Worst Best Picture: Is Chicago 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 2002 winner Chicago. Is it better than Crash?

When I mention this project to people they always have the same general response. People always mention the movie they think is the worst Oscar winner ever. Usually it’s Crash. Sometimes it’s not.

When someone says a different movie, I desperately want to see it. I don’t have a plan for if something is worse than Crash, but I want to have to figure that out. I want one of the other 85 movies between Wings and 12 Years a Slave to be so bad that I have to retitle this whole damn thing. So far, through roughly a third of them, nothing has really approached it.

The closest so far is probably The Artist. I don’t have a great case to make there, I just thought it was obsessed with the wrong parts of itself. I thought it was somehow both indulgent and uninteresting. I didn’t love Shakespeare in Love, either, but neither movie was so odious that I could justify hate like I have hate for Crash.

All of this is to say that people told me that Chicago had a chance to dethrone the king of the list. When I heard that, I got excited. I wanted to see a musical that had a shot at being worse than the sledgehammer-gentle message of Crash that “everyone is bad, forever.”

There are a handful of musicals that have won Best Picture over the years. They’re mostly iconic films like My Fair Lady and West Side Story. Some of them are oddities like Gigiwhich BuzzFeed called the worst Best Picture winner of all time in their listGigi is strange, to be sure, but it’s not terrible. It’s actually pretty fun, which is what I assume people mostly want out of a musical.

Chicago is also supposed to be fun, and I was definitely surprised to find that I really enjoyed it. The songs are catchy and the dancing is flashy and it has Taye Diggs. Are you going to tell me you hate Taye Diggs?

The thing is, I don’t really have a lot to say about Chicago, because I went in with some weird expectations. I expected a movie that was “big” and “loud” in obnoxious ways, but I got something charming and refreshing. Chicago “worked” on me. There’s no love story to get in the way and there’s no real development, but it’s fun. It’s a bunch of songs and visuals that combine to form something mostly worth looking at. I think that’s all a musical is supposed to be, right?

The Best Part: A lot of the reviews for Chicago talk about the dancing being largely smoke and mirrors. I’m not a sharp enough dance critic (let no one tell you otherwise!) to know, but it seemed pretty great to me. I do not generally like movies like Chicago, but the “Cell Block Tango” performance was pretty excellent.

The Worst Part: I’m not in love with the ending. I don’t think it’s really a spoiler to say how a musical ends, but it just feels really haphazardly tied up. You can’t fault this version for how the actual story of Chicago ends, but “the smooth guy is smooth, the putz is a putz, and everyone else is whatever” isn’t exactly dynamic.

Is It Better or Worse than CrashI’ve recently decided I need to go back and rewatch Crash, because I’m running out of extremely specific complaints about my subject matter. Both movies have a cynical view of the world, but again, Chicago has more subtlety about its cynicism despite having a scene where a guy controls characters with strings. Crash deserves to be raked over the coals for a lot of faults, but none more than how obvious it is.

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 | Shakespeare in Love | Wings | Midnight Cowboy | Rocky | Gone with the Wind|

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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