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Coldhearted: The Don of the Desert

Lorey Sebastian

Reliving Oscar’s Biggest Mistake

We live-blog 2006 Best Picture Crash — just so we can feel something again

Since this year’s awards season is throwing off roughly as much heat as an ice-fishing Yeti snacking on a Creamsicle, our thoughts have at times wandered back to Oscar races of the past, when there was not only some question as to which film would take home Best Picture, but also at least 400 percent more give-a-shit about the result than there is for the 2012 contest. And so, rather than once again debate whether or not Harvey Weinstein Presents MimeTime: The Silent Movie That Could‘s1 chances of success hover closer to 90 or 94 percent (also, we have a guy who does that better than anyone else in the game), I’m choosing to relive the greatest mistake Oscar ever made:2 2006 Best Picture winner Crash. I just need to feel something, and so I’m strapping myself in, cranking up an Amazon Instant Video window, and live-blogging my way into the middle of the nearest intersection, hoping for the kind of meaningful collision than can violently shake me from the emotional torpor of the interminable Oscar death march. Here we go. Hold me.

0:40 — It’s snowing over the opening credits. This will be meaningful later. (Or so my long-repressed memories of a very unpleasant experience in front of the smallest screen in the Los Feliz 3 theater in late 2005 tell me.)

1:12 — “A Film by Paul Haggis.” There was a time, namely a good four years after seeing this movie, where those words would instill fear/dread/rage, but now that’s gone. He did the good James Bond! He’s fighting Scientology! He was on Entourage! Pretty big turnaround there. (Well, not the Entourage thing.) I’m kind of into him now.

1:26 — Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, WILLIAM FICHTNER, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, Ludacris, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillippe, Michael Peña, Keith David … I’d forgotten roughly 80 percent of these people are in this movie. Again, the repressed memories. I wanted to like some of them in the past six years.

2:56 — Cheadle voice-over, fade to Cheadle’s face in a car. Ugh, here’s the “nobody touches each other in L.A., so we need to crash into each other” monologue. I’ve touched people in L.A. Usually it costs you a couple of tacos from Benito’s on Santa Monica and the effort of trying not to notice a throbbing Adam’s apple, but he’s right, it usually happens in a car.

4:01 — Esposito’s race-baiting an Asian woman post-accident. Here we go!

5:05 — Crash. Main title. I guess this is happening.

5:34 — Cheadle’s inspecting a footless shoe at an accident site, having a smoke. I love Cheadle.

6:09 — “Yo, Osama, plan a jihad on your own time,” says the pawn shop jerk to his Arab customers, an older man and his very attractive daughter. If only they knew we got Osama! The early aughts were such a fraught time.

6:50 — The pawn shop jerk just 9-11’d the customers. This movie’s all about race, if you’ve forgotten. And car crashes. We’re really diving right in.

7:37 — The daughter demands the gun they paid for. She gets the gun and some bullets. You know what Chekhov says: If you see a racist pawn shop guy grudgingly sell a gun in the first act, it’s going off in the third, probably as the result of some really incredible and dramatically unsatisfying coincidences.

7:58 — Ludacris and Larenz Tate are talking about mistreatment by a waitress and black stereotypes about tipping. No, he didn’t tip, but because of bad service. It’s going to be that kind of night, everybody, in An Important Movie About Race.

8:45 — Bullock and Fraser. Concerned (white) parents out on the town. Ludacris tells Tate that Bullock’s afraid of them as the only two black faces in a white neighborhood.

9:45 — They promptly carjack Bullock and Fraser. Dramatic irony!

10:45 — Cheadle and Esposito, cops, return. There’s a dead guy on the pavement, a gun on the floor of a Mercedes. An undercover (white) detective shot another (black) cop.

12:02 — Michael Pena installs new locks on Bullock’s mansion, presumably because of the carjacking. She wants the locks changed again in the morning because Pena is not a white locksmith and obviously a gang member out to sell their keys to the Latin Kings. This seems like a bias that could get pricey.

13:34 — “Your amigo in there is going to sell our key to one of his homies,” says Bullock to Fraser. She’s right, because she was afraid of Ludacris before he carjacked her. It’s the Gift of (Racist) Fear.

14:45 — “Why did these guys have to be black?” Fraser asks his campaign people. He’s a politician. He doesn’t want to lose the black vote. Why couldn’t the universe have handed him some nice Uzbeki carjackers?

15:34 — Matt Dillon’s fighting with an insurance person over the phone over his sick father’s care. Uh-oh, her name is Shaniqua. What assumption do you think Matt Dillon made about her race? You get 300 guesses, but you’ll probably get it on the first try.

16:54 — “Nobody jacks a car and takes it to Studio City,” warns Ryan Phillippe to Matt Dillon, as they stop someone in an SUV for Driving While Non-White. “They were doing something.”

17:51 — It’s Terrence Howard and Thandie Newton! All-star ensemble cast nearly all revealed!

18:40 — “He doesn’t drink, he’s a Buddhist, for Christ’s sake,” Newton informs Dillon as he removes Howard from the car on a not very thinly veiled racist DUI inspection.

19:46 — Dillon’s now throwing Howard up against the car. And then Newton when she mouths off at their outrageous mistreatment. I say “mouths off” because Dillon makes a mouth comment, in the fashion of someone who’s in the process of making a very clever innuendo about someone’s fellatio abilities.

20:45 — One thing a racist cop can do while frisking an attractive woman over fabricated charges of road head is feel her up. Dillon is doing that thing. He knows all the tricks, he graduated at the top of his class at Racist Police Academy. (Lieutenant Mauser considered him something of a protégé during his time there.)

20:59 — He will let them go with a warning if Howard looks the other way while he frisker-bangs Newton with digital-insertion impunity. Howard looks the other way. This will probably play out in their relationship in a negative fashion later on.

22:20 — I can only describe the music playing over the tense post-groping moment shared by husband and violated wife as “Sarah McLachlan lilting over heart-wrenching images of abused puppies and kittens.”

22:41 — The nice Arab people from earlier are loading their handgun at the family store. Someone is going to be shot and killed in that family store later. (I actually don’t even remember, but knowing how things in this movie generally play out, I’ll go out on a limb here.)

23:34 — Thandie Newton wants to report her assault by Dillon. She’s angry Howard didn’t thwart the racist cop. We learn Howard works in Hollywood, which explains his emasculation (not a race thing, a working-in-Hollywood thing). Things get ugly quickly. His studio friends don’t think he’s “actually black.” “Maybe I should have let them molest your ass. Sooner or later you need to find out what it’s really like to be black.” She was on the equestrian team. He watched the Cosby Show. These are cruel indictments of their respective upbringings. “I haven’t quite learned how to shuck and jive. Let me hear it again. Thank you Mister Police Man, you sure is mighty kind to us poor black folk, you be sure to let me know the next time you want to finger-fuck my wife.” Have you unpacked all of that yet? Remember this was all written by a white guy who worked on The Facts of Life. (Which handled racial issues with far more subtlety and skill, incidentally.)

25:49 — Michael Peña finds his daughter sleeping under her bed and talks to her sweetly. Perhaps he is not actually a gangbanger who uses his locksmithery as a front for a key-selling operation!

27:01 — I really need to slow down. For my sanity. For your sanity. For the sanity of the cute little girl hiding under the bed. (Who I think dies in the end. Sorry, little girl! I miss you already.)

27:57 — Oh, crap. This is the “bulletproof invisible cape” speech. Guess what: It proves not so bulletproof. Spoiler alert. (To anyone reading this in 2005.)

28:20 — He’s untying his cape and putting it on her. It’s cool now, she’s protected! (Until it becomes dramatically poignant for her to take a bulletproof-cape-piercing bullet in Act 3.)

31:10 — Ludacris and Tate are back. Talking race stuff. Do they ever take a break? Can’t he talk about his awesome rap career for a minute? Lighten up, Luda. This movie’s so fucking heavy already!

31:33 — Another car accident, btw. [Sigh.] “There’s a Chinaman stuck under the fucking truck.” PLEASE JUST GIVE US A COUPLE OF VERSES FROM CHICKEN N BEER, MAN!!! I need a break! This movie!

32:09 — If this live blog had a lifeline, I’d be Phone-A-Friending to Grantland Racial Issue Correspondent Andrew Ti right now. He’s much better equipped to handle this.

33:54 — Keith David is Ryan Phillippe’s boss. Ryan wants a transfer because partner Matt Dillon is a psychotic finger-banging racist. I can’t even pay attention. I’m thinking about how great David is in Men at Work.

35:50 — Peña and the Arab storekeeper with the gun in the drawer haggle over whether to fix the door or the lock on the door. He’s calling Peña a “fucking cheater” in the best Bullockian tradition. We may be different on the outside, but we’re all rotten racists on the inside!

37:36 — Ludacris is trying to sell a stolen car. (I think.) The guy at the chop shop has a thick accent, provenance unknown. Eastern European? Israeli? I could look it up, but I’m exhausted. In any event, it’s a very subtle commentary on our stereotypical presumptions about whatever race he’s supposed to be.

38:29 — Cheadle and Esposito are fucking. His mom calls. “I can’t talk right now, I’m having sex with a white woman.” Because that would upset her more than saying he was sleeping with a Mexican woman, in his own cruel words. I SWEAR TO GOD, TAKE A BREAK, PAUL HAGGIS. ONE BONING SCENE WITHOUT THIS NONSENSE, PLEASE??

39:21 — Her father is Puerto Rican and her dad is from El Salvador, neither is Mexico, as she points out. Cheadle makes a comment about all these cultures being equally prone to “parking their cars on their lawns.” This is really not the best pillow talk you’ve ever heard.

40:15 — “Maybe I won’t hate it as much this time,” he said to his editor while pitching this awful, misbegotten idea. “Maybe it’s not as bad as I remember.” [Editor's note: I warned him.] What’s that saying? “Famous last words?” Or is it only “famous last words” if I kill myself halfway through? Very tempted to find out. I know you’re pulling for that outcome right now. I don’t blame you, honestly. Feel free to bail and go read Simmons’ NBA column. It’s much better than this.

41:09 — Finally some comic relief, in the form of Matt Dillon’s dying dad sitting on the toilet. Not funny-ha-ha, but compared to everything else, a laugh riot. (Not a race riot. That comes later, I think.)

42:31 — Fraser to campaign person: “Do they think it was racially motivated?” I have no idea what they’re talking about, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say whatever it is, it was racially motivated. Things just seem to go that way in Crash Angeles.

43:46 — Sandy Bullock is angry at her Latina maid. Over dirty forks or something; as far as she knows, she has no reason to suspect she’s selling her silverware to gangbangers.

44:56 — Ludacris scene. You know what he’s talking about.

45:09 — Terrence Howard on the set of his TV show or movie. TONY DANZA IS THERE! Who’s the racist boss? Tony Danza’s the racist boss!

47:12 — Dillon vs. Shaniqua (Loretta Devine from Boston Public) over insurance minutiae. Uh-oh, he’s talking affirmative action. She calls security. The speech goes on. His dad lost his business to affirmative action. “Not once does he blame you people” for the ruination of his life. I’m sort of longing for Ludacris and Sandy to inject a slightly less noxious kind of racism into this scene. Hoo boy.

49:43 — The Arab shopkeepers’ store has been defaced with Arab slurs. But: They’re Persian, not Arab. Definitely not the same thing, racist graffiti artist, racist pawn shop owner, and now-racist-by-association-movie-watcher! Gotcha! Crash’d!

51:27 — Cheadle’s taking care of his mom the way Dillon takes care of his dad. There’s a message here. There’s a message in every frame in this movie. There are messages between the frames that you can see only if you’re wearing special 4-D glasses. (4-D is the extraracial dimension that exists in a parallel Crash Angeles.)

53:38 — Remember when I said I was going to slow down? Maybe now I’ll follow through on that threat, 1,800 words later.

54:11 — Newton and Howard talking about The Night of the Frisking. I can’t even.

57:20 — Phillippe got his wish and has been reassigned. Dillon takes the news as well as can be expected. I.e., he makes a vaguely threatening speech about how the job changes you or something.

59:12 — A montage of misery. Howard’s upset, the Persian shopkeeper’s melancholy, the soundtrack has gone mournful.

1:00:34 — What do you say we bail on the actual movie for a minute and imagine the Dillon/Phillippe buddy cop movie someone should’ve made instead? It opens with Dillon sitting on an explosive-rigged commode, and Phillippe has to figure out how to pull him off before his partner’s blown to bits right as he’s on the verge of retirement. Now Phillippe, a legendary loose cannon, puts the gun in his mouth and threatens to blow off the top of his own head if the bomb won’t disarm itself. Oddly anachronistic sax music plays. There’s a South African villain who inexplicably hates Dillon even though he’s white. “But you’re blick!” he keeps insisting.3 The toilet bomb, confused, gives up and disarms itself. “Don’t kill yourself, you psychopath!” it shouts at Phillippe. Phillippe withdraws the service revolver from his dome, dives out the window and into a nearby lake in a frantic search for the body of his recently drowned girlfriend, the only woman he’s ever loved, the only woman crazy enough to love him back. He’s too late. He returns to Dillon’s bathroom, but insists on communicating only through the tattered beaver puppet on his hand. The plush beaver speaks with a Cockney accent, yet demands the freedom of the Scottish people. Eddie Murphy arrives in a letterman’s jacket and carrying a lunch sack he’s pretending is full of very sensitive, sound-activated ammunition. He’s also placed bananas in Phillippe’s tailpipe, unbeknownst to Phillippe. This will be hilarious later in the scene. Dillon, slumping in relief against the now-disarmed toilet, is getting too old for this shit. More sax music. I wake up and realize there are still 50 minutes to go in the movie churning away in the browser window.

1:04:13 — Back in the actual movie, Racist Cop Matt Dillon saves a black woman from the flaming wreckage of her car. Things get complicated in Crash Angeles.

1:07:39 — Cheadle’s talking to WILLIAM FICHTNER! about something. It’s some semicorrupt bureaucracy stuff. Too confusannoying to follow.

1:10:20 — Fichtner’s blackmailing Cheadle with a file. I hesitate to use the term “blackmail” here because there are inevitably uncomfortable overtones to that otherwise innocuous term given every other racism-loaded moment in this movie, but that’s quite technically the thing that is happening. I’m at a loss. I’m so, so broken.

1:12:44 — People are in a hall? People are in a hall, talking. Some of the actors from this movie are in a hall, saying things that are ostensibly important to the plot. I mean, I assume that’s what’s happening. I’m checking e-mail right now. Andy Greenwald’s going to be writing about The Office tomorrow, definitely read that. Go right now. We’ll still be here.

1:14:07 — Ludacris just tried to carjack Terrence Howard. Howard kicks his ass something good. Racial slurs are exchanged. Of course they are.

1:15:04 — Car chase! Ludacris and Howard are being chased by Phillippe Riggs and Unnamed New Partner Murtaugh! The chase ends. Guns are drawn. Howard approaches the cops. Phillippe jumps in the middle, immediately eats the barrel of his revolver and threatens to blow off his own head again. Both cops and a belligerent Howard, who’s finally snapped because of the lingering memory of Thandie’s assault and his resulting emasculation (read: being accused of Huxtable fandom), are super-confused. Take the gun out of your own mouth, Captain Lethal Weapon! Why would you do that?! The situation is ultimately defused, no one is shot, the cops drive off, Howard drives off, 32 minutes left in this movie.

1:19 — Howard gives Ludacris his gun back, but not before telling him, “You embarrass me.” (With his choice to be a carjacker.) Because the first thing you want to do after you survive a carjacking that turns into a high-speed police chase and an explosively tense, armed standoff with the cops is to give said carjacker back his gun with a fun little lesson about his life choices. Shoot him, Ludacris! He’s not properly using his second chance at life!

1:21:21 — The Persian shopkeeper accosts Michael Peña at gunpoint, demanding his money for some earlier lock-related bullshit. Peña’s cute daughter runs outside to talk to daddy at the best possible time. Terrified by the sight of a 4-year-old charging toward him, the shopkeeper opens fire, instantly killing her. BUT WAIT, INVISIBLE BULLETPROOF CAPE! She’s fine. She’s fine! What is this bullshit gun they sold me? thinks the shopkeeper. It doesn’t even have enough stopping power to slow down a rampaging kindergartner. I should probably go shoot the pawn shop cheater. This is an outrage.

1:23:01 — Actually, he’s mostly standing on Peña’s lawn, looking confused.

1:23:43 — Cheadle eats a can of beans or something.

1:24:31 — This thought just occurred to me: Did Sandy Bullock do The Blind Side as a kind of cinematic penance for being in this movie? There might be something to that. And Hollywood DID reward her with an Oscar for it. Hmmm. Oh, she just fell down the stairs. But she’s too injured to blame the Echo Park Crazies. At least vocally.

1:28:50 — Phillippe gives Junior Carjacker Tate a ride. Soon they are arguing. Sooner still Phillippe shoots him because he assumes he’s armed and reaching for his gun. Realizing what he’s done, Phillippe dives out the window, into a nearby lake, and frantically searches for the body of his just-drowned girlfriend, the only person who ever loved him, the only person who could help him effectively dispose of the body of the dead onetime carjacker now bleeding to death in the passenger seat of his car. Sax music plays. Where’s his partner? Probably enjoying his fucking retirement with his beautiful family, that’s where. Phillippe puts his gun in his mouth and threatens to blast some ventilation into the top of his skull if he won’t help himself get rid of this body. Yeah, I can’t follow what I’m doing with this bit anymore, either.

1:32:41 — Things seem pretty quiet, movie-wise. (I assume this because I hear tinkling piano. I’m in another window, looking at the Knicks box score. What the hell happened to Jeremy Lin tonight???)

1:34:37 — Ludacris at the chop shop. OK, terrific.

1:35:00 — Cheadle’s mom’s collapsed on the floor of the hospital with grief. Why? Did she agree to live-blog this movie after she signs her dead son’s death certificate? [Editor's note: Quit whining. You brought this on yourself.]

1:37:22 — The Persian shopkeeper’s just hanging out on the floor of his store, looking at the totally useless gun he’s still upset about buying. Cheater! He shoots his daughter as she stumbles upon him. (He does not shoot his daughter.) (He should shoot his daughter, she cheated him by buying that crap gun!)

1:39:11 — BTW, she put blanks in the gun. But you guessed that already. There’s no such thing as an invisible bulletproof cape! Just ask the dead carjacker in Phillippe’s other storyline!

1:40:11 — Brendan Fraser is still in this movie, apparently.

1:40:29 — Bullock’s in bed. She hugs her housekeeper. But suspiciously. (That’s probably my own racial baggage.)

1:41:26 — Phillippe runs away from a fireball! OK, fine, he’s more “sauntering away from a car he lit on fire to hide evidence,” but Phillippe Riggs would have been sprinting away from a fireball. That’s the way he starts each morning, just to get his juices flowing.

1:42:07 — Brendan Fraser part.

1:43:09 — It’s snowing in Crash Angeles. People who don’t live in Crash Angeles: This is a highly, highly unusual occurrence. The only type of extreme weather we get here are raceslides and wildraces. Though, to be fair, crashquakes are far more common.

1:45:18 — Cheadle.

1:45:47 — Oh, right. This is the part where Ludacris opens the back of a white van and lets some illegal Asian immigrants free in Chinatown. If I were better at my job I might have guided you to the end of this plot thread a little more carefully. Sorry about that.

1:47:07 — Another car crash. Ryan Phillippe sprints past them, gun in mouth, demanding the immediate exchange of their documents or he’ll pull the trigger, he swears. Somewhere, Matt Dillon saves another minority motorist, Sandra Bullock learns to live with her new deadbolt, Terrence Howard and Thandie Newton attend couples therapy, Ludacris carjacks an SUV without racial animosity, Cheadle cheadles, snow snows, Brendan Fraser continues being in the movie, and Paul Haggis polishes his two Oscars. Sax music plays. I dive out the window and into a nearby bottle of Jack Daniel’s White Label. Oh. Shit.

END CREDITS.

Filed Under: Mark Lisanti, People

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Mark Lisanti is an editor at Grantland.

Archive @ marklisanti