Don Cheadle

Is No Sudden Move the Best Movie of All Time?

This is Best Movie of All Time, an eternal search for the greatest film ever. Read the full archives here.

Steven Soderbergh was on WTF with Marc Maron last week to promote his new film No Sudden Move. Maron spent a significant amount of the interview discussing the realities of filmmaking with the director. I’d encourage anyone with any interest in films to listen to it, as Soderbergh is more honest about his career than most people are willing to be in settings like a huge podcast with tons of listeners. He says that he’s failed a few times, which is nothing new to admit, but he talks about how failure changes your view of what you do next. David Mamet, years ago on the same show, said something that sticks with me still: “you can sink with your good ideas, but if you want to succeed, you better learn to entertain people.” Mamet arguably is not taking his own advice and obviously has some significant issues these days, but it all ties back to a conversation that Soderbergh goes much deeper on.

Soderbergh said that No Sudden Move is a movie, not a film. He also said that he hasn’t made a film since Che in 2008. All of his recent works are movies, not films. Maron pushed him on this distinction and the director said that films win awards. It seems to be like the classic definition of pornography: “you know it when you see it.” A film is a specific type of movie to Soderbergh, and honestly, this is a definition we can all probably live with in some way. The Academy even recently tried to make a new category for “popular” movies, which would definitely feature what Soderbergh would call “movies” and not “films.” Soderbergh has only made two movies that lost money, prior to the recent apocalypse for theaters, and those are Che, which he calls a film, and his remake of Solaris which we have discussed in this series before. I’m not sure if losing money is necessarily a defining point in the movie/film continuum, but there’s probably something there.

No Sudden Move is probably a better movie than Ocean’s Eleven or Logan Lucky, my two favorite Soderbergh movies (not films), but I don’t think I enjoyed it as much. Almost every review urges you to see it twice, which I normally balk at but this time I obliged. I don’t think you should have to see anything twice, but if you feel compelled some movies definitely reward repeat viewings. The twists here aren’t necessarily so confusing that you need to do it twice, but the second viewing will help you understand how some characters feel they fit into all of this. There’s still plenty unexplained, but that’s the nature of the genre. Sometimes when characters move past the double cross into the triple cross in a gangster movie, you’re not meant to keep track.

Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro play small-time hoods who get called in for what should be an easy job. They’re supposed to “babysit” a family and collect a document from a safe. It’s easy, then it becomes difficult. This is run-of-the-mill stuff for a movie like this, but the art is in how you pivot. The heist itself is tense, as it requires a low-level employee (David Harbour, who you’ll recognize from Stranger Things) to leverage his affair with a secretary to gain entry to a safe. The safe is empty, onto the next twist. Things progress from there.

I won’t walk you through the plot, because movies like this are all in the plot. Ray Liotta is fantastic as the hot-heated schemer who put this all together, Brendan Fraser is an absolute highlight as a mid-level crook, and Amy Seimetz, Jon Hamm, and Bill Duke really make even smaller roles feel like significant, real characters caught up in a constantly expanding mess.

I do have to give away a cameo to talk about the best part, though. Matt Damon plays the money behind the muscle and shows up towards the end to explain what was really happening. This device can feel forced in lesser movies, but here it reads like George Clooney’s Danny Ocean moments where he tells everyone exactly what was happening during all the quick cuts and the jazzy music. This is less of a reveal after misdirects and more of a look in the boardroom, but it plays out the same way. It speaks to the larger politics of Detroit and the 1950s war between car companies that is all happening in the background of No Sudden Move and it makes this feel like a much more significant movie as a result. This isn’t just ten crooks all trying to rob each other, this is a story about a much, much larger robbery than any one person could pull off.

The leads are good and the supporting cast is even better, and ultimately this is just a very clever, very smoothly polished story about what happens when people try to take more than they’re given. There are several scenes where characters put words to the theme, directly pointing out to each other that they’re being greedy. It never rises to the level of the rat in The Departed, but it’s an interesting metacommentary on the film within the film. It’s worth seeing once, and maybe twice, but I see what Soderbergh means when he calls it a “movie” and not a “film.” Maybe you think that’s him being self-effacing, but I think it’s him moving the bar down. If this is just supposed to be a good time, it clears that bar with ease.

Is it better than the last movie we looked at? Yes, this is significantly better than Tropic Thunder. It will age better, too, which is interesting. The targets here (greed and corporate crime being more insidious than individual crime) are targets that will deserve ire for a very, very long time.

Is it the best movie of all time? I guess you could spin this question for a Soderbergh production, given his terminology. The best movie is significantly better than the worst film, using his terms, but I guess the best film ever is better than the best movie ever. Maybe we’re stretching this, but Soderbergh was not trying to dethrone Persona when he made this movie, so it’s fair that he didn’t do it.

You can watch No Sudden Move on HBO Max (subscription required). You can recommend a movie to me for this series through email at readingatrecess @ or on Twitter @alexbad and I will watch it, no matter what. Try to pick something good.

Worst Best Picture: Halfway Through the List, Let’s Revisit Crash. Is it Really that Bad?


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… Crash. Again. Damnit.

I just wanted to find an excuse to watch all the Best Picture winners. That’s all this was supposed to be, and now it is breaking me. Crash is winning. How did we get here?

There are 86 movies that have won Best Picture, though technically some of them won before it was called that exactly. The point is that there are 86 movies that The People That Make Such Decisions have said are the best of the best. There are other ways to watch 86 of the supposed greatest movies of all time, but there are no other ways to think about Crash, the 2005 winner, every single week for a year.

It’s an inane project to compare the other 85 to Crash — clearly — but it serves a purpose to me. It forces my hand. It’s much easier to give up on something when you don’t have to represent yourself publicly. For that reason, these are sometimes just for me. No one really cares what I thought about Mrs. Miniver or You Can’t Take It With You, I don’t have any delusions about that. What I do have is a need to see all 86 of these damn movies in 2014, and the way to do that is to have a space to come talk about each one. Hopefully I’m doing so in a way that’s interesting, albeit it Crash-filled. You be the judge of that.

The point is this is the halfway point. At the bottom of the page you’ll see 43 links to 43 articles about 43 movies. Some of them, like It Happened One NightMidnight Cowboy, and Kramer vs. Kramer, will stick with me for the rest of my life. Some of them, like Amadeus, Shakespeare in Love, and The Last Emperor, are already beginning to fade in my mind. As with any list of things, it is not a perfect summary of greatness in film history.

But is that the rub with the entire project? Has anyone ever said “these are the best?” I’d argue that they have, even though some of them have rightfully faded from memory. You have to get real deep in film history for anyone to care about Cavalcade or Grand Hotel, both rightfully so, but on the flip side some modern films on the list, like The Silence of the Lambs and No Country for Old Men, are instant classics. The list must be considered to at least be a summary of what people found great at the time, and thus can be used as a functional canon for what has constituted a “great film” over history.

So why in the hell is Crash on there?

None of the first 42 other movies came close to Crash. I hated The Artist, I was bored by Shakespeare in Love and A Man for All Seasons, and I can’t wrap my mind around the inherent strangeness of You Can’t Take It With You, but none of those came even close. They all have merits, and after watching Crash again last night, I still contend that Crash has none.

The weirdest part is that this is a divisive opinion; not everyone hates Crash. It’s certainly the movie that comes up the most in lists of the worst, but it’s by no means considered a “bad movie” on its own. The hate seems to have come from people putting it on a list with Casablanca and The Godfather.

I originally felt that way. I thought Crash was a little dumb, but not offensively so. It’s only after spending so much of my free time considering what Crash is and what it hopes to be that I feel a real hate for it, like an embittered ex-spouse. We are having a prolonged, public divorce and I never loved you, anyway, movie about racism.

After 43 straight posts about it, I got worried that I was losing touch with the source material. Rewatching it unearthed some new feelings, which I will now share with the class:

  • The very first scene of Crash opens with a car crash, where a white woman asks an Asian woman if she noticed her “blake lights” instead of brake lights. It sets the tone early, in the way that a fire will eventually be a pile of soot. It is completely unnecessary.
  • It’s moments like “blake lights” that make you wonder just how worried the writers of Crash were that people would miss their DEEP AND COMPLICATED MESSAGE about racism. There are films on this list that talk about race better than Crash. Some of them are six decades older than it. That is inexcusable.
  • “Hey Osama, plan a jihad on your own time” is said in scene two of Crash. I’m not going to go scene-by-scene, but you have to understand that these things happen essentially while there are still credits rolling on the screen. It feels like a tonal suckerpunch. You haven’t even had time to understand this world yet, but you already know that everyone is terrible all the time.
  • Ludacris enters the movie with a monologue about not getting offered coffee while eating spaghetti. This may be the best part of the movie, because no one ever addresses that these things are incongruous. When I was 15 I had to find a fancy dish to add some specificity to a short story I was writing and I went with something insane — turkey parm, I think — the point is that any decent editor would fix that, but they left in this insane coffee/spaghetti pairing. No one has ever had coffee with spaghetti.
  • The general direction for the acting in Crash seems to have been “no, even angrier.” Everyone is mad at everyone for every reason. This is supposed to feel “gritty” and “tense” but it feels “forced” and “ridiculous.” People treat the attempted murder of their children with less malice than a door not closing right.
  • Tony Danza. Don’t watch Crash, but if you do, watch it just for the scene where Tony Danza confronts Terrence Howard about someone not sounding “black enough.” Within the narrative of the movie it’s supposed to feel racially uncomfortable, but Tony Danza is a little too silly for how shameful this is supposed to be. It also happens after a much more intense white vs. black racial interaction with Terrence Howard, but this breaks him. Maybe being berated by Tony Danza is the most shameful thing possible. I take this back.
  • Don Cheadle does a good job with a complicated role. They make him say some really stupid things because Crash was written without an editor (“can’t talk mom, I’m having sex with a white lady” is hall-of-fame-bad) but he’s a tragic figure that I actually really connected with this time around. Great job doing more with less than less.
  • Brendan Frasier is married to Sandra Bullock and their storyline is terrible. Sandra Bullock may play the least compelling character in film history in this movie. Every single line she says is supposed to establish that she’s a terrible racist, but everyone is a terrible racist, so she just seems to be some kind of sociopath.

We have 43 movies to go. There are some classics on the remaining list, like The Deer HunterWest Side Story, and The Godfather II. There are also some famous duds, like Around the World in 80 DaysCimarron, and Dances With Wolves. All 43 will be compared to Crash. All must be judged. We came here to find something worse than Crash. So far, the task has been unfinished. I’m going back into the breach.

The Best Part: Don Cheadle.

The Worst Part: Sandra Bullock. Or Brendan Frasier. Or Tony Danza. Or Matt Dillon. Or the writing. Or the editing. You pick.

Is It Better or Worse than Crash? It is Crash. It is terrible.

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 | Chicago | Gladiator | Cavalcade | The Greatest Show on Earth | You Can’t Take It With You | The Best Years of Our Lives | The GodfatherCasablancaGrand Hotel | Kramer vs. Kramer | The French Connection | In the Heat of the Night | An American in Paris | Patton | Mrs. Miniver | Amadeus | Crash Revisited |

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