Circuit Rewind: Crash (2005)

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Welcome to Award Circuit’s newest column, Circuit Rewind, where we take a look at films celebrating their ten-year or more anniversaries and see if they’ve aged like a fine wine, or a rotting apple. To get the ball rolling, let’s start with one of the more controversial Best Picture winners of this century, if not all-time, “Crash,” celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2015.

220px-Crash_ver2Crash
Release Date: May 6, 2005

Director: Paul Haggis
Writers: Paul Haggis & Robert Moresco
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Terrence Howard, Don Cheadle, Chris Bridges, Thandie Newton, Michael Pena, Ryan Phillipe

“Crash” first screened in the fall of 2004 at the Toronto International Film Festival and then found its way to theaters on May 6, 2005. Paul Haggis’ film would receive a solid reception from critics and would wind up grossing $98 million dollars worldwide on just a $6.5 million budget. It also overcame the dreaded first-half of the year release date for awards, as it would earn citations from critic groups, a pair of Golden Globe nominations, Best Ensemble at SAG and ultimately won 3 Oscars for Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing and Best Picture.

It’s the latter award, however, that left many irked by “Crash.” Despite the positive reviews that it initially received, “Crash’s” perceived upset victory over Best Director winner Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain” had people turning on the film. People took a harder look at the film’s depiction of racial issues, the performances, anything really in retaliation.

Ten years later, “Crash’s” win over “Brokeback Mountain” is still considered one of the biggest mistakes made by the Academy in their entire history. Not only does the film not stand up against “Brokeback” overall, even Haggis’ Best Original Screenplay win feels like a mistake when compared against his fellow nominees, which included “Good Night, and Good Luck,” “Match Point” and “The Squid and the Whale.”

“Crash” isn’t really a bad movie though. Sure, it’s melodramatic and all, but it has some good performances from Matt Dillon, Terence Howard, Michael Pena, Thandie Newton and even showed us that Ludacris (Chris Bridges) could act. It also does hit on big racial issues, which sadly are still extremely relevant.

“Crash’s” biggest sin, however, is that it is forgettable. Had the film not won Best Picture I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have thought to include it among the number of films that are celebrating anniversaries this year. It did, however, and now it is remembered more in infamy than anything else.

For the stars of “Crash,” the last ten years have seen some big highs, but also a couple of disappointing lows. Sandra Bullock won her first Oscar for “The Blind Side” and Chris Bridges has attached himself to one of Hollywood’s biggest franchises, “The Fast and the Furious.” Terrence Howard, who won a number of breakthrough performer awards in 2005 started off hot and landed the role of James Rhodey, aka War Machine, in the first “Iron Man.” However, that didn’t work out so well; Howard eventually ceded the role to his “Crash” co-star Don Cheadle. Matt Dillon’s Best Supporting Actor nomination for “Crash” couldn’t be parlayed into a big career upswing for him; outside of the disappointing “You, Me and Dupree” it’s been a string of little seen projects for Dillon.

It’s been “A Tale of Two Cities” for Paul Haggis as well. He was on fire after winning the Oscar, writing the scripts for “Casino Royale” and Clint Eastwood’s pair of WWII films “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters From Iwo Jima;” he earned another Oscar nomination for the latter. His next trip behind the camera would also be a success, the small budget “In the Valley of Elah.” The film, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron, was a sleeper hit with critics and award bodies.

After “Elah,” however, Haggis went cold, and it all started with “Quantum of Solace.” Whether it was the 2007 Writer’s strike or what have you, Haggis’ second Bond outing is considered one of the franchises’ worst, and a large part of that is on the lackluster script. After “Solace” Haggis wouldn’t write another film until the prison break thriller “The Next Three Days,” which left theaters in seemingly less than that amount of time. 2014 saw his most recent release, “Third Person,” get obliterated by critics and practically unseen despite a strong cast.

Perhaps the worst thing that happened to “Crash” was that it won Best Picture. Again, it likely would not have been as prevalent in film history without it, but it also wouldn’t have the vitriol against it that it currently does. Instead, Paul Haggis’ directorial debut could’ve been some under the radar title that you discover and view without the added weight of a Best Picture winner. This isn’t a world of ifs though, “Crash” won Best Picture and ten years later it still feels like a mistake.