What’s the worst robbery in the history of the Oscars? Easy: It’s Crash winning Best Picture over Brokeback Mountain. Brokeback is one of the most beautiful, lyrical pieces of poetic artwork that was ever disguised as a movie, while Crash is… nothing. It is a badly written/directed party game in which two people of different races are put into a room and forced into conflict. It posits that every single person in LA is a racist except for Ryan Phillipe who is the one who kills a black kid to make some kind of point that maybe we’re all racist or something. Its lessons are absurd, i.e. the happy ending for one set of characters is releasing a bunch of Chinese slave workers onto the streets of LA, freeing them to a wonderful life of homelessness and persecution, instead of taking them to the authorities where they might have a chance of getting home. It’s enough to make you want to go outside, punch cars, and burn the city to the ground.
The happy ending of Crash winning over Brokeback is that today, in 2016, no one talks about Crash anymore outside of conversations about this very topic. Brokeback will be a movie we discuss for as long as cinema continues to exist. Crash will gradually become a footnote, a relic of a time best forgotten. That’s the interesting thing about the Oscars. So many Best Picture winners fade into dust while their fellow nominees stand the test of time.
Consider 2013 and its Best Picture winner, Argo. That movie seemingly existed to coincide with the Oscars. A few months after that year’s ceremony, no one was talking about it. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who watched it in 2015. It has not left any sort of cultural footprint on the movie landscape. It didn’t open the door to a hoard of imitators making Argo-esque movies about similar epic missions with elaborate subterfuge. I couldn’t really describe any particularly ground-breaking scenes in it. The only line I could quote from it is ‘Argo fuck yourself,’ and mostly because it was said eleventy million times in the movie. In a handful of years it will become another relic, simply a pub quiz question about which movie robbed Zero Dark Thirty of its best picture Oscar. If we’re not talking about Zero Dark Thirty in years and years to come, then we’ve failed as a civilization, and it’s time to shut up shop and the last one to leave the planet can please turn off the lights.
Now, this is all unfair to Argo. Argo is a perfectly entertaining bit of fluff which doesn’t deserve this level of scrutiny. The problem is that once a movie is hailed as the Best Picture of a certain year, it has a responsibility placed upon it to be the best picture of that year, and it must be able to stand with other Best Picture winners such as the first two Godfathers, Platoon, Silence of the Lambs, The French Connection, and Schindler’s List, and hold its own, proving that it belongs in such hallowed company. Now, Argo is entertaining, but it is not The French Connection. There is long list of movies that a few years after their release/Oscar win have faded into relative obscurity, movies that were the talk of the town for a few months and then nothing. Who talks about Shakespeare in Love or Chicago anymore except to say, ‘That won Best Picture? When? Why? That movie’s trash.’ But they’re not trash. Shakespeare in Love is a nice little romantic comedy and Chicago is a big budget Hollywood musical and nothing else. Neither of them are as good as past Best Pictures and neither of them changed cinema in any way. If they hadn’t won the Oscar, no one would care.
The question is if Zero Dark Thirty, Brokeback Mountain, Pulp Fiction, Raging Bull, The Social Network, Goodfellas—or any of the other movies unfairly robbed—had won the Oscar, would the increased scrutiny facing them diminished their effect or heightened it? We’ll never know. What we do know is that winning the Academy Award for Best Picture is like taking a piece of fruit and leaving it in the sun. Fruit is always going to spoil, but out in the heat it spoils faster, and the Best Picture Oscar is a pretty hot sun.
Featured Image: Lionsgate