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Hollywood awards local film best picture

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    Monday, March 06, 2006

    LOS ANGELES (Reuters): The Oscars gave its top prize to a movie set in its own backyard, Los Angeles, a city with a sunny exterior that in ''Crash'' is pierced to yield darkness and mistrust based on race.

    ''Crash'' examines 36 hours in the lives of about a dozen L.A. dwellers of different ethnic and class backgrounds.

    Oscar voters, most of whom live in and around Los Angeles just like the characters of ''Crash,'' surprised oddsmakers by picking the hometown film over ''Brokeback Mountain,'' which best director winner Ang Lee set in Wyoming.

    Larry McMurtry, who won the Oscar for best adapted screenplay in writing ''Brokeback Mountain'' with Diana Ossana, was asked backstage if ''Crash'' won because the Academy voted for a favorite son.

    ''Yes, I do. Hometown movie,'' said McMurtry.

    ''Crash'' director Paul Haggis, who turns 53 this week, has lived more than half his life in Los Angeles, where he moved after graduating from college in his native Canada.

    ''Crash'' gave moviegoers a view of what Los Angeles residents may see from their cars.

    If they crashed into each other, that is, according to the script by Haggis and Bobby Moresco, which took the Oscar for best original screenplay.

    In Haggis' Los Angeles, people carefully construct isolated lives designed to keep distance from people.

    ''The movie is about our fear of strangers and the fact that we isolate ourselves now in modern society because we're more and more in fear of strangers,'' Haggis told ''Talk of the Nation,'' a National Public Radio show.

    ''And it's only when we actually collide with each other that we actually feel anything,'' he said.

    It was a confrontation between Haggis and street thugs in 1991 that led to the writing of ''Crash.'' Haggis has often told the story of how proud he was of his new Porsche and how it was carjacked as he and his wife at the time returned from the premiere of ''Silence of the Lambs.'' Two young black men with guns stole his car. Realizing that the thieves had his keys, he called for a locksmith to come to his house after midnight.

    He adapted both scenes from his real life for ''Crash.'' ''Ten years later, I woke up at two in the morning wondering about those young men,'' Haggis said in an interview last spring when ''Crash'' opened.

    Los Angeles has nearly 4 million residents and is one of the most racially and ethnically mixed cities in America. It has people from 140 different countries who speak 224 different languages.

    Whites account for less than half the population, with the rest comprising large communities of Latinos, blacks and Asian-Americans.

    Haggis said his attempt to understand the men -- from the same city but a vastly different world than his own -- who took his car helped him focus his Oscar-winning writing.

    ''We all have these tendencies in us that could go this way or that,'' Haggis said. ''I think that's the real key in writing.

    To look at a character without judgment.'' ''Crash'' was released by Lionsgate, a unit of Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.

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