Worst Best Picture: Is Crash the Worst Oscar Winner of All Time?

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Alex Russell

On March 5th, 2006, America watched the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences award Crash the Academy Award for Best Picture. I didn’t personally watch the 78th Oscars, but I like a good movie as much as the next person. A few years later, I put Crash on my Netflix queue (back when people still had a Netflix queue for discs) and I waited.

Crash came. I watched Crash. I did not like Crash.

I still remember watching it on a tiny TV in a kitchen in Memphis. I remember wondering what I was missing and what everyone else had figured out. I watched the climax twice to try to pull out whatever beauty that other people saw in it. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me.

History has not remembered Crash fondly. It tops a number of lists of “worst” Oscar winners ever. Now that we’ve had plenty of time to crown other winners and compare them to Crash, we’ve got enough time before it and time after it to ask this question:

Is Crash the worst movie to ever win the Oscar for Best Picture?

With Argo last year, there are 84 other choices. We’re going to check them all.

In 2014, we’re going to watch every single movie that has ever been named best of the year. We’ll compare all of them to that most-hated-of-them-all Crash. Future editions of this feature will explore one of the other winners and then compare it to Crash, but we’ve gotta start somewhere.

We’ve gotta rewatch Crash itself.

I bought Crash with actual, real money. It turns out that it’s cheaper to buy the damn DVD than to get it any other way online. So now I have this shame capsule, forever. Some part of me wants to justify this purchase as “research materials” or “sources” or “self-inflicted punishment” The truth is that I had to know if it was as bad as I remembered it. I’ve actually only seen about 20 or 30 Best Picture winners, and for all of them I am going to revisit them completely. Crash can be no different.

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. It is relentless with its message, and it assumes that you, as a viewer, will forget what it means to say if it ever stops saying it for one second.

For those of you who have not seen it, Crash is about racism. A handful of people in Los Angeles interact with the classic “other” stereotypes that they are most afraid of until they are all connected by a shoestring plot. Everything that happens in the movie serves to “challenge” the viewer. No one is “good” and no one is “bad,” everyone is just afraid of the “other.” Black people get pulled over and are mistreated by white people. A Chinese man gets run over by black people who essentially leave him to die. A white lady feels threatened by a Latino who is fixing her lock. There’s no reason to delve into the specifics of the plot. It is enough to know that Crash really, really wants you to think about what you think you know about racists. Surprise, everyone is racist at all times, to everyone.

It becomes a challenge to find any character with any redeeming qualities. People don’t act like people, they act like stand-ins for evil ideas. You know when you read an obvious allegory and someone’s name is like, Charity, or Hope or something and you roll your eyes because the author thought you were so stupid that you might not understand anything not spelled all the way out for you? Crash is worried you will miss the forest, the trees, and the ground. It’s shocking people aren’t wearing T-shirts that list the themes they represent on them.

In one of the opening scenes, Ludacris carjacks the Defense Attorney of Los Angeles. He does this after giving a long speech about how he felt discriminated against when he didn’t get enough coffee with his spaghetti at an Italian restaurant. You can accuse me of leaving out parts to make that sound absurd, but then you’d have to see Crash, wouldn’t you?

Is Crash all bad? No, not by a long shot. There are actually some decent scenes in the second act of the movie, but they are all shattered by these interjected lines. Every time some tension develops or a conflict goes somewhere, someone all but screams a slur at the camera. It robs the movie of any authenticity. This gets especially meta when one of the characters on a movie set hears from Tony Danza that a black character isn’t “authentic” enough. It’s clearly supposed to make the recipient of the message uncomfortable, but it is not something an authentic person would say. The movie is evil and calls this “normal.” If you want to make a movie about how no one is truly good or evil, you can’t make everyone evil all the time. There’s no baseline. It’s sci-fi without rules.

Some special attention needs to be given to the music. Nearly every “important” scene where two stories intersect has this weird Gladiator-style choral music over it. The effect is that even when a scene is in danger of getting to a good place, it takes you out of it. It happens every time the movie gets really, really proud of itself. It never happens deservedly.

If it was just some movie that came on TBS on a Saturday afternoon you would watch five minutes of it, snap back into yourself, and turn on some other horrible movie. The biggest sin of Crash is that the people who tell us what the good movies are say it was the best of them. It should just be a forgotten, weird piece of 2004. It’s not, though, and that’s why we embark on this journey.

The Best Part: There’s an OK scene with Terrence Howard. He does OK in one scene where he gets carjacked. That scene immediately becomes one of the worst of the movie when cops with shotguns stand down after they are asked real nice.

The Worst Part: At one point, a character shoots a kid. The kid doesn’t die (because the gun is filled with blanks) and then the family walks away and leaves the shooter standing in broad daylight. If you shoot at my kid, we’re at least going to have a conversation.

Honorable mention for worst goes to Sandra Bullock, who plays a completely useless character that does not drive any element of the plot. I’m not anti-Sandra Bullock, but whoa. To call her “misused” implies that they made an attempt. They did not.

Next time we’ll be back to compare Crash to another movie. We will not stop until we have done our due diligence. We’ll answer this, once and for all: what is the Worst Best Picture?

 Image credit: IMDB

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