The victory of "Crash" over "Brokeback Mountain" as best picture of 2004 is considered to be one of the biggest upsets in Oscars history. Earlier that derby season, "Brokeback Mountain" had won an unprecedented number of precursor awards as best pic: 26. On Oscars night, it claimed the two trophies that usually foretell the best picture victor — screenplay and direction — but when Jack Nicholson opened the last envelope of the night, his eyes bugged out and jaws fell all around Oscarland as it was revealed that "Crash" pulled off an historic triumph.
But now we must ask: Should we really be surprised by "Crash's" awards clout?
"Since its DVD debut in September 2005, 'Crash' has remained Netflix's No. 1 rented movie," reports the Chicago Tribune. "'The Dark Knight' couldn't dethrone it. Neither could 'Harry Potter,' 'Indiana Jones' or even 'Iron Man.' "
Many Oscarologists believe "Crash" won best picture because the vast majority of academy members are straight males who aren't really as liberal as their reputation. Even though "Brokeback Mountain" was clearly the movie of the year, according to buzz, critical acclaim and virtually all other awards, squeamish Oscar voters just couldn't bring themselves to embrace a movie about men aching with gay romantic yearning. Some academy members like Ernest Borgnine and Tony Curtis denounced the film as disgusting and publicly bragged that they refused to watch it.
L.A. Times film critic Kenneth Turan once wrote that "Crash" won because it appealed to "people who were discomfited by 'Brokeback Mountain' but wanted to be able to look themselves in the mirror and feel like they were good, productive liberals. 'Crash' provided the perfect safe harbor" because it was also about prejudice, but against African-Americans.
"Crash" director and writer Paul Haggis pooh-poohed that view to the Trib, saying, "It's just ridiculous. People all have their opinions. People always have a favorite film, and whether it wins or loses, there's always a reason. You can like or dislike my film without comparing it to any other."