Leonardo DiCaprio

Worst Best Picture: Is Titanic Better or Worse Than Crash?

titanic

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 1997 winner Titanic. Is it better than Crash?

I don’t think enough time has passed yet for us to really know how to talk about Titanic yet, but at the same time, can you believe it was 17 years ago?

Titanic might be the most polarizing movie on the list. People who liked it saw it multiple times in the theater and people who didn’t like it hated it. I expected this to be a difficult trip to sea, but honestly, it’s somewhere in between those extremes. It’s sappy and silly, but it’s also got genuine moments. I suppose you can say that about most love stories, but I was most interested in attempting to judge Titanic without what I already knew about it.

I was a young teenager when Titanic came out, and the young teenager response was mostly poorly defined snark. You just had to remind whatever much-nicer-than-you person you were berating that it was a movie about a boat sinking. After three hours and a lot of Leo, I can confirm, the boat does sink, but there’s more to talk about. There’s just not… a lot more to talk about.

It’s pretty thin. Leo DiCaprio plays Jack Dawson, a plucky street urchin who just wants to find his fortune on the high seas! Kate Winslet plays Rose, who loves him because her monstrous husband-to-be (played by Billy Zane) is cartoonishly evil. There’s a bunch of other people, but calling them “characters” might be a stretch. Rose and Jack fall in love and Billy Zane tries to stop them/rob them/arrest them/kill them/etc. By the end it’s high comedy, and it really feels like James Cameron was worried that we wouldn’t understand who the bad guy was. The line between good and bad isn’t as obvious as it is in Avatar, but it’s just as likely to induce eye-rolling.

While this love triangle plays out, Rose has to show Jack she knows how to drink and dance and whatever and Jack has to yuk his way through a high-class dinner with her friends and family. Your patience for Titanic will depend on how much you like this kind of thing. If the “rich girl just wants to fall in love with someone outside her station” story is your deal, then you’re in luck. That’s 100% of what this is, right down to the famous nude scene.  I like a good love story, and I can’t say I hate this one, but it’s certainly a bit much at times.

As for the whole ship sinking part, it still looks pretty spectacular now. A lot of the effects for a movie like this will date themselves quickly, but Titanic still looks solid. That’s a good thing, too, because the characters don’t have enough in them to prop this all up. Hopefully you’ll like the love story and be wowed by the boat sinking, because the connective tissue of Titanic is pretty bad.

The Best Part: The climactic sinking scenes are still worth watching. Even though Titanic is a love story before it’s a disaster movie, there’s genuine excitement and sadness built into the sinking, which is difficult to do considering none of the characters are interesting at all. It’s still visually compelling, which ain’t nothing.

The Worst Part: The dialogue in Titanic is awful. At one point Billy Zane’s character is asked about Picasso and he says “He’ll never amount to a thing, trust me.” Little garbage jokes like that are scattered through this thing, and I just can’t stand them. Add on what passes for “foreshadowing” being people constantly asking about lifeboats and it’s hard to ignore how dumb the dumb parts of this movie are.

Is It Better or Worse than Crash? Rethinking is rampant among a lot of these movies. People just don’t love Forrest Gump or Titanic like they used to. Some of that is inevitable, because anything everyone loves has to develop a backlash. But some of it, well, some of it is because people take the time to look closer. I didn’t hate Titanic or the hype around it in 1997, but I didn’t have any interest in it. I saw the parts everyone talked about when it came on cable. I figured that Titanic was probably a little exciting and a little boring and that I wasn’t missing anything by not seeing it. The reality is that it has massive problems with pacing and length and that song got played so much that I think it’s a part of my nervous system, now. Titanic isn’t bad, but it’s certainly middle-of-the-road compared to a lot of this list, and while that means it’s certainly better than Crash, it’s a weird piece of movie history that got far more praise than it deserved. It’s also waaaaay better than Avatar, and that comparison probably helps with the rethinking.

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 | How Green Was My Valley | American Beauty | West Side Story | The Sting | Tom Jones | Dances with Wolves | Going My Way | The Hurt Locker | The Life of Emile Zola | Slumdog Millionaire | The Deer Hunter | Around the World in 80 Days  | Chariots of Fire | Mutiny on the Bounty | Argo | From Here to Eternity | Ordinary People | The Lost Weekend | All the King’s Men | Rebecca | A Beautiful Mind | Titanic

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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Worst Best Picture: Is The Departed Better or Worse Than Crash?

damon_cadet_jpg

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. All posts should be considered to have a blanket “spoiler alert” on them. Today’s installment is the 2006 winner The Departed. Is it better than Crash?

What is there to say about Martin Scorsese that hasn’t already been said?

He’s arguably the most-acclaimed living director in America. He made Taxi Driver. His reputation speaks for itself, so it’s surprising that The Departed was his first Best Picture Oscar win.

The Departed is the story of two moles: One is a real cop embedded into a fake life of crime and the other is a fake cop raised to infiltrate the police to protect organized crime. It provides the necessary interesting twists and it plays with the idea of loyalty and reality. Even though we know Matt Damon is the fake cop and Leonardo DiCaprio is the fake mobster, it’s repeatedly tough to tell who is in too deep. Kurt Vonnegut said it best: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

There’s also Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, and Mark Wahlberg as real cops and a series of standard “tough guys” as Jack Nicholson’s crew of bad dudes from Boston. It’s well-acted and immersive, which is tough to do for a movie about mobsters from Boston. It’s a great movie for a reason, but beyond a different take on personal identity and loyalty, there’s not really a whole lot of message.

The Best Part: There are lots and lots of movies like this. The director of Goodfellas and Taxi Driver should be expected to make a sound mob movie in Boston, but it’s still amazing that a good one came out of the late 2000s. It’s only been a few years, but it already seems like 20 versions of this movie came out in about 10 years. Much like how every TV show about a dark hero is going to have a tough time establishing itself as original for awhile, the mob genre is done for a few decades now.

The Worst Part: It feels a little silly to fill this section in on some movies. The Departed isn’t one of my favorite movies, but it’s an outstanding cinematic achievement. It feels slight to even say this, but it’s the last shot of the entire movie. It doesn’t give anything away to say this: Do you really need to have a literal rat scurry across the screen in a movie about two competing informants? The entire plot of the movie is about mixed identity and the duality of “rats.” We get it. After nearly three hours, we get it.

Is It Better or Worse than CrashLike Crash, The Departed has an ensemble cast. There’s a million people in both movies — well, a million men. Crash paints women as evil and petty while The Departed prefers them to be absent. Only two women in The Departed have more than two minutes of screen time, and only one of them does anything more than have sex with Jack Nicholson. Neither movie is a strong contender to pass the Bechdel test. Is absent better than terrible? I guess so. The Departed makes lots of strange choices. Characters turn on and off racism and homophobia to paint the “authenticity” of Boston, but it’s never consistent or dealt with completely. The movie is mostly lots of bar fights and yelling, but it still comes off less cynical than Crash. Even if you leave out all the good parts and take The Departed as just a mean-spirited view of Boston, it’s better.

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 |

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.

 Image source: Oscars.org