Welcome to the forty-second entry in our Six Circuit series.
The “Best Picture” outcome of 2006 goes down in history as the most upsetting, turning Paul Haggis’ intersecting race drama, “Crash,” from underdog to villain in a matter of moments. Jack Nicholson’s visibly shaken reaction upon announcing the result proved even Hollywood knows how to sucker its own. With the exception of Roger Ebert and a few major trades, no one predicted Lionsgate’s low-budget hit to emerge victorious. In retrospect, Academy voters taking pride in honoring their employment capital above LGBTQ on-screen representation (Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain”) seems an obvious move. Yet even before its unexpected winner status, “Crash” managed to live up to its title by breaking into the Best Picture nominee party at the expense of another film. Before we get to that mystery movie, here are the nominees in the category.
THE NOMINEES WERE:
- “Brokeback Mountain” (Focus Features) — Diana Ossana and James Schamus
- “Capote “(Sony Pictures Classics) — Caroline Baron, Michael Ohoven and William Vince
- “Crash” (Lionsgate) — Paul Haggis and Cathy Schulman (WINNER)
- “Good Night, and Good Luck” (Warner Bros) — Grant Heslov
- “Munich” (Universal Pictures) — Kathleen Kennedy, Barry Mendel and Steven Spielberg
Although framed as two topical contenders respectively tackling race and homosexuality, the reality is “Crash” and “Brokeback Mountain” couldn’t have been further apart in significance. “Crash”‘s bombastic reiteration of racism in contemporary America was criticized for its skewed white-creator lens. Meanwhile, “Brokeback Mountain’s” press tour emphasized its universal love story — Ennis and Jack’s sexual unification was viewed as secondary. This is a problematic sell that would have faced considerable backlash today. However, judging the movie on its own merits of queer storytelling, there’s no going around the fact that its zeitgeist buzz made it a game changer. As the first gay-themed romance viewed in mainstream light, “Brokeback Mountain” winning the most coveted prize in cinema would be the ultimate validation of LGBTQ progress in the arts.
As we all know, that progress fell short of the mark to the shock of thousands watching from home. “Crash” ultimately had the easier awards narrative to navigate: a Toronto International Film Festival indie leftover from a little-known studio at the time that generated intense word of mouth. The film would go on to gross over 15-times its minuscule budget, suddenly finding itself in an ironic David situation to frontrunner “Brokeback Mountain’s” Goliath. This further proved to be the case when “Crash” went on to become a “Best Picture” nominee despite being snubbed a Golden Globe nod for “Best Drama.” Thus, “Crash” was the unlikely dark horse that beat the odds to cross the finish line.
As for the rest, “Good Night, and Good Luck” was George Clooney’s stunning black-and-white journalist biopic, but failed to gain excitement traction. “Capote” was seen more as a Philip Seymour Hoffman Oscar-vehicle than a legitimate threat for the crown. Finally, “Munich” was the late contender without any acting nods to garner sufficient support from the Academy’s largest branch. With all the attention on “Brokeback Mountain” and surprise attendee “Crash,” what other contenders could have secured a placement had things transpired differently?
THE SIX SPOT CONTENDERS ARE:
- “A History of Violence” (New Line Cinema) — Chris Bender and J.C. Spink
- “The Constant Gardener” (Focus Features) — Simon Channing Williams and Gale Egan
- “Hustle & Flow” (Paramount) — Stephanie Allain and John Singleton
- “King Kong” (Universal Pictures) — Jan Blenkin, Carolynne Cunningham and Fran Walsh
- “Match Point” (DreamWorks Pictures) — Letty Aronson, Lucy Darwin and Gareth Wiley
- “Memoirs of a Geisha” (Sony Pictures Releasing) — Lucy Fisher, Steven Spielberg and Douglas Wick
- “Pride & Prejudice” (Focus Features) — Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Paul Webster
- “The Squid and the Whale” (Samuel Goldwyn Films) — Wes Anderson, Charlie Corwin, Clara Markowicz and Peter Newman
- “Syriana” (Warner Bros) — Jennifer Fox, Georgia Kacandes and Michael Nozik
- “Transamerica” (IFC Films) — Rene Bastian, Sebastian Dungan and Linda Morgan
- “Walk the Line” (20th Century Fox) — James Keach and Kathy Conrad
While eventual Oscar champ “Crash” bounced back here after its disastrous Globes showing, Fernando Meirelles’ “The Constant Gardener” was the real head-turner. Racking up ten nominations — and even bumping up Rachel Weisz from “Supporting” to “Lead Actress” — the John le Carré adaptation dominated thanks to its predominantly British appeal. It even surpassed “Pride & Prejudice’s” total craft tally, a popular period piece expected to do much better in the precursors. The devastating drama brought home its sole win in “Film Editing.” What is telling is that despite the love affair, British thespian Weisz couldn’t even defeat “Walk the Line’s” Reese Witherspoon on her own soil.
The Johnny Cash musical biopic took home two victories that evening — Best Sound and Best Actress — yet missing a key notice in “Best Film” was a warning sign for its eventual Academy prospects in the majors. “King Kong” and “Memoirs of a Geisha” populated the technical categories but failed to garner top-tier support to legitimize their threat level. “A History of Violence” and “Syriana” made a couple of impressive appearances, but it didn’t seem critical acclaim or star power would carve out a path towards “Best Picture.”
GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINEES
This awards party took “Crash”almost entirely off the ordering menu. The correction of the infamous snub would soon become legendary, but first it’s imperative to see which potential “Six Spot” got the biggest boost from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. “Match Point” became Woody Allen’s rare drama entry from the international organization, raking in four nominations that couldn’t materialize in wins. Because of its Globes empty-handedness, the crime thriller didn’t have the best nomination prospects heading into the Academy Awards.
That left “The Constant Gardener” and “Walk the Line,” each of which nabbed a statue while being recognized in their respective “Best Film” genre categories. Other winner recipients included “Transamerica” for Felicity Huffman in “Best Actress in a Drama,” “Memoirs of Geisha” for John Williams’ score, and “Syriana” for George Clooney in “Supporting Actor.” Aside from “Brokeback Mountain,” James Mangold’s “Walk the Line” was the only motion picture of the evening to receive multiple wins.
Eventual Best Original Song recipient “Hustle & Flow” shook up the race as a last-minute competitor after canceling out both “Walk the Line” and “The Constant Gardener” from the final cast ensemble lineup. “Crash’s” triumph at the telecast instantly made it “Brokeback Mountain”‘s biggest threat heading into the 78th Academy Awards ceremony, thereby effectively ending precursor hot streaks for Mangold and Mierelles’ acclaimed dramas. Both prestige films managed to repeat wins for their leading ladies at SAG, but they could not sustain enough momentum to overcome “Crash”‘s little-engine-that-could narrative nor the towering force of Spielberg. And so now we come to the big reveal…
THE SIX SPOT FOR 2006 BEST PICTURE WAS:
“WALK THE LINE”
Which film do you believe was in the 6th spot for “Best Picture” in 2006? Let us know in the comments below!