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 or on Twitter at @alexbad.

Tough Questions: What’s the Dumbest Thing You’ve Done to Yourself Lately?


Every Monday we ask everyone who hangs out around here to answer a tough question. This week:

What’s the Dumbest Thing You’ve Done to Yourself Lately?

Rules are simple: everyone does stupid things and everyone does things that aren’t in their own best interest, but when have you last combined the two mistakes to form a delicious fusion mistake? You do it to yourself, you do, and that’s what really hurts.

Alex Russell

I went to Dallas last weekend on a last-minute trip. I booked the tickets just a few days before leaving because I originally wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to go or not. In my haste to do so I apparently booked a trip that left Chicago on February 20th and returned from Dallas on March 24th. I discovered this when the helpful woman at the Spirit Airlines desk alerted me to what month it is. Turns out that I don’t know what month it is, and Delta Airlines was happy to take $200 from me to fix my stupid mistake. I briefly considered lying when retelling this to make myself look better, but no, I sincerely just booked the stupidest plane ticket of all time. No need to sugarcoat it. I can’t believe I can dress myself (most days, kinda, debatable).

Scott Phillips

I’ve done some stupid stuff in my life. Most of it as a result of drinking. But since I’ve slowed that down and started to become an adult, my dumbest thing I did was probably go through this ridiculous Chicago winter without a hat and gloves. I got a new winter coat courtesy of my girlfriend and I never decided it would be necessary to cover my hands and head for the rest of winter. Which was really smart, because it’s February 26th and we STILL had subzero temperatures when I left the house this morning. Definitely not the brightest move in my book, but now it’s nearly March and I’m too stubborn to get them at this point.

Austin Duck

Recently, shit got real, and I started smoking again. Worst. Mistake. Ever.

Alex Marino

Thrillist put out a list of the best pizza places in Chicago by neighborhood and I was dumb enough to read all the idiot fucking Yelp reviews about them. Yelp reviews are the smallest step above right-wing blog comments sections except I rely on Yelp for restaurant ideas while comments sections are mostly avoidable. I read this one particular review that gave a place two stars because it wasn’t as good as the pizza they grew up with in NYC and what they had when they traveled to Italy. The person that wrote it should have their Yelp posting privileges revoked by court order, their computer thrown off the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the pieces of the computer baked into a thin crust pizza they can shove up their ass.

Brent Hopkins

I think if there was a way to win the tough question I actually may win this one. The dumbest thing I did to myself happened right before I came home from Korea and I was going to my new job to maybe meet my new employers. I was cleanly shaven and honestly fresh to death, as they say, but I had one problem… My nose. Specifically, my nose hairs had grown to unruly lengths as my trimmer had broken and I hadn’t picked up another one. I was alone in my apartment and — I have no idea why I thought this was a good idea — I decided that the best way to to handle the problem was to channel my inner military tactician and “burn the fields,” so to speak. I grabbed a lighter and proceeded to burn the nose hairs in one nostril and then, as the smell of seared hair filled my nasal passage, I dropped the lighter and said “What the hell is wrong with you? Are you an idiot?” Luckily, I managed to hit only the nostril and didn’t sear off my eyebrows, but I had the smell of cooked nose hairs for a few hours to remind me that spending that much time alone can be dangerous to your health.

Jonathan May

Of the myriad dumb things I’ve done to myself recently, I’d have to say pissing off the checkout lady at my regular Walgreens takes the cake. I simply asked if they had more iced tea, but after ten minutes of searching, she said she could look in the back. As I was on my way to school, I blurted out, “No thanks, I’m in a hurry.” I realized as I said it that I had officially pissed her off. A blizzard passed between us in those ten seconds following. Fuck, I thought. So now I have to go to Walgreens the night before, when all the weirdos are out.

Andrew Findlay

I recently went to a movie downtown. Finding parking in DC is usually mildly time-consuming, not terrible. I found a likely spot, left my car, and walked away as I pulled up the parking meter phone app. When I clicked “pay,” the program said “parking not available in this location at this time.” I have no idea why this information simply made me shrug my shoulders and keep walking to the movies, but it did. Come time to go home, my car is gone. My wife calls the number on the parking meter, and the dispatch lady tells us it was deposited at 10th and G, a block away from where we are standing. We walk down a ways, find it, and there’s a 100 dollar ticket for parking in a rush hour lane, a 100 dollar charge for the tow, and a pink sheet itemizing the damage the tow truck did to my car. You know the amazing scene in Forrest Gump where he tells Jenny that he’s not a smart man, but he knows what love is? The first part of that, only the first part, was playing on repeat in my head for a while after that night.

Mike Hannemann

The dumbest thing I’ve done to myself lately was to take what I like to refer to as an “unfamiliar bus.” The bus is terrifying to me, but I figured what the hell, I can do this. I decided that I would take a bus route home from work, rather than the train, so I could stop off at a Best Buy to get a new video game. I had the entire thing planned out hours beforehand (I Googled several routes) and knew what I was going to do. Then I ended up on the wrong bus. So I got off after one stop and got on another one. It was also the wrong bus. Five minutes later I realized this and got on another bus. Spoiler alert: It was not the right bus. After a total of five buses I got where I was going. The best part of the story is that, at 30, I got this lost trying to buy a Donkey Kong game. At the very least, I earned the adult equivalent of a participation ribbon.