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'Crash' hits WGA and PGA noms at 100 m.p.h.

January 4, 2006 |  2:56 pm

Crash

Since no film has won the Oscar for best picture after being snubbed by the Producers Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America, today's nominations by those groups reveal that the winner of the next top Academy Award will be "Brokeback Mountain," "Crash," "Capote" or "Good Night, and Good Luck" — the only films appearing on both new lists.

The guild nominations hit Hollywood like a head-on collision. Wiped out were four films that began this year's gold derby as front-runners: "King Kong," "Match Point," "Memoirs of a Geisha" and "Munich."

What's happened since then is truly strange since two of those films had received rave reviews and were directed by showbiz gods: Peter Jackson ("King Kong") and Woody Allen ("Match Point"). Some reviewers were disappointed in "Munich," sure, but it got thumbs-up from Roger Ebert, the Hollywood Reporter and other major media.

What happened? In the case of "Match Point," it's possible that Hollywood couldn't forgive Woody for going to the U.K. to make his big comeback film. Or perhaps they just won't forgive his personal scandals.

In the cases of "Munich" and "King Kong," timing may be to blame. The filmmakers delivered their movies so late in the year that DVD screeners couldn't be shipped to voters till the end of December and some groups, like PGA and BAFTA, didn't get them at all.

Obviously, Hollywood — the world capital of storytelling — had forgotten that classic tale of a hare demonstrating too much hubris in a race: he lost to a tortoise. That's "Crash." The durable film turtle never ceased to plod forward since its release last May, crashing through all obstacles that usually halt award contenders released that early in a calendar year.

Photo: A little $6.5 million indie had big impact on Hollywood today.
(Lionsgate)

Produced for a mere $6.5 million, the valiant indie hung on in theaters month after month, earning more than $55 million. Along the way it had adamant supporters like Oprah Winfrey, who devoted an entire episode of her talk show to it several months after it debuted in theaters. When "Crash" finally played out in movie houses, Lionsgate wasn't shy at all about DVD screeners: it blitzed award voters with more than 30,000 copies.

Now "Crash" must be considered a serious contender to win the Oscar for best picture — even if it fails to be nominated tomorrow by the Directors Guild of America. After all, "Driving Miss Daisy" won best picture at the Academy Awards even though Bruce Beresford had been snubbed by DGA — and by Oscar voters too.

"Crash" is an underdog that's hard to resist. It's got a noble theme — racial prejudice — and it came to life miraculously despite the fact that its first-time director, Paul Haggis, suffered a heart attack in the midst of shooting. Now Hollywood owes Haggis big time. Last year his "Million Dollar Baby" pulled off a classic dark-horse sweep at the Oscars, taking everyone along for the ride except its screenwriter. Now that Haggis is back with his own baby, a brilliant one that reached movie houses despite heavy odds, Oscar voters will no doubt want to hug him and "Crash" now.

The Oscar fate of two other films was helped hugely by today's guild noms, too: "Capote" and "Walk the Line." "Capote" showed up on both lists, demonstrating impressive industry support. If its director Bennett Miller pops up on the DGA lineup tomorrow, we'll officially have another serious new contender for best picture. Even if he doesn't, "Capote" could end up in the Oscar top five anyway. It's that good, it has strong support and it feels important because it's about one of the 20th century's greatest American writers.

"Walk the Line" got snubbed by the writers' guild, but that's not shocking considering voters probably think of it as a musical. The fact that it's one of the five best films of 2005 according to the producers' guild — that's what counts. And the fact that it's the biggest moneymaker among the five nominees ($92 million) is significant because that guild's voters are usually accused of measuring a movie's success by its earnings.

Box office figures don't seem to be the deciding factor this year. What's amazing about the awards season so far is how consistently groups — from the Golden Globes to the guilds and Yankee film critics — are snubbing the film biggies for indies. Among the five PGA nominees, "Walk the Line" had the largest production budget: $28 million. "Capote," "Crash" and "Good Night" were all made for about $7 million. "Brokeback" cost $14 million. Yikes. Does this prove that producers aren't money-grubbing ghouls, after all?

And beware: many films snubbed by the producers' and writers' guilds could still rally on Jan. 31 when Oscar noms are announced. Several movies snubbed by WGA and PGA still managed to score Oscar best picture bids in the past, including "The Green Mile," "The Pianist," "Ray" and "The Thin Red Line." It's just that none of those exceptions have gone on to win.

It may be time for an exception, however. Consider "Braveheart." It won the top Academy Award after failing to be nominated by PGA. On three occasions, Oscar voters endorsed best pictures that failed to reap WGA noms despite being eligible: "Gladiator," "The Greatest Show on Earth" and "The Bridge on the River Kwai." Other Oscar champs like "Tom Jones," "The Last Emperor" and "Chariots of Fire" were snubbed because they were foreign-made movies or produced by companies that that weren't guild signatories.

Here is today's list of WGA nominees for best original screenplay: "Cinderella Man," "Crash," "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Good Night, and Good Luck," "The Squid and the Whale."

Nominated for best adapted screenplay: "Brokeback Mountain," "Capote," "The Constant Gardener," "A History of Violence" and Syriana."

WGA snubs: "King Kong," "Match Point," "Memoirs of a Geisha," "Munich" and "Walk the Line." "Pride & Prejudice" wasn't eligible because its author isn't a guild member.

The best picture nominees announced by the Producers Guild of America: "Brokeback Mountain," "Capote," "Crash," "Good Night, and Good Luck," and "Walk the Line."

Snubbed: "Cinderella Man," "The Constant Gardener," "A History of Violence," "King Kong," "Match Point," "Munich," "The Squid and the Whale," "Syriana."


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