Thandie Newton and Matt Dillon star in Crash.
Heath Ledger, left, and Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain.
If Brokeback Mountain wins the best-picture award this year, no doubt some pundits will conclude that liberal Hollywood once again showed its colors. And some members of the academy might, in fact, view a vote for the film about cowboy love as a way of extending a digit toward conservatives generally and opponents of gay marriage in particular.
But at this point, some longtime observers of academy behavior say Brokeback's victory is not assured — that the academy can hardly be relied on to deliver a "liberal" vote.
"It is almost the opposite of what people think," says producer Bill Mechanic, a former member of the academy board of the governors. "Organizations tend not to be on the cutting edge."
Recently, Tony Curtis declared on FOX News that he has no interest in seeing Brokeback Mountain and that his friends don't either. It's that type of sentiment that prompted Mechanic to tell Crash director Paul Haggis that he'd gone from a long shot to a potential winner.
As Maxim film critic Pete Hammond puts it, Crash might provide "a comfort zone for those who are homophobic."
Hammond thinks that this year's voting also makes a statement about how Hollywood feels about big-studio films. With the academy increasingly recognizing smaller, less-commercial films in the best-picture category — four of the five best-picture nominees this year came from art-house labels, with the exception being Munich.
Hammond says, "The message they may be sending in general is that these are movies they're proud to give the Oscar to but they wouldn't make themselves. The message is, 'We're kind of ashamed of the movies we make.'"
Would academy members generally allow their votes to be influenced by politics? Tom Pollock, a producer and former chairman of Universal Pictures, says most Academy members vote for movies that move them and don't use their votes to make a statement.
"But what moves some people to vote may be their political attitude towards a film’s subject matter,” he says. Which may explain a lot if Crash wins.
Read the previous story in this series, Why No Oscar for Best Comedy?