If the 2006 race had been a rap battle, you could call it East Coast vs. West Coast. West Coast critics seemed to favor Crash, a movie about Los Angeles, whose characters spent a lot of their time in their cars. A massive ensemble piece that seemed to employ half the Screen Actors Guild (no wonder actors who were Academy members liked it), it purported to make a grand statement on the still-troubling issue of Racism: It infects everybody. East Coast critics, however, found Crash‘s racial politics simplistic and its plotting too full of programmatic twists and coincidences (nearly every character is revealed to be something other than the hero or heel he or she seems at first.)
Instead, they favored Brokeback Mountain (pictured), which deconstructed cherished Western archetypes about cowboys, machismo, and rugged individualism in order to tell mainstream Hollywood’s first gay love story. And while director Ang Lee won an Oscar for his sensitive handling of the material, its three principal actors were snubbed (a particularly galling omission in the case of Heath Ledger, whose breakthrough performance turned out to be the last opportunity to give him a trophy while he was alive, and whose posthumous prize for The Dark Knight is often considered a consolation prize for his being passed over here). And the Angelenos who make up the bulk of the Academy gave Best Picture to Crash. Brokeback screenwriter Larry McMurtry grumbled about homophobia; he wasn’t the only one. As for which picture history preferred: Brokeback is a staple on cable, while Crash is one of the most popular rentals in Netflix history. So, jury’s still out.