Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Crash Is Magnolia, Version 2.0

Last night I finally got to see Crash, the two-hour hatefest that won the 2006 Academy Award for Best Motion Picture of the Year. I liked it. Great cast. Some great dialog. Nicely paced and edited. Engaging soundtrack. But I had a feeling I had seen this picture before. And I had...way back in 1999. It was called Magnolia and it was directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. And like Crash with Kathleen York's "Into the Deep," it also had an Oscar-nominated song ("Save Me" by Aimee Mann in Magnolia) that played over a montage of the various characters' lives and intersected plot narratives.

MORE THAN A FEELING

And guess what? I'm not alone in my feeling. When I did a Google search this morning on the words "Crash" and "Magnolia," I came across this excellent article by Dan Brown in the London Free Press - "Pssst...want to know a secret? Crash isn't that great a movie" - that nailed my feelings to a T. I'm reprinting Mr. Brown's article below. See if you agree.

LONDON CALLING

Pssst … want to know a secret? Crash isn’t that great a movie

by Dan Brown, Online Editor
London Free Press


As you probably already know, former Londoner Paul Haggis could walk away with an armful of Academy Awards on Sunday night.

This likely isn’t news to you. When the Oscar nominations were unveiled in January, the media here in London loudly trumpeted the fact that Crash, Haggis’ tale of racial strife in Los Angeles, had earned half a dozen nods.

But here’s the thing: Crash isn’t that great of a movie.

It may be in the running for the best-picture prize, it’s true. But that doesn’t change the reality of the matter, which is that Crash isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Now, before you send me an angry e-mail, let me explain my feelings.

Crash is a fine piece of work. There’s nothing wrong with Crash. It’s not a bad movie.

It’s just not the best movie of 2005. Whether it wins the Oscar or not, Crash is not an outstanding example of feature filmmaking.

The main problem with Crash is that it’s based on an entirely unoriginal premise.

As those who’ve seen it know, the movie follows a diverse group of Los Angelinos whose lives intersect in unexpected ways over a short period of time.

If that plot sounds familiar, that’s because director Paul Thomas Anderson covered much the same ground in 1999’s Magnolia.

Yet another filmmaker, the legendary Robert Altman, also used the same narrative structure for 1993’s Short Cuts.

And the similarities don’t stop there. The general consensus (with which I agree) is that Matt Dillon is the best thing about Crash. The veteran performer plays a racist L.A. cop who saves the life of a black woman whom he has previously sexually assaulted.

Hmmm … a troubled L.A. cop. You mean like the nervous cop played by John C. Reilly in Magnolia? Or was he more like the crooked cop played by Tim Robbins in Short Cuts?

Granted, there’s nothing new under the sun. But repainting the same horse ridden by previous directors is not the mark of a strong storyteller.

Even worse, Haggis couldn’t even think of an original title for his movie.

As if to prove he has a hard time coming up with his own ideas, he stole the name from David Cronenberg’s 1996 flick about sexual deviants who are turned on by car accidents. Cronenberg has condemned Haggis for the intellectual theft, and rightly so.

So how, you may be asking, did Crash end up with so many Oscar nominations?

The truth is that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences loves to honour movies that are seen as progressive.

By singling out films that tackle controversial subjects, it reflects glory on itself. It is seen as a forward-thinking organization by association (this is the same logic that helped the gay cowboy romance, Brokeback Mountain, become this year’s Oscar heavyweight).

The truth is that Crash is a perfect selection for the Academy because it’s the type of film that makes white Americans feel guilty, but not too guilty, about that country’s racial divide.

Haggis was also probably helped by Million Dollar Baby’s Oscar triumph last year (Haggis wrote that film’s screenplay, adapting it from the F. X. Toole book Rope Burns).

Now, I realize that by saying Crash is less than perfect I am opening up myself to the charge of being a hometown basher. I realize that some of you are probably getting ready to send me hate mail right now.

But I’m not picking on Haggis just because he used to live here. I’m not being a hometown basher or a hometown booster. I’m just trying to see Crash clearly. We’ve given Haggis’ creation lots of coverage, so we owe it to you, our readers, to be even-handed.

Of course, we in the local media do love to give coverage to individuals such as Haggis who leave London and go on to be huge successes. They make for great copy.

And let’s face it, if Haggis does pick up some trophies on Sunday evening, we will all feel just a little more pride in being Londoners.

You can now feel free to send in those e-mails. But just remember — you won’t be able to change my mind.

And before you do, think long and hard about this question: Do you honestly believe Crash was the best motion picture released in 2005?

According to Rotten Tomatoes, the Web site that collects movie reviews of current releases, the critics gave Crash an average rating of 7.2 out of 10.

I’d say that’s about right.
Email: dbrown@lfpress.com

THIS JUST IN!

Hey, I just got an e-mail from Dan Brown pointing out yet another similarity between Crash and Magnolia, one so blatant that I don't know how I missed it:
There's also one other major similarity: at the end of both movies, something unexpected falls from the sky (snow in Crash and frogs in Magnolia). Cheers!
- Dan Brown
Oh, and lest I forget, one more unoriginal scene: when spoiled trophy wife Sandra Bullock reaches across the racial and class divide to hug the Hispanic housekeeper she has been abusing throughout the film and tells her, "You're my best friend" it's basically a reprise of Jessica Tandy reaching across the racial and class divide to say the exact same words of endearment to her chauffeur Morgan Freeman in Driving Miss Daisy.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Jeff said...

Crash was pretty good. But as an ensemble film it's not on the level of Magnolia (which has earned its classic status) and as a dramtic film about race relations in America it's way below Spike Lee's brilliant Do The Right Thing.

Crash was better than Lawrence Kasdan's Grand Canyon. But it wasn't my pick for best film of 2005. I strongly suspect that the high level of praise for it was because it tapped into the zeitgeist at just the right time. In fact, when it came out, it didn't do that well at the box office. It had a relatively brief theatrical run before picking up a wider audience on DVD, especially after the Oscar win.

I actually own all three of the movies I mentioned. Of them, Magnolia and Do The Right Thing make their way into my DVD player on a regular basis. Crash? Once or maybe twice a year is my maximum dosage.

5:26 PM  
Blogger Jason Blakemore said...

I just rewatched crash and just remembered how annoyed I was the first time I saw it at the blatant rip off of Magnolia that it was. It was as if some Hollywood people saw Magnolia and said there's a great idea if we can make it an hour and a half shorter and steal the same formula that would be great. Even using the ash snow at the same point of the film as the frogs in Magnolia with the Aimee Mann type song playing I literally had to Google to see if they used Aimee Mann too! At the end of the day let's face it Philip Seymour Hoffman Julianne Moore and Paul Thomas Anderson's usual cast is on a whole nother acting level then what we have in Crash. If you want a dumbed-down version of Magnolia crash is for you

1:49 AM  

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