2004: The Year in Movies

I [Heart] The Passion
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 7 2005 8:03 AM

2004: The Year in Movies

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If it's true that I'm living in the same country with numerous reality shows about job auditions, then I suspect everybody is interested in the profession of film criticism. Everybody wants to be one, everybody already thinks they are one. Besides, if the Movie Club's point is to survey movie opinions, Slate already has a section that does that and most of ours are readily available online.

The movies enter everything we say, so I don't think this time has been wasted. Readers should thank God that we're willing to do a little self-examination. Surely, this is one way readers can begin to ask themselves the question that Samson Raphaelson (Lubitsch's writing partner) posed to us film students at Columbia: "Who am I when I watch a movie?" It's an essential question. But it's a question few people ever ask. It's easier to jump on a bandwagon. Follow hegemony. What any of us thought about the year's various Finding Neverlands is relatively unimportant. How we humble professionals go about our job is one way to demystify things and try to better understand our responses and our professional stances.

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As for The Passion of the Christ, having spent the year outnumbered—because it seems no mainstream publication will hire a Christian movie critic (and I'm not talking about me)—I have found the discussion too oppressively lopsided, if not totalitarian. I can only "discuss" this movie on home turf. And that enrages me, because I have not read a single mainstream review that sought to appreciate Gibson's basic, powerful imagery on its own terms. Does atheism rule? Does blindness rule criticism? To have this movie reviewed only by nonbelievers and half-thinkers is tantamount to fascism. Linking Gibson's film with Michael Moore's also avoids the film's aesthetics. Many critics choose to do just that, but I can tell you there are millions of readers who, understandably, feel the lack. They aren't getting from criticism what they want/need to know about art, mythology, spirituality. They're only getting objections, recriminations, and remonstrations.

Even Quentin Tarantino copped to the film's artistic power and visual beauty in an interview with John Powers in the LA Weekly. I bless Q.T.'s boldness and honesty. I'm also impressed by Gibson's leap to seriousness, his skillful editing and sound-mix, and Caleb Deschanel's exquisite use of light. For the record: Let Slate readers know that not every intelligent person in American excoriates The Passion of the Christ. Some of us admire it.

A.W.

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.

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