'Crash': Win Surprised Director, Too; Notes From the Red Carpet

'Crash': Win Surprised Director, Too

Not since the 1999 Oscars, when "Shakespeare in Love" beat "Saving Private Ryan," have I heard a collective gasp during an Academy Awards ceremony comparable to the one last night when "Crash" triumphed over "Brokeback Mountain."

I was seated in the tenth row on the right aisle, and the effect was as close to a cultural earthquake as you could get in Hollywood.

What happened? Did the Academy voters reject the idea of a movie about gay love taking home the big prize? I doubt it.

What I think happened: For reasons that are somewhat unclear, Focus Features — which released "Brokeback" — is a little like the pre-2005 Red Sox. They cannot close the deal.

It doesn’t help that Focus is notoriously paranoid about press, and has a basically unfriendly attitude when it comes to marketing its movies.

"Crash," on the other hand, was steered to victory by many of the same folks who worked on past Miramax campaigns that brought glory to "Shakespeare," "Chicago," "The English Patient," and, in other categories, "Good Will Hunting," "Cider House Rules," "Chocolat" and others.

That was The Dart Group, where former Miramaxers Cynthia Swartz and Amanda Lundberg ply their magic. And Lions Gate, which released "Crash," knew how to make theirs an underdog story.

Paul Haggis, who wrote (with Bobby Moresco) and directed "Crash," told me later, "When they said the name, I couldn’t believe it. I thought, they’re f——in’ kidding. I heard the gasp, too."

Haggis is an interesting fellow. He started out writing scripts for "Thirtysomething." Then he got his own TV show, the highly acclaimed "EZ Streets," which he wrote with Moresco.

Last year, he was nominated for "Million Dollar Baby." He wrote the script for Clint Eastwood's next film, due in the fall.

Almost completely bald, Haggis is extremely affable and is married to actress Deborah Rennard, who played JR Ewing’s secretary, Sly, on "Dallas."

"I hope Larry Hagman was watching last night," Rennard told me at the Governor’s Ball following the Oscars. No doubt Hagman, who is an Academy member, voted for "Crash," too.

Notes From the Red Carpet

Christopher Lloyd, the genius comic actor from "Taxi," told me he’s seen the Internet "Brokeback Mountain" parody that reconfigures clips from his "Back to the Future" movies. In them, he and Michael J. Fox are lovers. "It’s hysterical," he said, "very funny."…

Luke Wilson and his brother Owen were each at the show last night, even though they weren’t directly involved. I suspect Owen had something to do with Ben Stiller's funny "green screen" bit. Luke told me he thought the show was "fun as hell."…

There were more trains on dresses last night than trains at Penn Station. Walking up the stairs into the Kodak Theatre, Sandra Bullock kept stepping on Catherine Keener’s dress, prompting the two actresses to get into a mock catfight. …

Some old-timers came to the show: Mickey Rooney, of course, and Jack Riley (Mr. Carlin from "The Bob Newhart Show.") …

George Clooney told me he’d be skipping all the afterparties, and he did. "I want to spend time with my friends," he said. …

Felicity Huffman, who was expected by many to win the Oscar for "Transamerica," spent just a few minutes at the Vanity Fair party and then went home. "She’s exhausted," said director Duncan Tucker. He said it was likely many voters never watched their DVDs of "Transamerica," and cited Uma Thurman, who said just that…