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Dec. 23 2009 - 12:09 pm | 4,204 views | 1 recommendation | 19 comments

Worst Movie of the Decade: ‘Crash’

Thandie Newton and Matt Dillon in "Crash"

Thandie Newton and Matt Dillon in "Crash"

I haven’t created any best-of or worst-of lists yet, but I think that the 2000s featured one cultural phenomenon that deserves its own special shoutout for true heinousness: the 2004 best picture winner “Crash.”

It’s been called a “feel-good” racism movie – one that leads people to believe they’re on the right side of racism, when in fact they’re just having their buttons pushed and their preconceived notions re-affirmed.

In the film, the characters exist in what former L.A. Times critic Carina Chocano called a “daisy chain of bigotry.” Every interaction that takes place becomes racially tinged, whether it’s a simple business transaction, an auto mishap or even just a conversation with your own mom. I make my living in Los Angeles, writing about race, and even I don’t find race coming in to play when I order a cup of coffee, get money from the ATM, get my mail and go running. But in the world of “Crash,” all of those simple tasks would somehow become over-the-top racial incidents, complete with shouting and wild cultural misunderstandings. (It also needs to be said that when you’re living in a city with a 4 million-plus population, you do not keep running into the same six people over and over and over again.)

The movie is manipulative and unrealistic – the characters tend to reveal their true feelings in the most over-the-top and obvious ways imaginable. If racism is indeed so pervasive that it seeps into every interaction, why does the movie need such a complicated, twisting plot?

The fact that racism exists should go without saying, and yet “Crash” wastes an entire film trying to prove what we already know is true. The movie beat out “Brokeback Mountain” for a surprise best picture win at the Oscars. It’s no surprise, really, given all the clamor about our “post-racial” society, while the gay rights movement is still suffering setback after setback.

Bad movies get made all the time. But what infuriated me about “Crash” was that so many people mistook it for something profound when it was truly the opposite. It shouts at the top of its lungs: “I’M SUBTLE! I’M NUANCED!” and so many people somehow agreed.


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    Great post! I agree that “Crash” had the decade’s most ill-advised wash of praise and that it is a horribly manipulative film. When I reviewed it at the time, at some point I had to walk into the lobby just to collect myself because I was so upset at the movie. In some respects, perhaps one could say that the fact you and I both hate this movie so passionately is proof of its being effective. But manipulation is a highly effective device.

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    I agree, glad someone else does. I thought this movie was way overrated on many counts and its racial politics heavy-handed and dim.

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    Ms. Libby,

    Thank you, I just hated that movie. Not that it was not well intentioned but its ham-handed script and self-satisfied direction was really a turn-off. The only thing that I will add to your excellent points is that although it is ostensibly set in Los Angeles there is not “Los Angeles” about it. It could have just as easily been filmed in Toronto (who knows maybe it was). None of the stories, characters, or even locations were in anyway distinctly, or even vaguely, suggestive of Los Angeles. I know Los Angeles is supposed to the quintessential urban dystopia (e.g. Blade Runner) but at least there should be something Angelino about it. It just felt like a generic “issues” movie, a copy of a fax of a copy of “Pulp Fiction” and the “Grand Canyon”.

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    I’ve never been able to bring myself to watch this movie because I suspected that I’d feel pretty much what you felt. If I recall, not a few reviewers felt the same way back in 2004/05 – but some of them were then called out for being “insensitive” to the subtle racism all around us. Crash remains one of those allegedly “great” movies that I have no desire to see.

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    The fact that Libby makes her living writing about race is no less outrageous than this movie when it comes to race baiting and exploitation…

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    Agreed. This film was about as subtle as a kick to the groin. And just as pleasurable.

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    It only won the Oscar because the homophobes in the craft unions ran a campaign to keep Brokeback Mountain from winning.

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    I agree with your comments. Another movie that struck me the same way was “District 9″. All the obvious analogies with race-based/alien-based bigotry. Then they make Nigerians the bad guys.

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    Thank you!

    I thought I was the only one who found this film to be annoying, preachy, and tedious. I’m always surprised how popular it seems to be.

    Someone needs to tell the film makers that
    A. Not everyone is a racist and
    B. There are other problems in this world.

  10. collapse expand

    I used to work in the entertainment industry and in the last twenty years the Academy has been on the skids…they watch the movies under consideration on DVD, a step up from tape, at least they can now watch a film in the proper format, they are overly conscious of all the awards shows preceding the Oscars and now they have come up with a formula with ten nominees, a marketer’s wet dream that is sure to dilute the meaning of the award and one that is engineered to give blockbusters a better shot. The LA Times has a columnist who predicts Glorious Basterds will win the award. A cartoon of a film that is a mish mash of every war film ever made and a few stolen bits of Sergio Leon with ham fisted performances.

    They say Crash won out of Liberal guilt and angst. I say it was a bad year all around, two biographies, a gay cowboy study and bloated look at jewish assassins righting the wrongs. For me the most polished film was Capote, that didn’t have a prayer.

  11. collapse expand

    I’m trying to think of a movie that I hated more. Or at least as much.

    It is certainly in my Pantheon of Shite.

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    I'm a Los Angeles-based writer and editor focusing on pop and politics, race and culture, and where Gen-Yers fit into it all. My writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, WashingtonPost.com, the San Francisco Chronicle and People magazine. Among other things, I'm Oregon-born, hip-hop-addicted, and weirdly optimistic that the journalism business will stay alive.

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