Starring: Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, Ludacris, Thandie Newton, Michael Pena, Ryan Phillippe, Larenz Tate, Shaun Toub, Bahar Soomekh, Ashlyn Sanchez (her first film), Keith David, Tony Danza
Director: Paul Haggis
Summary: Los Angeles citizens with vastly separate lives collide in interweaving stories of race, loss and redemption
Other Nominations: Director, Supporting Actor (Dillon), Original Screenplay*, Original Song (“In the Deep”), Film Editing*
Is this the worst Best Picture winner ever? Well, no: it’s not as mind-numbingly boring as Chariots of Fire, it’s not as hideously antiquated as The Broadway Melody or Cimarron, and it’s not the kind of pointless, episodic mess that Cavalcade or Around the World in 80 Days were. However, it’s up there and easily the worst of the five nominees of 2005.
Everything about it feels either overly simplistic or bizarre and wrong-headed in planning or execution. What’s striking is how many deeply unlikeable assholes there are (basically, every significant character besides Pena, Sanchez and Soomekh)-it’s like they thought “well, we want to make this movie feel even-handed, but we don’t know how to impart depth and nuance, so let’s just make everybody a jerk instead.” There are some fine character arcs here (like with Dillon, Cheadle and Howard), but overall the screenplay feels contrived in a way that a very similar movie, Traffic, did not: every situation seems perfectly set up to deliver some big moment or character-altering epiphany. While it does explore some issues that other films about race often ignore and the idea of there being such a fine line between a “good” person and a “bad” person when it comes to racism, many times it doesn’t explore its issues very well, or there’s a major misstep. Also, for a film about racism in Los Angeles, it glaringly lacks a legitimate Asian-American perspective. It’s a flawed film that features good acting (Pena and Dillon giving my favorite performances) and some good ideas, but ultimately doesn’t really conjure up a lot of meaningful thought for the viewer afterwards and pales in comparison to the better films there are on race.