2004: The Year in Movies

A Cowpoke's Response
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 6 2005 5:40 PM

2004: The Year in Movies

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Hey gang,

Very briefly, since I just saw Assault on Precinct 13 and need to go home and have a drink to recover.

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I didn't mean to ruffle feathers by asking you guys to step off the NYC subway—or, as I noted to Stephanie in a private e-mail last night—to play the cowpoke-sneering-at-the-city-folk card. It's just that I'd much rather focus on all the good criticism that is thriving out there, beyond the New York/L.A. media bubble, than continue the hand-wringing about the endangered state of film criticism. It seems to me that film criticism has been dying for almost as long as it took Javier Bardem to go in The Sea Inside—and, unlike Javier, isn't about to euthanize anytime soon.

Tony/Wesley, I was hoping no one would have the bad manners to point out that my logic in dumping on "movie-movies" like Adaptation and Far From Heaven and then turning around and praising Bad Education was a little screwy. Dang you both! But since you brought it up, let me elucidate: I see Almodóvar using the "movie-movie" structure in Bad Education as a means of leaping into much knottier issues—it's his filmmaker way of thinking about the real world. Sure, Bad Education is about movies, but to me, it's more about how men (gay or straight) use their sexuality as weapons against nother men (gay or straight)—a topic most movies shy far, far away from. (It's about a lot of other things, too—but that's the idea I'm most fascinated by.) But when I look at Adaptation or Kill Bill, Vol. 2, all I see is auteurist navel-gazing; is Kill Bill about anything other than, um, killing Bill? (Far From Heaven is a slightly different case, since I think Haynes tries to make it about something grander than Douglas Sirk and gets stuck in second gear.) You're right, Tony, maybe this is just me trying to shoehorn my disparate tastes into an overarching aesthetic—but people pay me good money for that, so please allow me my screwy logic.

And Charley, I don't mean to pick a fight, certainly not another meta-critic fight, but shouldn't a critic relish it when movies—and movie reviews—get people so worked up? It means people are engaging with your work. (Maybe not engaging on a very thoughtful level, but I'll take what I can get.) I got death threats, too (when you attack a movie like The Passion in the heart of the Bible Belt, you get death threats, some of them very creepy), and I'm not dismissing the ickiness of that. But when all the dust settled, and all the zealots and yahoos went back to the rocks out from which beneath they crawled, Gibson and Moore had changed the movie landscape, whether we liked it or not. I'm eager to roll with their punches, even if they were low blows, instead of tsk-tsking them for not doing things the "proper" way.

Chris

P.S.: Allison Benedikt, a twentysomething whippersnapper at the Chicago Tribune, insists that we need to talk about DIG! (which I'm ashamed to admit I still haven't seen), and she also asks me to beat the drum for the underappreciated Friday Night Lights (on that count, I can and will eagerly oblige tomorrow). I also want to defend the progressive, big-hearted, pro-gay-marriage Shrek 2 and sing the praises of Dallas' own Shane Carruth and his baffling but thrilling Primer.

David Edelstein isSlate's film critic. Scott Foundas is a film critic for LA Weekly. Christopher Kelly is a film critic for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Wesley Morris is a film critic for the Boston Globe. A.O. Scott is a film critic for the New York Times. Charles Taylor is a film critic for Salon. Armond White is the film critic for the New York Press. Stephanie Zacharek is a film critic for Salon.