This week, Roger Ebert slammed my Oscar night scribble What Did I Tell You about why, eons ago, I predicted Crash would win Best Picture despite the hype for Brokeback Mountain. I cited the anecdotal evidence pouring in to me about hetero Academy members unwilling to screen Brokeback. (See my February 1st LA Weekly column How Gay Will Oscar Go.) Ebert not only panned LA Times film critic Kenny Turan’s morning-after Oscar analysis similar to mine, but tried to make the case that Turan and I were somehow in cahoots against Crash for Brokeback.
Here is my response to Ebert: HUH?
I’m a business columnist who reports first and opines later, not a film critic. (I obsess about the process, not the product.) So I merely wrote up my reporting and gave my analysis of it. Ebert disdained my use of anecdotal evidence. “How many anecdotes add up to evidence?” he asks. “Did anyone actually tell her they didn’t want to see the movie because it was about two gay men?” Why, yes, Roger, that’s exactly what Academy members were telling me. And what their friends were telling their friends in concentric circles of Oscar chatter. L.A. journalists who cover The Industry mix it up regularly with Oscar voters, and even more so during movie awards time. That’s how we get our stories about the feuding and the lobbying, the spite and envy. Surely, that’s no surprise to you.
But, Roger, there’s something else you’ve got wrong. There was no Finke-Turan agenda. There was no Finke-Turan conspiracy. Too ludicrous. Just the realization by us locals that Oscars are rarely denied based on the merits of a movie, but instead for more sinister reasons. And nothing brings out that dark side of The Industry more than two films competing fiercely for Best Picture (and all that post-Oscar moolah at the box office). It wasn’t “as if Crash isn’t Oscar-worthy and Brokeback is,” I wrote. “Both are good, if flawed, movies.” That’s hardly taking sides. Actually, I don’t give a damn what and who wins.
You ask why I never mentioned the other three nominees. Easy answer: because I didn’t have to. No long shots ever win an Academy Award. That’s why they call it “handicapping the Oscars”. Someone would have to be newly arrived from Topeka not to know that Capote wasn’t significant enough, Good Night, and Good Luck wasn’t accurate enough, and Munich wasn’t politically incorrect enough. C’mon, Chicago isn’t that provincial.
Finally, Roger, if you’re still flummoxed, then you, like so many film critics, suffer from the delusion that the Best Picture Oscar actually goes to the best picture. If so, your belief is naive, and sweet, and hopelessly wrong.