The Beveled Edge of Culture


Stand proudly among the shades, Ghost of Michael Young's grandfather! Film editors may be the mouse that roared, according to this study of 2006's Best-Picture upset. In an article that is necessarily speculative (because the Motion Picture Academy keeps its voting results secret), The Hollywood Reporter's Martin A. Grove considers a variety of theories to explain why Crash knocked out Brokeback Mountain (a result that managed to be surprising and uninteresting at the same time).

What some insiders are saying privately is that many Academy members felt so threatened by "Brokeback's" gay cowboy romance they couldn't bring themselves to view it even on DVD. As a result, many votes reportedly were cast much later in the game than is usually the case—by which time "Crash" was being perceived as a worthy alternative. There also may have been fewer votes to count if reports are true that as many as 20% of Academy voters didn't send in their ballots… With 6,188 voting members of the Academy, if 20% of them abstained from voting that would remove 1,238 votes from the mix and leave just 4,950 to determine the outcome. In a race where every vote typically counts, that alone could dramatically alter the results.

There are other interesting possibilities, among them that Crash had the advantage of already being on DVD, allowing the studio to send a copy of it to every SAG member—which may hint at problems with the pattern of releasing prestige pictures at the end of the year. But the most intriguing theory comes in a passage that, like all the best paragraphs, begins with "Moreover."

Moreover, insiders are also pointing to a little known piece of Oscar trivia: not since 1980's "Ordinary People" has a film won the best picture Oscar without also having had a nomination for best film editing. "Brokeback" wasn't a film editing nominee this year, while "Crash" film editor Hughes Winborne took home the Oscar. Insiders claim that film editors don't vote for best picture nominees that aren't also best film editing nominees. There are 239 members of the Academy's Film Editors branch. If their votes are added to the 1,238 that quite possibly weren't cast at all, that's a total of 1,477 votes—nearly 24% of the total Academy membership—that didn't go to "Brokeback."

If editors, who are among the few people who have the capacity to make a film shorter, are wielding outsized cultural power, that can't be bad. As Don Siegel said, "If you shake a movie, ten minutes will fall out."