forgotten by the time the 2005 awards season rolled around. Academy Awards contenders simply do not receive releases in March. Conventional wisdom says so and there are a significant enough number of historical examples of this to support the claim.

As December began, that wisdom held. Brokeback Mountain won more often than the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls. At the start of January, there was not a single respectable Oscars analyst willing to stick their neck out to say that anything would possibly beat Ang Lee's gay cowboy juggernaut. There was simply no empirical data supporting such a conclusion. And no one in their right mind would believe that a movie that had been available on DVD since September 6th of 2005 was going to say in the public conscience all the way through March. There was nothing going for the project. It had made less money than any Best Picture winner in over 15 years; moreover, only the Chicago Film Critics Association had honored it as the best of the year. When Roger Ebert stuck his neck out for the group and said that Crash was the best movie of the year, everyone wrote off his comments as an aging critic's further demonstration that he had lost touch with not just mainstream America but also Hollywood itself. Except that he was right.


Despite the fact that Crash had won only two other Academy Awards at the moment the Best Picture category was announced, Paul Haggis and Cathy Schulman found themselves unexpectedly standing in front of the podium on March 5, 2006, offering their sincere thanks to the Academy for a stunning upset. Not since Shakespeare in Love had such a stunning change of events occurred in the Best Picture vote. Crash used a landmark marketing campaign of mailing a DVD screener to each and every member of the Academy to re-gain long lost buzz. The end result was that voters were given an equally political Plan B if they were uncomfortable voting for Brokeback Mountain. This enabled a lot of people to still feel politically correct without overtly endorsing the more controversial Ang Lee work. In what was rumored to be one of the closest votes ever, Hollywood decided to preaching against racism was better than preaching against sexual preference.

Crash, the little movie from March, only made $54.6 million in theaters and only won two major end-of-year awards, but one of them was the biggest of them all. Brokeback Mountain made $30 million more and won virtually every other major award for movie of the year, but it did not win the one that mattered. This was a victory result the likes of which is generally reserved for 12 seeds in the NCAA basketball tournament.



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