Worst Movie of the 00′s?

Sara Libby calls Crash the worst movie of the aughts.

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.  …

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.

I’ve complained about this film at length here before, and while I’ve seen movies that were more poorly made, I’ve never actively hated a movie as much as Crash. Its basic premise seems to be that personal animus is the well from which racism springs, and that absolution from racism can be found in being violently forced to relinquish one’s bitterness. (Or something.)

The film goes about making this very dubious point in the most ham-fisted ways imaginable. The bitter, racist white cop played by Matt Dillon gets into an argument with a black insurance company employee and proceeds to tell her that his dad helped black people and calls her a lazy affirmative action hire. (This is how almost all of the interactions in the movie play out.)  Later he pulls over a black TV exec (Terrance Howard) and his wife (Thandie Newton) who are driving home from some function. It’s made clear that he pulled them over because Howard is a black man driving a fancy car. Dillon revels in the skewed power dynamic of the traffic stop, antagonizing Howard and molesting  Newton while his horrified partner (Ryan Phillippe) looks on.  Later, in the movie’s big action set piece, Newton’s character is trapped in a burning car and — improbably but perhaps predictably — the first responder is Dillon, who risks his life to save her. This is supposed to be redemption for his racism and his earlier sexual assault of Newton.  (Or something.)

Crash hews to the tired “intent vs. effect” view of racism: it didn’t matter that he’d terrorized and traumatized two innocent people in his role as a cop; what matters is that he was sad and loved his father. You don’t know what’s in my heart. It’s ultimately a movie about race for people who don’t like to think about race. Seeing how it won an Oscar for Best Picture, this more or less indicts most of Hollywood.

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Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs about race and ethnicity for National Public Radio. He is a native of South Philly and reads and writes and runs and rants. You can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to him on Facebook.

38 comments to Worst Movie of the 00′s?

  • Justin Charity

    Shorter: the problem with Crash is that none of the characters are plausible human beings, none of the dialogue is plausible conversation.

  • Lisa

    Thank you. I HATED this movie with a PASSION. I feel my ire go up everytime someone praises it for its deep racial insights. Shoot, I had all these high hopes before seeing b/c the producer or the director was on Tavis Smiley and it sounded all deep then when I finally see it on cable it is some straight up BULL-$hit. Ahrg.

    I always flinch when someone who I respect says they like that movie. Just today on another site someone mentioned that film as an example of getting race right and their overall argument had me until that sentence; then he lost me. :-(

    • oh, boy? which site.

      And I agree. It seems silly to let a person’s opinion on a movie color your opinion of them, but in this case it can’t be helped. David Denby of the New Yorker loved Crash, and I refuse to read his reviews as a result.

      • Lisa

        It was a commenter on a thread on Ta-Nehisi’s site, I think it was on the Avatar thread. The guy was making a good point but then mentioned Crash.

        • Lemme apologize on the site’s behalf. Crash is awful. McRace Relations on the cheap. I’ll link this tomorrow. I loath that film in a way that I can’t actually loath Birth of a Nation. Crash is cloaked in a veneer of do-gooder-ism. It’s the dishonesty of it all that burns.

  • I suppose what bothered me most of all is that it showed racism on an individual level. This is not something that is new to POC and could be understood as ground breaking to ignorant Whites who have heavily embraced their privilege. Racism is systemic. It is more than a White lady grabbing her purse because she is afraid of being mugged. It is what causes POC to be over represented in the prison population, shown as thieves and rapists on television, impoverished and systematically under educated. Only Hollywood could this feel good movie be understood as a triumph.

  • I agree with the criticism of the movie, but I just wonder if Crash can be called the *worst* movie of the decade. Like, there are obviously worse movies than crash that came out. Perhaps the most *overrated* movie of the decade, but worst?

    • Right. This is sort of goes to those conversations about the nature of bad art. Dreamcatcher is one of the most sublimely shitty movies I’ve ever seen, but I can remember it, laugh and shake my head at it in a way that I wouldn’t with Wolverine, a shitty move that doesn’t really evoke any feeling whatsoever.

      So which of these is worse? I dunno. (Even Crash and Dreamcatcher aren’t in the same category to me; I would actually recommend that people to watch Dreamcatcher, ‘cuz…wow. Wooooooooow.)

      • Interesting question – worst vs. overrated. Overrated sounds too innocent in some ways for Crash. Crash would be bad no matter what, but the fact that so many pp love it is what makes it alarmingly bad to me. I remember being shocked when I finally rented it that pp thought it was so deep and real. It’s one of those moments where you’re like, wow, if this is how pp really see the world, we’re seriously f***ed…

        • Yep. The implications of Crash‘s success really unnerve me. A close friend held a birthday party the year it came out (I couldn’t make it), and she said she was alone in a room with some of her guests in really disliking the film. Everyone else offered up defenses of it. (The scary thing was that the room was made up of lefty social scientists and PhD candidates, the kind of people for whom regular conversations become discourses on racial and gender semiotics.)

          She called me saying that she wished I was there so we could have tag teamed these folks. But I’m glad I wasn’t, because I want an opportunity to actually respect them, you know?

          • Superbad is another one of these films for me.

          • quadmoniker

            300 is another one for me. Every now and then you come across folks who genuinely think it’s an artistic, profound movie. Sorry if you’re on this blog.

            • We might need a new post on What Movies Were You Stunned to Find People Loved? Another one I can’t get over is Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. That movie was the most violent film I have ever seen and I ended up walking out of it. I couldn’t believe that was the emphasis in the film and that such a depiction of the story of Jesus was so enormously popular. (I know, call me naive.) Way to miss the point, people.

  • scottstev

    While I don’t feel the same visceral repulsion at “Crash,” I do think it’s a terrible movie and you make a very good case at why it’s so offensive to you. It got me wondering how many films out there offend people on a moral level? It can’t be too many, as most modern film-goers are able to separate representation of repugnant things versus endorsing said things. The one film I recall that offended me morally (very tough to do btw) was “Hannibal.” It apologized for Hannibal Lecter’s mass-murdering while portraying society and every single member of law-enforcement as hopeless decadent, corrupt, and worthy of whatever predations Lecter decides takes.

    Aside from that it was boring, with disappointing performances from everyone involved. Unfortunately, it was very faithful to the book as well.

  • rikyrah

    I loathed Crash and never really got past the moment when Thandie Newton’s dumb ass character was hostile and demeaned Terrance Howard. I could have accepted her dialogue from a White actress, because it would point out the fundamental nonunderstanding White people have about Black men and law enforcement. To have those lines come from a Black woman was inexcuseable. I wanted to reach through the screen and bitchslap her myself for her utter ignorance.You can’t even remotely say you love a Black man and utter what she did. Since that happened early on in the movie, it went downhill from there.

    • belleisa

      rikyrah are you referring to her reaction after the molestation scene? If you are, when I first saw the movie I didn’t understand why Thandie Newton’s character reacted the way she did either. According to the article below, and the original article I read in GIANT mag, Thandie didn’t know what Matt Dillon’s character was going to do. The director never really filled her in and they shot the confrontation with Terrance Howard’s character before the molestation scene.

      From the article: “I would have played the bedroom scene (with TERRENCE HOWARD) very differently. I would have played her as traumatized, not furious.”

      Would the character playing “traumatized” have made a difference in how you viewed that particular scene with the same dialog?

      http://www.contactmusic.com/news.nsf/story/newton-still-upset-with-crash-director-over-rape-scene_1021969

  • I have to admit I’m pretty confused why so many commenters hate Crash. @rikyrah: I remember that part with Thandie Newton and don’t feel as you do that it was so implausible. Sure black women (in general) are more aware than other women what black men face when confronted by law enforcement.

    But does that mean black women don’t juxtapose their man’s actions with what they view as masculinity? What I mean is, for example, what if their man cried after being assaulted by police? Would they view their man differently? Maybe, maybe not. I just don’t feel that just because a black woman knows what black man faces their definition of masculinity is that much more broad.

    Also, I’d rather see Crash then the coonery that continues to exist in Hollywood and beyond. And how Crash was chosen while The Adventures of Pluto Nash, or Pootie Tang, or Snakes on a Plane, or Soul Plane was not, is scary at best.

    • quadmoniker

      I think plenty of people have made clear what they mean about the worst movie ranking. It’s not the worst movie, technically — it’s well-produced and full of good actors. It’s the worst movie because of it’s stature and effect. All of the characters are overly simplified, their interactions are unrealistic, the story arcs are ridiculously cartoonish and the sentiments are sophomoric, if you’re being generous.

      You can name plenty of movies that suffer from similar problems, but few of them won Oscars and were mistaken for a serious dialogue on race. That people consider it a good movie is what makes it so terrible.

    • you’re a new-ish commenter here, so I just want to give you a head’s-up: calling something “coonery” is not looked on kindly ’round these parts. If you want to make a legitimate criticism of a movie, then actually lay out what you think is problematic about it. but “coonery” is lazy and loaded, and too often shorthand for “media product with black people in it that I personally don’t approve of.” This assumes that other people share your sensitivities re: the portrayal of black folks in the media, or that your sensitivities aren’t themselves problematic.

      thanks for commenting.

  • soma lux

    OH MY GOD!!!!! Thank you for this post, I HATE THE MOVIE CRASH with a violent passion. And i do think it’s the WORST movie of the decade. Worst in the sense that there were big and powerful people behind this trash who should know better. Its one thing to be a failed auteur because that’s all that you are capable of, or you lost lost funding somewhere in your production process but there was marketing and major push behind it. There was nothing new or fresh about it. All the things that Ludacris’ character was saying in the beginning which were of merit were negated by him being a car jacker. I believe it allowed folks to be okay with their bigotry ignorance and racism. And I too felt disgusted by those who championed the movie, especially the idiots who said they cried during the viewing. It did nothing but regurgitate issues while offering no solutions.

    It was over the top BS and broke way too many film rules to even count. T(C)RASH is guilty of Gross Negligence & is vitriolic at best. Its the worst movie to cover race relations since reconstruction.

  • adrift

    What is “getting race right”? For a point of reference could you give me an example of a movie that does?

    What are your expectations of a movie? Movie realism?

    “This is supposed to be redemption for his racism and his earlier sexual assault of Newton.”

    It seems like your placing redemption in a film where, in my opinion, there is none. Would you consider the possibility that you are making assumptions about the intentions of the film? Or consider your expectations? What must a movie DO if it attempts to play with race and please viewers such as yourselves?

    I come in peace. Your disgust fascinates me.
    I must know more :)

  • Aisha

    While I disliked the movie at the time the whole concept of a whole city of people waiting to have racially tinged emotional outburst was just silly. It still is.

    However, since being back in Los Angeles for the last month the movie actually has some relevance. I tend to look at racism in it’s structural and instuational manifestations. However, personal bigotry is not to be overlooked. I left Boston not because of some emotional outburst but the unspoken discomfort I felt being a black woman. Somehow LA has convinced the Blacks and Latinos they need to fight over South Los Angeles. When you think about it that’s also structural racism when whole groups of people have been taught that they have to dislike the next group just because.

  • abnobel

    I hate “Crash” with the kind of passionate intensity and purity that people normally reserve for love. Few films manage to offend me aesthetically, morally, and politically, but “Crash” just hit the trifecta. The worst movie of the decade, with a bullet.

    Thought I’d share my favorite take on the movie…from Scott Foundas of the LA Times, writing in late ’05 before the Oscar win, who got it exactly right: “Welcome to the best movie of the year for people who like to say, ‘A lot of my best friends are black.’”

    http://www.slate.com/id/2132498/entry/2133461/

  • anthony

    I always thought Crash was highly over-rated. I hated it! Broke Back Mountain directed by Ang Lee and staring Jake Gyllenhaal and the late Heath Ledger was robbed at the Oscars. But the epithet of a gay cowboy love story robs Brokeback Mountain of its truly masterful range, a breadth that demonstrates more about human emotion in sixty-four pages than many five-hundred page novels can achieve.

  • JulieFrick

    Thank you. I was astounded that not only did so many find this movie to be so profound and moving and Important, but-and here’s another reason it’s the “worst” movie (or perhaps a dangerous one?)- I was even more freaked out when a scene from the movie was used, very earnestly, to prompt a “discussion about diversity” in my workplace. The scene? The one where Dillon’s character sexually assaults Newton’s.

    To me, this just blew the whole problem up. In the name of “talking about diversity” and “being sensitive,” we were all made to sit through a scene of sexual assault without any warning to those in the room who may have experienced such an assault. How very…sensitive.

    People believed that this movie could spark a deeper “conversation on race,” but what happened in the room in my school (I’m a teacher) is obvious questions were asked, and obvious answers were given.

    That movie didn’t say a THING that hadn’t already been established as an issue, played into stereotypes in the worst way, and allowed us to all feel better at the end because the cop who loves his dad saved the life of the woman he assaulted. As she sobs in his arms, we’re supposed to feel all is mended? EFF YOU, “Crash.”

  • Amanda525

    Wow. Am I the only commenter that enjoyed the movie? I really did. It is not my favorite but it is above average in my book. I’d just like to point out that I didn’t see Dillon saving Newton’s character as a type of redemption at all. I saw it as a way to look at Dillon’s character as a human being. Which he is. His character is more than the racist comments he makes. Not that his heroism negates his bigotry, but I believe that instances in the movie like that attempt to show us(those who think we know so much about race relations/racists) that there’s more to the story than we think. I don’t think the director/cast/writer etc envisioned changing the world with this film, so I think we can stop criticizing it as if those involved claimed it would do so.

  • WJA

    I’m so happy to see people pouring the hate onto *Crash* here, what a dumb simplistic condescending piece of crap. Paul Haggis, the writer/director, said he wrote it after getting mugged by a black dude. So basically, *Crash* is catharsis for an entitled rich Hollywood white liberal who wants to air his racial prejudices in a context that still makes him feel morally superior. The irony is, it’s a knock-off of *Grand Canyon* from the 90s, which had similar problems. (Danny Glover is the black tow truck driver who forgives the white leads their sins.)

  • Davermann

    The characters in the film weren’t just one dimenional. To quote Christopher Buckley they were “half dimensional”. They acted in the most unreasonable ways so the movie could cram it’s ham fisted message down your throat.

    Watching Ludacris justify carjacking white people as some sort of civil protest (He makes a vow never to rob another BLACK person-a vow he breaks only about 3 scenes later) was a new low in rationalizing black criminal behavior for me. Did the liberals find a substitute for the poverty angle? It was working so well for them. Ludacris, after being brow beaten by his black carjack victim, later redeems himself by not selling some asian illegals he finds in a van he stole. Apparently there is honor among thieves. I’m more interested in hiring that black carjack victim, though. He talks the criminal tendencies right out of you!

    And Matt Dillon gives us a power hungry racist cop who rises to the occasion when the same black woman he molested earlier needs to be saved from a burning car. Of course it’s not his fault he’s a racist, we find out; he had daddy issues. Really. Well, now that he’s redeemed himself by seeing with his own eyes that a black life is also valuable, one can only hope that he won’t sexually harass anyone on his next traffic stop. My fingers are crossed.

    And why didn’t Larenz Tate just tell Ryan Phillipe what he was laughing at in the car? Despite being asked a half dozen times, each time more aggressively than the last? Presumably it was because he was looking to get shot over it. And were there any scenes establishing irrational behavior on the part of Ryan Phillipe? Of course not. His part was written to show us that even nice, well meaning white people are not immune from making racist assumptions. They might be open minded enough to pick up a black COMPLETE STRANGER hitchhiking, but won’t hesitate to blow them away in the same sentence. Irony.

    And what was with Sandra Bullock’s character? She gets carjacked by two black guys and decides she hates Mexicans? She goes so far as to accuse the Mexican Locksmith who comes into her home of being a gangbanger who’s casing the joint. Yeah, because gangbangers often moonlight as certified locksmiths who have made it through the grueling background checks. For good measure, we get a shot of him going home to hug his little girl (in case anyone had doubts, of course). Anyway, she falls down and her latina maid is nice to her so she decides maybe she overreacted with the racism and changes her ways on the spot. Compelling stuff.

    Overreact. You’ll see that word used alot to describe the characters in the movie. That’s actually what this movie should have been called. Either that or “Everyone in LA is Racist!”

    And to open up the movie we get a car accident involving an Asian driver! What will they think of next! Are we now supposed to re-examine the jokes we’ve heard over the years about asians being bad drivers?

    Then we have Don Cheadle’s police character. His segment was actually quite good, as it examined how contorted the racial angle of a story gets when politicians and police get involved. But Cheadle just HAD to get in on the bigotry. He abruptly insults the Latina he is having sex with by calling her white. She asks him why he can’t ever respect her heritage. He makes a comment about all latinos having cars on their yards. Argument over. Waitasec…you mean he’s been insulting your race this whole time and you felt it prudent to continue sleeping with him ? That’s just how the people in “Crash” think.

    Finally, and mercifully, we have the character of Farhad, who is Persian and probably the biggest lunatic throughout the movie (and that’s saying alot). He tries to buy a gun from a racist (of course) gun store owner who tells him “Yo, Osama, plan the jihad on your own time.” Because gun store owners in LA apparently don’t care about what types of lawsuits they open themselves up to.

    Anyway, Farhad overreacts (!) when the kindly latino locksmith (with the cute daughter)-suggests he change his door. He doesn’t heed the advice and suffers a racially motivated break in (you can tell by the messages the vandals left). He then takes his gun and heads straight for the latino locksmith’s house and accidentally shoots his daughter. Rough day for that locksmith, huh? What was the point of making the only middle eastern character in this movie a raving lunatic?

    I leave that for you to answer.

  • I realise I’m in enemy territory here, but I actually really liked Crash. *GASP*

    I don’t dispute that it is oversimplistic in many ways and very unrealistic in the way that everyone’s lives interlock. However, I think that various example mentioned in this post can be interpreted in different ways.
    For example, I didn’t see the Matt Dillon’s cop rescuing Thandie Newton as “redemption” per se. I saw it more as an acknowledgement that racism is not a matter of “good vs evil”, and people can be capable of both heroic and abhorrent behaviour. Human nature is complex and few of us fit neatly into a box of pure virtue or badness.

    True, the film didn’t address the systemic nature of racism. But did it have to? Perhaps the film-makers assumed (rightly or wrongly) that the audience was already aware of systemic racism, and wanted to focus on the more personal aspects of it. I wonder if some of the haters here dislike the movie because they expected a more comprehensive take on racism. Personally the movie encouraged me to consider how the assumptions I make about people based on race can affect the interactions I have with them.

    Whereas Sara Libby may not find race coming into play when she orders coffee and so on, there are undeniably many out there who cannot help reading racial stereotypes into even the most insignificant of daily interactions.

    Anyway, just offering a different perspective.

  • Just want to record here for posterity that I, too, absolutely hated that damn movie!

  • KDS

    Crash definitely gets my vote for worst film. I remember watching it in the theatre, astounded at how bad it was! The overwrought stereotypes, the ridiculous storylines and dialogues, just awful. The fact that so many people think that it is profound is deeply troubling. I think this makes it a dangerous film – it reaffirms and perpetuates many people’s misconceptions about the complex reality of racism in US society, by reducing it to personal bigotry. bell hooks offered an awesome critique of the film in an interview. Unfortunately, I can no longer find a link to the article online.

  • This was linked to and I’m coming here late to the party – but may I just say I’ve enjoyed this piece and every comment here and the reasons WHY this movie was loathed by so many.

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