Oscar Reflection | Best Picture & Best Director from the 78th Academy Awards

Written by Alexander Reams

Crash: 46/100

Brokeback Mountain: 76/100

Venice Film Festival, September 2, 2005. Ang Lee brought a new film to the Lido, entitled Brokeback Mountain, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger, Anne Hathaway, Michelle Williams, and Randy Quaid. Premiering to universal praise, and winning the festival’s top prize, the Golden Lion. This kicked off the Oscar campaign, but also the memes. After the hype from festivals hit the internet, the film became known as the “gay cowboy movie”.

A year prior, Paul Haggis premiered his latest film at the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival, Crash. The film received mostly positive reviews but was not considered an Oscar frontrunner sans the screenplay. The film would mostly go unnoticed until the summer? Yes, Crash was a summer release. Quite surprising given that most Oscar-fare doesn’t begin to roll out until mid-September/ October.

Then Oscar nomination day came, and Brokeback Mountain won the day with 8 nominations, with Crash following close behind with 6, both receiving nominations in the Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor categories, with Crash also receiving a Best Original Screenplay nom. Whereas Brokeback Mountain received a Best Adapted Screenplay nom. 

None of these nominations were really a surprise, especially after Lionsgate took advantage of home media distribution and used that as a major push for Crash. While these other films were slowly rolling out into theatres, Crash was already available to be purchased and seen at home, saving a trip to the theatre for moviegoers. Whereas Brokeback, along with their competition; Capote, Munich, and Good Night, and Good Luck (in both Best Picture and Best Director categories) were all being released in theatres around the same time. 

When you look at where race relations were in America at the time of the release of Crash, one can’t be surprised that the mostly white Academy would want to nominate the film that explored race relations (in the most white-person way possible) for as many awards as possible to make themselves feel good. The film itself is an Altman-ripoff ensemble film, exploring the lives of its incredibly stacked cast. A cast that includes (deep breathe folks),  Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillion, Michael Peña, Jennifer Esposito, Brendan Fraser, Nona Gaye, Terrence Howard, Ludacris, and Thandiwe Newton. Almost everyone here is serviceable, sans Don Cheadle, Matt Dillion, and Brendan Fraser. These 3 men were somehow able to take the very surface-level script by Haggis and Robert Moresco and add depth and reality to their pipe dream aspirations of solving race problems in America. 

When I looked at what inspired Haggis to birth this film, he was carjacked, and what is one of the inciting incidents? Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock are carjacked, except here it is by 2 black men, something the film never lets you forget. This leads to Bullock rationalizing her predetermined prejudices not to be racism because of this incident. Haggis uses the subtlety of a sledgehammer to tell you that even though the white people were carjacked, they deserved it, instead of analyzing the crime through both sides of the story, again, the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

On the flip side, a quiet, moving, decades-spanning romance film sounds right up The Academy’s alley. Until you find out the romance is between- two men. This was during the height of the rumored anti-gay movement within the AMPAS. Considering the New Queer Cinema movement had been exploding within independent films for the past 12ish years, one could assume that The Academy would move with the times and that one could be laughed at greatly for that. These folks have always been at least 20 years behind the times, these are the same people that waited 82 years to award Best Director to a woman (Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker). 

I digress, The Academy was destined to hate this film, even if this checks all of their so-called “boxes”. Even the plot of this film is something to hate, two men fall in love while taking care and driving cattle through the American west over a span of 20 years. Future Scorsese regular Rodrigo Prieto was the DP (Director of Photography) and shot it on gorgeous 35mm film See how much there is to hate? How boring it sounds? No wonder The Academy went against it, even though it won the BAFTA, Critics Choice, Golden Globe, and the PGA award for Best Picture. All precedents that (most) eventual Best Picture winners not only contend but win before winning the big one. 

Upon finally seeing both of these films 15 years after their wins at the Academy Awards in 2006, the hype had died down and I could temper expectations and after seeing both films neither one is deserving of the biggest award in the film industry. Both are tales that squander their potential. Crash could have been a film that actually analyzed the racial problems in America. Thoughtfully presenting ideas that audiences already know, but in a way that only film can present them. Brokeback could have been an intriguing romance that would break hearts all around and instead disappointed me by the lack of care I had for every character. 

Unfortunately the Best Picture and Best Director race that year was not as stacked as it could have been. In a dream year, Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins), Shane Black (Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang), and Terrence Malick (The New World) would have all been nominated in the Best Director category. With films like King Kong and V for Vendetta eking into the Best Picture category. However, this was before the time that the Academy would nominate a film about a giant ape and a film based on a…. comic book? The thought hadn’t even begun to enter the Academy’s mind that a comic book film could be “worthy” of a nomination in their prestigious little club. With the nominations we were given I would give Best Picture and Best Director to Munich (and director Steven Speilberg). However, with the Academy giving Best Picture to Crash we will forever have some of the Internet’s finest jokes and memes at their expense.

Crash Trailer

Crash is currently available to rent and purchase on most major VOD platforms.

Brokeback Mountain Trailer

Brokeback Mountain is currently available to rent and purchase on most major VOD platforms.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Blue Bayou

Written by Patrick Hao

20/100

Sometimes there is a movie that is so embarrassing, you cannot understand how anyone could take it seriously. Blue Bayou is such a movie. By all reports, critical reviews have been receptive to the film tackling the issue of citizenship status of international adoptees brought to the United States before the Child Citizenship Act of 2000. The film received thunderous applause with some pushback from adoptee advocacy groups over the film’s exploitation of these issues. But, for me Blue Bayou is the nadir of handsomely made art films that thinks it has a lot to say but has nothing to say at all.

At the crux of Blue Bayou is a story of Antonio (played by Justin Chon who also wrote and directed), a tattoo artist who was adopted from Korea when he was three years old in New Orleans. His adoption did not necessarily go well as his abusive adopted father led him to being estranged from his new family in America and towards a felonious life stealing motorcycles. Now older, and more mature, Antonio finds it hard to get a well-paying job to support his pregnant wife Kathy (a game Alicia Vikander) and his stepdaughter Jessie (the too cute for her own good Sydney Kowalske).

Problems start boiling over when the buffoonish Jessie’s biological father Ace (Mark O’Brien) and his even more buffoonish partner (Emory Cohen) begin harassing Antonio. Antonio retaliates thus leading to his arrest. During this process, it is discovered that his adopted parents never filed the paperwork for him to gain his citizenship, leading to removal proceedings by ICE – a real problem that is affecting many adopted international adoptees. His solutions are minimal.

All of this makes for great fodder to chew on. There is intergenerational angst, immigration issues, the pitfalls of bureaucratic government, police brutality, and the meaning of being American. The results, however, are a product of a really insecure filmmaker with something to prove. Justin Chon, whose previous directorial efforts include the interesting works in Gook and Ms. Purple, feels very lost in the material. He knows this is an important story, but it becomes clear that he was not the one to tell it.

Everything from the writing to Chon’s performance to the filmic style is affected in a way that screams, “pay attention to me.” The film is shot in 16mm with no real purpose other than a way to flex his cinematic bonafides. After the third magic hour montage, it starts losing any real meaning. Chon puts on a thick Cajun accent, which could be powerful in highlighting the disassociation viewers have on Asian Americans, but his performance borders upon “Maine Justice ” levels of big.

The most offensive of all is how all the capital “I” issues have the subtlety of an alligator in a clothing store. From the opening moments when Antonio is asked “Where are you from?” to the last 30-minutes which features a level of coincidences and sudden character shifts, it felt like Chon had no respect for his audience. Rather, he presents these ideas and issues that are so superficial. This is the type of movie in which characters speak in New York Times op-eds.  

The one saving grace is the performance from Linh Dan Pham as Parker. She is a Vietnamese refugee who befriends Antonio as she battles through cancer. While she infuses Parker with interiority that the other characters seem to lack, she too is reduced as a “Manic Pixie Mother Figure.” She waxes poetic about identity, comparing them to the rootless flowers of the Louisiana state flower fleur de lis. Her final moment in the film is guffaw worthy.

Ultimately, Blue Bayou suffers from fetishization of suffering – or as I like to call it “oppression porn.” There is a sense that for a movie to be “Important,” suffering needs to be in the forefront. In reality, it feels like a desperate plea for clout, to appeal to bleeding hearts. With all this talk about Asian American representation in the media, maybe it is great to have a film like Blue Bayou. It is so beautifully misguided in its good intentions that it forgot how to be a movie. Asian Americans need their Crash just as much as they need Shang-Chi.

Blue Bayou Trailer

Blue Bayou is currently screening in theatrical wide release.

You can follow Patrick and his passion for film on Letterboxd and Twitter.