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LITERATURE

 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

February 5, 2007
Like many of you, I was shocked and dismayed to hear the news last year that Paul Haggis' mediocre-at-best film Crash had won Best Picture at the 78th Annual Academy Awards. As film fans and critics alike struggled to comprehend the meaning behind this tragedy, a realization began to dawn as slowly as a Zach Braff plot and as mildly disturbing as a M. Night Shyamalan thriller: you must hit the masses over the head and you must do it with a message as heavy as a cast-iron skillet if you want your film to make a difference in the way people live their lives. None of this "subtlety" nonsense! That will never do. Your message must be clear (preferably spoken in two sentences or less by a main character at the end of the film) and emotions must be strongly tapped (killing off a child in the film is the best possible way to achieve this). People who came to the theater in overalls and a KKK hood must leave the theater weeping a quiet promise to better the fate of their fellow man.

And, brother, if this is what makes a film a Best Picture winner, then Crash is the Bestest Best Picture in history.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Babel has the terribly unlucky position of living in the shadow of Hagis' award-winning film. Although a far, far superior film, Babel resembles Crash in several ways: the layering of stories whose characters' connections to each other occasionally feel forced, the clashing (or crashing! Get it?) of different sorts of people, and the ability of each film to make its audience want to collectively stick their heads into one giant oven.

The differences between the two films are what keep Babel from becoming simply Crash 2: We Continue To Have Trouble Understanding Each Other, but if I may make a prediction, they're also what will keep Babel from winning that Best Picture Oscar.

First, the quality of Babel's script and direction is so much finer than the creative forces behind Crash that instead of being spoon-fed the moral of the story, we have to make some of our own decisions. It's not as cut and dry as "racism is bad" and certainly less easy to sum up in one sentence. We still experience strong emotional reactions, but we're less sure what they mean. Who are we angry at? The victim or the culprit? How would we react in this situation? Who is really to blame here?

And secondly, the theme itself is a little less accessible. Everyone knows racism is terribly unfair; it's something our country has been working on for decades. It's like saying "AIDS is sad!" or "Domestic violence is wrong!" We can all get behind it pretty staunchly. Babel's themes are more complex and cover a broader range of topics from grief and adolescent isolation to immigration policies to the effects of America's presence in other parts of the world. And instead of delivering solid answers, Babel raises questions. The film doesn't end with any of the main characters' eyes opened to the error of their ways. Like their audience, they're still struggling to figure out what exactly has happened to them and how they're going to get through it.

Because there are no easy answers, Babel might be a little too subtle for the Academy, especially since it's following on the heels of the similar but more easily understood Crash. But just as Inarritu's film tells us, sometimes life is just a series of badly timed events. Your wife may get shot in Morocco, your mother might commit suicide, your kids might be stranded in a desert, or you might just be nominated for an Oscar but denied the prize because a film kind of like yours but not nearly as good won it the year before. These days, life isn't easy.

SEE ALSO: www.paramountvantage.com/babel

--
Susan Howson
A staff writer attending graduate school in Richmond, VA, Susan Howson cannot be persuaded to stop talking about movies.

See other articles by Susan Howson.

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