If you haven't heard of Brokeback Mountain, you must be living in a cave somewhere. Everyone has been talking about this film. I suspect there are probably even 3-year olds who have had philosophical discussions about the meaning and implications of the story. It's been receiving a high volume of praise and awards over the past several months, and it was no surprise that it received a plethora of Oscar nominations at this year's Academy Awards. Everyone expected it to win Best Picture. It seemed the logical thing to happen in light of all its other awards in addition to the adoration the public has given the film. But it didn't win Best Picture, and this created a severe shock to both the film community and fans across the globe. Why didn't it win?
We can only hypothesize as to why Brokeback didn't win. Sure, it won Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score, but some would consider those mere consolation prizes. Some film enthusiasts would argue that Brokeback simply wasn't the best film of the five nominees. This editor would agree. I thought the best nominated film of the year was Good Night and Good Luck, and it won nothing. But personal film taste really doesn't enter into Oscar consideration. The Oscars have always been about politics and underlying conflicts of which the public is generally unaware. It is possible that Brokeback is a victim of film industry politics and, dare I say it, a genuine belief by the five-thousand-plus Academy members that a film about gay cowboys simply isn't ready to win Best Picture. Well'who isn't ready for that kind of film to win yet'the voters or the moviegoing public? But maybe we're being too hasty in thinking that there's some hidden agenda to stop the film from winning what so many felt it deserved.
In an interview from 1971 with film critic Rex Reed (that's right, 35 years ago), he commented that a number of factors determined who won Oscars and who didn't, and it rarely had anything to do with who was the best. For example, he insisted that filmmakers who were not rooted in the Hollywood system almost never win Oscars. In other words, filmmakers based primarily in New York or other locales may get Oscar nominations, but they aren't likely to win an Oscar because they don't conform to Hollywood's rules. If you look back upon Oscar history, you will find that Rex's comments appear to be quite true. Many great filmmakers who have been nominated repeatedly but have yet to win an Oscar are in fact New York-based filmmakers, such as Martin Scorsese and Sidney Lumet. Rex also illustrated that the Oscar chances of a film depend heavily upon how much a studio campaigns for their films to win. When I was a kid, I thought nominations simply came from people's suggestions. Little did I know that studios send loads of screener copies of films to voters and place huge ads in newspapers begging for Oscar consideration. Seems a bit tasteless to ask for an award, doesn't it? Aren't they simply earned?
While I don't believe Brokeback falls into the above political categories that Rex Reed described, it does put a question mark over the motivation of the voters to prevent it from winning Best Picture. It is easy for us to say that homophobia is the reason, but that seems like a cop-out and an easy answer. It's unlikely that thousands of Academy members are homophobes. Let's face it'a high percentage of the film and creative community is homosexual. If there's any board of voters that is not likely to be anti-homo, it's the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences. Could it simply be that voters thought Crash was a better film? Maybe it was a narrow victory and Brokeback was beaten by a mere handful of votes in one helluva close call. We'll never know. I don't believe conspiracy theorists for one second when they state that the Academy votes were rigged and sabotaged. People always think foul play is afoot when things don't go their way. Sometimes it's true, but usually it's just paranoia.
Ultimately, I believe the reason that Brokeback didn't win Best Picture is the same reason a number of wonderful movies over the years didn't win. It's just the luck of the draw, and sometimes the taste of Academy voters goes down a path we don't expect. If you look back, you will find that a number of great movies that everyone thought would win Best Picture'didn't. In 1976, a film called Network was blowing America's mind as one of the most original, brilliantly written and scathing comments on the television industry. It won many Oscars, but to everyone's shock, it didn't win Best Director or Best Picture. Rocky won instead. It has happened time and again. When Mississippi Burning was up in 1988, it got beaten by Rain Man, a film far less controversial and easy to take than a heated racial drama (at that time anyway). And it happened again in 1998 when everyone thought Saving Private Ryan would win, and instead that sleepy-time yawner Shakespeare in Love won. Dances with Wolves beat GoodFellas in 1990. And think about how many times great movies were nominated, but the directors weren't (Streisand for Prince of Tides or Bruce Beresford for Driving Miss Daisy.)
The fact is that awards ceremonies are always full of shocks and unpredictable moments, and justice is not always served. We must chalk up Brokeback Mountain's loss to a roll of the dice that went in another direction. There is no conspiracy. The fact that it was nominated for so many awards and won a few is an indication that society is warming up to us. We can't expect the whole basket of goodies in one swoop. Maybe two years from now or five years from now, a film like Brokeback will win Best Picture. Until then, we should be pleased that a film about some of the pains we endure as homosexuals has gotten acknowledgement as meaningful storytelling and a great love story. Let's rejoice in that and worry not about the lost prize. Besides, it is the fan's opinions that rule all, and because of that, Brokeback will live on to be a highly regarded film for many years to come. Who needs their stinkin' Oscar anyway?