The Beveled Edge of Culture

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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."

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  1. Does anyone know how the voting works? Is it a single vote where a plurality wins, or is it a ranking system with points (Borda count) like baseball’s MVP award?

  2. Having worked (briefly) in the technical part of that biz, I can say with some authority that the technical Oscars and Emmys you never see given out on television mean more to their recipients than the actor/director awards that are presented on the glitzy telecasts. Actors and directors have publicity machines working for them, but editors and production crews rely on their resumes, pretty much like the rest of us out here in TVLand (though they often work project-by-project), so you can imagine the impact that an Oscar/Emmy has on such a person’s career. As such, I can totally understand why an editor would only be interested in movies that excelled from a technical point of view.

    I worked at a studio that did post-production audio, and it was funny to watch movies after working there, because you learned to recognize all of the audio fuckups that made it into the final product that most folks would never notice.

  3. Personally, I think I’d find the technical awards a lot more interesting (which is to say, I might find them somewhat interesting) than the ridiculous circle jerk they televise. Particularly if they actually got into some of the details of what the awards were for. As it is, I’ve seen just enough of an awards show to know I don’t want to waste a minute more on them. Have a hard time understanding why anyone does, though apparently some do.

  4. I have heard that Crash was helped by the fact that it was filmed in L.A. rather than Canada like Brokeback Mountain. Most of the voters are from L.A. and are very concerned about the flight of filmakers from L.A. to cheaper places like Canada. I am not in the industry so I don’t know if that is true, but it sounds plausable.

  5. Whoever wrote that analysis isn’t thinking straight about one thing. When he says that some high percentage of voters didn’t even vote this year, he says “that alone could dramatically alter the results.” The implication (which is repeated later when the film editor votes are ADDED to those) is that those are all votes that COULD have or SHOULD have gone to, “Brokeback Mountain.” It’s just not rationial to assume that. A more reasonable analysis is that the “missing votes” — if they even exist — would have broken out percentage-wise in about the same proportions that the votes cast did.

    Actually, if you follow this idea further, you can possibly conclude that it’s likely that, “Brokeback Mountain,” would have done WORSE if those missing votes had been cast. If the people who didn’t vote were the people who didn’t even want to see, “Brokeback Mountain,” the odds are VERY strong that their votes would have gone to anything BUT that movie.

    I don’t understand why writers and analysts about this issue can’t just conclude that more of the Academy members happened to like, “Crash,” better. The implication behind so much of the analysis is that there had to be some ulterior motive if, “Brokeback Mountain,” didn’t win. Well, I personally thought that, “Capote,” should have won. But, “Brokeback Mountain,” is the only nominee this year with an active and vocal political group behind it, and that’s why they’re desperately looking for a nefarious explanation about why their “message movie” didn’t win.

    As someone who’s just getting into filmmaking (with only one short film made and shown at four festivals), I don’t understand the obsession with the Oscars anyway. They’re highly political and rarely represent what is truly the best, especially for the top awards, in my opinion. Besides, when there are several excellent films, there is no objective way to say that one is truly the best. The awards are meaningless opinion polls that the industry has successfully turned into a life-or-death event for millions of people.

  6. As someone who’s just getting into filmmaking (with only one short film made and shown at four festivals), I don’t understand the obsession with the Oscars anyway. They’re highly political and rarely represent what is truly the best, especially for the top awards, in my opinion.

    David, that is absolutely 100% true. The Oscars are a promo tool of the major studios, just as the Grammies are a tool of the major labels. And like music, so many of the truly best movies are indies.

    I can relate, as a musician. My specialty is heavy metal, and I cringe every year when I see who the Grammy for best metal performance goes to–since it always has to be a major label release. There are approximately 1 zillion great indie metal bands out there all over the world, and the Grammy always goes to some no-talent outfit like Linkin Park.

    But I do stand by my point about the technical awards–those really do matter for the people involved, even if the recipients don’t end up in People Magazine.

  7. Is it possible that Crash won because it’s a better film?

  8. Is it possible that Crash won because it’s a better film?

    I don’t think it is. It is possible Crash won because more members of the Academy enjoyed it more than the other nominees, but I think the words “better” or “best” are meaningless when it comes to the Academy.

  9. Oprah’s blathering on about it couldn’t have hurt, either: http://tinyurl.com/d3wzs

  10. “But, “Brokeback Mountain,” is the only nominee this year with an active and vocal political group behind it, and that’s why they’re desperately looking for a nefarious explanation about why their “message movie” didn’t win.”

    I never understood why gay people were so happy about Brokeback Mountain. I mean, both actors were straight as an arrow (as far as we know) and their promotors went out of their way to make that very clear. If one or both actors had been openly gay, then the movie wouldn’t have done nearly as well, as people would be more uncomfortable about it. I mean, just how far have we really come?

    Oh, and about Crash, why is a movie so far-fetched and so ugly so critically acclaimed? I haven’t seen it, but from what I’ve heard the message is basically “look at how racist people still are, isn’t it awful?” Why didn’t they make a more uplifting film, or an extended version of Dave Chappelle’s KKK skit? That shit was funny as hell!

  11. Could it be that “Cornhole Mountain” didn’t win because there is no catagory for gay porn?
    I didn’t see the movie and do not plan to.

  12. Paper, scissors, rock, people. Crash was about race. Race issues dominate gay issues, end of discussion.

    The academy has been very, very careful about nominations of movies and actors who are black due to the threats received by said groups. Denzel Washington won for a role which while done very well, was not his best work: Training Day.

    I strongly believe that the academy, in an attempt to stave off complaints from activist groups are merely throwing bones- and as a result, end up doing a disservice to those same minority groups.

    Anyway, that’s my minority opinion- and I haven’t heard it uttered elsewhere, so, make of it what you will.

    P.S. I don’t believe the academy would have been ‘afraid’ of brokeback mountain. I just don’t buy that conspiracy theory (even while I sell you my own). The only theory I’ll buy is that they were suffering from ‘Brokeback Fatigue’– hell, I’m suffering from it (easy with the peanut gallery comments).

  13. Personally, BBM was simply not believable. In a real Cowboy movie no one would have noticed the gay relationship. They’d have run the two of them off because they were sheepherders.

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