5. Chocolat (dir. Lasse Hallström, 2000)
My girlfriend may hate me for this, but I just can’t stand this 2000 Miramax hit starring Juliette Binoche as a woman who moves to a small french village, stirring up a bunch of repressed sexuality with her new chocolate shop. While Binoche is always a pleasure to watch, the pacing of the film turns it into a relentless drag. I’ve seen it twice and I couldn’t really tell you anything that happens in it beyond that basic synopsis. Lasse Hallström, the Swedish director who would go on to direct stone cold classics such as Dear John and Safe Haven, was the director here. It makes sense- since this is kind of the foreign equivalent of a Nicholas Sparks movie.
4. Up In The Air (dir. Jason Reitman, 2009)
Jason Reitman’s follow up to 2006 Sundance smash (and surprise best picture nominee) Juno was the romantic comedy/drama Up In The Air– a film based on a novel written in 2001, but which had surprising relevance in coming out one year after the stock market crash of 2008. George Clooney stars as Ryan Bingham (not the famous alt country singer), a man hired out as a corporate downsizer, firing huge swaths of employees for companies too afraid to do it on their own. The majority of the film follows his trials and tribulations of finding meaningful connection in a dreary corporate wasteland. Beyond being merely an OK film, the main issue with it is that it’s a story about boring people doing terrible things, who would be in better shape if only they weren’t boring people doing terrible things. That’s hard to empathize with. And even harder to cull good drama from.
3. Ray (dir. Taylor Hackford, 2004)
I feel bad for including Ray on this list. It is the biopic about music legend Ray Charles, charting the course of his life from tragic childhood, to the onset of his blindness, and the miracle of his successful music career (in the face of Jim Crow, drug addiction, and the shark-infested waters of the music industry). But with such a large scope, it commits all the worst sins of the music biopic (and any biopic, for that matter). By focusing on the entire life of a person, it can’t help but feel like a greatest hits, check the boxes kind of slog. And in doing so, Jamie Foxx’s performance feels more like an incredible impression than a real performance. Ray has almost become the prime example of everything I want a biopic NOT to be. Which is exactly what made it so ripe for parody, with 2007’s Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. If nothing else, we can thank Ray for that.
2. The Blind Side (dir. John Lee Hancock, 2009)
I’m sensing a trend here- a bad movie that somehow gets by on a great central performance. There’s no question that Sandra Bullock is a presence to behold onscreen here- even if her character Leigh Anne Tuohy is the ultimate white savior of all white savior narratives. The Blind Side is a condescending film that says absolutely nothing meaningful about race relations in America, perpetuating negative stereotypes with its good but blind(ho!) intentions. Yet it was an utterly massive box office success, which when combined with an inspirational story often spells best picture nominee. It was also the first year this century when the best picture field opened up to more than five nominees, a move which has made the annual event significantly less compelling.
1. Crash (dir. Paul Haggis, 2004)
And speaking of easily digestible narratives that make us white people feel better about ourselves, Crash takes this number one prize by a country mile. This film commits many sins. But I will let someone much more articulate than I speak to it. In an article in The Atlantic where he named it the “worst movie of the decade,” Ta-Nehisi Coates said “I don’t think there’s a single human being in Crash. Instead you have arguments and propaganda violently bumping into each other, impressed with their own quirkiness…[Crash] is the apotheosis of of a kind of unthinking, incurious, nihilistic multiculturalism.” Of course I was the typical young white liberal who saw the film in 2004 and thought I had just witnessed something very profound and meaningful. Yet looking back, Crash is the kind of movie that sets out with such a limited ceiling for what it thinks its audience can handle, that it ends up doing more harm than good. Not to mention it beat Brokeback Mountain for the award, one of the great injustices in Oscar history.