Crash

Crash won the Oscar for Best Picture of 2005, and two others, Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing, losing in another three. Three is a rather low tally of Oscars for a Best Picture winner, and three other films also won three Oscars that year, Brokeback Mountain, King Kong and Memoirs of a Geisha. The Hugo and Nebula that year both went to Serenity.

As mentioned last time, IMDB counts Crash as a 2004 rather than 2005 film; users rate it 16th on one ranking and 40th on the other for that year. The other 2005 Best Picture nominees were Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Good Night, and Good Luck and Munichhave seen, it’s mainly sf: Batman Begins, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Madagascar, Serenity, The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, possibly The Curse of the Were-Rabbit though I’m not sure, possibly also the Icelandic Beowulf and Grendel. Johnny Depp as Willie Wonka left the most enduring impression. Here’s a trailer for Crash with Barber’s bloody Adagio for Strings yet again:

A stellar cast, but only two of them have been in previous Oscar or Hugo winners. Michael Peña is Daniel the locksmith here (almost the only interesting character in the film) and was also (with more hair) Omar in Million Dollar Baby.

A bit more obscurely, Alexis Rhee is Kim Lee here, and twenty-two years ago in Blade Runner she was the woman on the walls.

Crash is about the intersecting lives of a bunch of people in Los Angeles, and about racism. It thinks its heart is in the right place, and the cast are all people who know (or ought to) what they are doing. It left me rather cold. I didn’t think it was completely awful, though a lot of people really do think it was completely awful, and one of the worst Best Picture winners ever, if not indeed the worst (see two such lists here and here). I’ll give you in evidence Ta-Nehisi Coates:

I don’t think there’s a single human being in Crash. Instead you have arguments and propaganda violently bumping into each other, impressed with their own quirkiness. (“Hey look, I’m a black carjacker who resents being stereotyped.”) But more than a bad film, Crash, which won an Oscar (!), is the apotheosis of a kind of unthinking, incurious, nihilistic, multiculturalism.

Clarisse Loughrey in the Independent:

The film’s treatise on modern racism avoids anything that might make its audience feel uncomfortable or, heaven forbid, complicit. Crash’s characters aren’t relatable. They’re limp puppets, posed in various moral scenarios, with all the unsubtle airs of an afternoon school special.

Sean Mulvihill:

…resoundingly ham-fisted in everything that it does, carrying its story of overt racism with all the nuance of a cheap political cartoon … Crash wallows in countless crude racial stereotypes without anything resembling social commentary – Asians are bad drivers, not all Latinos are Mexican, black people don’t like be viewed as criminals even when they are violent criminals, and the job of a police officer will make you a racist even if you start out as an idealist.

Alex Russell has devoted an entire series of blog posts to watching every Best Picture winner, and deciding if they were better or worse than Crash. Spoiler: he still thinks Crash is the worst.

The first thing you notice when you watch Crash is just how quickly it is… stupid. Calling a movie “stupid” is a simple criticism that should generally be reserved for much more base subject matter, but Crash starts off with an onslaught of some of the most asinine and insulting dialogue ever put to film. The first five minutes has dozens and dozens of slurs. You are struck, as a viewer, at how this not only isn’t the best movie of 2004, but how it barely feels like a movie at all. It feels more like a play written in a creative writing class full of teenagers.

Paul Haggis, who directed the film, is not exactly vigorous in its defence (in a 2015 interview whose original text is no longer online, but these words were widely quoted):

Was it the best film of the year? I don’t think so. … You shouldn’t ask me what the best film of the year was because I wouldn’t be voting for ‘Crash,’ only because I saw the artistry that was in the other films. … Is it a great film? I don’t know.

So that’s what other people don’t like about it. I’ll sum up what I didn’t like about it:

The music. I love a good soundtrack, and I don’t usually notice a bad soundtrack. But here the swelling of angel choirs in the background means you’re about to see something Very Significant happening on screen. It’s doing its best to make up for:

The cinematography. I’m astonished that this won an Oscar also for Best Film Editing. At several crucial moments, the camera angles are so badly chosen that it’s not at all clear what is going on. Some find that enigmatic and mysterious, but I found it incompetent.

The racism. For a movie that’s supposed to be all about consciousness-raising, there are a lot of sour notes. Most of the characters are, as noted above, complete stereotypes. Why is it the Iranian character who attempts an irrational vindictive revenge murder? Why does it come as a surprise to Thandie Newton’s character that the police sometimes do bad things to black people?

The acting. Apart from Michael Peña, what are any of them doing? Especially Sandra Bullock?

The weather. Snow? It’s symbolical.

At the same time, however ham-fisted the presentation and leaden the acting, it’s not actually boring, and I did keep watching to see how all the various different plotlines would tie up (though I sighed in disbelief when it turns out who the long-lost brother is). I am putting it four fifths of the way down my own rankings, just below Tom Jones and above The Greatest Show on Earth.

Next up is The Departed, of which I know nothing; before that, Serenity and Howl’s Moving Castle.

1920s: Wings (1927-28) | The Broadway Melody (1928-29)
1930s: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30) | Cimarron (1930-31) | Grand Hotel (1931-32) | Cavalcade (1932-33) | It Happened One Night (1934) | Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, and books) | The Great Ziegfeld (1936) | The Life of Emile Zola (1937) | You Can’t Take It with You (1938) | Gone with the Wind (1939, and book)
1940s: Rebecca (1940) | How Green Was My Valley (1941) | Mrs. Miniver (1942) | Casablanca (1943) | Going My Way (1944) | The Lost Weekend (1945) | The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) | Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) | Hamlet (1948) | All the King’s Men (1949)
1950s: All About Eve (1950) | An American in Paris (1951) | The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) | From Here to Eternity (1953) | On The Waterfront (1954, and book) | Marty (1955) | Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) | The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) | Gigi (1958) | Ben-Hur (1959)
1960s: The Apartment (1960) | West Side Story (1961) | Lawrence of Arabia (1962) | Tom Jones (1963) | My Fair Lady (1964) | The Sound of Music (1965) | A Man for All Seasons (1966) | In the Heat of the Night (1967) | Oliver! (1968) | Midnight Cowboy (1969)
1970s: Patton (1970) | The French Connection (1971) | The Godfather (1972) | The Sting (1973) | The Godfather, Part II (1974) | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) | Rocky (1976) | Annie Hall (1977) | The Deer Hunter (1978) | Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
1980s: Ordinary People (1980) | Chariots of Fire (1981) | Gandhi (1982) | Terms of Endearment (1983) | Amadeus (1984) | Out of Africa (1985) | Platoon (1986) | The Last Emperor (1987) | Rain Man (1988) | Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
1990s: Dances With Wolves (1990) | The Silence of the Lambs (1991) | Unforgiven (1992) | Schindler’s List (1993) | Forrest Gump (1994) | Braveheart (1995) | The English Patient (1996) | Titanic (1997) | Shakespeare in Love (1998) | American Beauty (1999)
21st century: Gladiator (2000) | A Beautiful Mind (2001) | Chicago (2002) | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) | Million Dollar Baby (2004, and book) | Crash (2005) | The Departed (2006) | No Country for Old Men (2007) | Slumdog Millionaire (2008) | The Hurt Locker (2009)
2010s: The King’s Speech (2010) | The Artist (2011)

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