A Crashing bore on Oscar night

crash.jpgWhy do Oscar-nominated films have to be so serious nowadays? This year’s slate of nominees is one of the most dreadfully earnest in a long time. Good Night and Good Luck, Munich and Capote are all dead-serious historical dramas, while Brokeback Mountain was a political statement that reimagined the great American cowboy stereotype in light of the controversial observation that some men happen to be homosexual.

In hindsight, though, Crash sounds like the most earnest of the lot, which is probably why it took the Best Picture Oscar. In fact, the only thing amusing about last year’s supposedly-finest picture is that its writer-director’s name is Paul Haggis. (I’m sure his wacky name has made Trevor Marmalade very jealous.) And that’s probably why he had to make such an desperately unwacky film. Check out the plot outline from IMDB:
Several characters of different racial backgrounds collide in one incident, The different stereotypes society has created for those backgrounds affect their judgment, beliefs and actions, This in turn causes problems for each of them.
If I want to see racial tensions explode on my night off, there’s no need to shell out 15 bucks on a ticket. I’ll just catch a train down to Cronulla, thanks very much.
Now, I haven’t seen Crash. (It takes a lot these days for me to bother seeing a movie without Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson or Will Ferrell in it – which covers about 50% of releases.) But I checked out the trailer to see if I missed something, and oh boy. Listen to these overblown attempts at profundity:

  • “It’s the sense of touch. In real cities you walk, you know. You brush past people, people bump into you. In LA nobody touches you. We’re always behind that metal and glass.”
  • “I’m angry all the time, and I don’t know why”
  • “Why do you keep everybody a certain distance, huh?”
  • “I just had a gun pointed in my face, and this is my fault because I knew it was going to happen”
  • “You think you know who you are. You have no idea.”
  • You had a conversation with God, huh? What did God say?”
  • “It’s the sense of touch. I think we miss that touch so much that we crash into each other just so we can feel something.”

Really, this film looks so desperately serious that it’s almost hilarious, like an earnest student play groping desperately to be meaningful. I’m sure it’s all terribly impressive, and important. But really, who wants to spend a pleasant Saturday night enduring a pompous parable like that? Someone would have to point a gun to my face before I’d sit through this pompous slab of navel-gazing.
All of the pundits were tipping a sweep by the serious movie about homosexuality, but we should have picked America’s broader, enduring obsession – race. Americans have been fixated on ethnicity for much longer than John Howard and Peter Costello. I’ve been to stand-up clubs in NYC where literally around 80% of the routine was about racial differences and stereotypes. And while it’s very uncomfortable for an Anglo-Saxon to say – please, America’s entertainment industry, get over it already.
Or if you aren’t going to, please at least make it funny as well. Annie Hall swept the Oscars in 1977, winning Best Picture, Director, Actress and Screenplay. Allen’s greatest film was partly about Jewish identity, via his neurotic character’s relationship with a free-spirited non-Jew, but it managed to be insigntful while also being amusing. But it seems Hollywood’s forgotten how to do this. It’s been decades since a genuine comedy cleaned up on Oscar night.
Even Allen’s films have become unrelentingly depressing. This year’s effort, Match Point was Allen’s twelfth screenwriting nomination (he also won for Hannah and her Sisters). And while it’s an extremely polished film, with some great, wry observation of the British upper classes at play, the final third is one of the most unremittingly bleak passages I’ve ever seen on film, not even offering the mandatory Hollywood redemptive ending as a sop to middle America’s Christian beliefs.
Probably thanks to the Farrelly Brothers, comedies have become primarily a ‘low’ artform, about as subtle as a hit over the head with a rubber sledgehammer. Hollywood’s auteurs aren’t interested in displaying a light touch any more. Cast your eye over the other prominent Oscar nominees – Transamerica, Syriana, Walk The Line, and the most unsubtle of the lot, A History of Violence. You have to go down to Animated Feature before there are any laughs on offer, from the reliable Wallace and Gromit.
I don’t know whether it’s all a long bout of depression caused by 9/11, Iraq and George W. Bush, but Hollywood’s best and brightest need to lighten up. If this trend continues, the Oscars are going to need a Best Comedy category like the Golden Globes. Cinema audiences want to leave the cinema with a smile on their faces, not an appointment with a therapist.

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