Worst Best Picture: Is Shakespeare in Love Better or Worse Than Crash?


Alex Russell

In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. Posts will be relatively spoiler free, but there may be some details revealed. Today’s installment is the 1998 winner Shakespeare in Love. Is it better than Crash?

While most Western storytelling owes an indirect debt to Shakespeare, there are two Best Picture winners that are directly Shakespearean: 1948’s Hamlet and 1998’s Shakespeare in LoveHamlet will have to wait.

The whole point of watching all 86 Best Picture winners is to gain an appreciation for nearly a century of film history. I wanted to see where film had come from and to watch that transformation through the films that the Academy had deemed “the best” every year. It’s not a perfect science for a number of reasons — taste chief among them — but it’s as good as guide as any.

hated Crash when I saw it. I hated it so much that I thought that it couldn’t possibly be as bad as I remembered it and I bought it to watch it again. It was worse — much, much worse — and thus this began. This is the 25% mark. We’re 23 down, 63 to go. Shakespeare in Love, a movie often called romantic but forgettable, seems as good as any for a benchmark.

Shakespeare in Love is the story of young Shakespeare trying to write what would eventually become Romeo and Juliet. He struggles, he falls in love with a woman who is promised to a man she does not love, and he finds his muse through a secret love affair. It’s a fine movie, the same way that waffles without butter and syrup are still fine.

There is absolutely nothing in Shakespeare and Love that is challenging or interesting. It’s just a series of events, well told and well acted, but not one that really engages. I didn’t get into The Artist, but I saw how someone could. I’m not entirely sure how someone could be swept away by Shakespeare in Love. It’s a film without challenges.

I’m loathe to invoke the odious “chick flick” as a term, and I won’t, but this movie feels like it’s just attempting “heart.” It feels like someone telling you to feel “warm” rather than making you feel warm. I was a sucker for the warmth of It Happened One Night, so I’ve got red blood in my veins. You don’t have to have Clark Gable to make me care about a love story, but man, this one just feels hollow. It certainly isn’t bad, but then again, it isn’t much of anything.

The Best Part: The acting is all over the map in this one, but Judi Dench is phenomenal as Elizabeth I. She gets in most of the movie’s best lines, which is good, because it would be a shame to waste her. I also like Gwyneth Paltrow’s portrayal of the female lead, and I haven’t really liked her in anything other than The Royal Tenenbaums.

The Worst Part: A movie about Shakespeare is obviously going to have to use some Shakespearean plot devices, but the scene where a man must portray a female servant to gain knowledge of someone’s plans is as subtle as an aircraft carrier. Gender swapping is a crucial part of the movie, and that’s fine, but still… eh. The whole movie just seems to have this lack of effort surrounding it, but I may be heavily influenced by the weirdness of Ben Affleck in the whole deal.

Is It Better or Worse than CrashForgettable is better than horrible. I cannot imagine what would cause Shakespeare in Love to be someone’s favorite movie, but I would want to know. If Crash is anyone’s favorite movie, that’s an entirely different story. That needs to inspire some kind of quarantine area situation.

Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement |12 Years a SlaveThe Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King | The King’s Speech | Rain Man | The Departed | The Bridge on the River Kwai | Marty | Gigi | It Happened One Night | Driving Miss Daisy |

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.


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