2004: The Year in Movies

Waiting for Tony Scott
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 5 2005 11:31 AM

2004: The Year in Movies

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OK, I guess this is what you guys wanted. First Gear: Stephanie, I'd have no problem with you waiting for Tony Scott to make sense of things if he didn't write for the Times. It just seems to me that in the end, the whole cowardly middle-class world is always essentially waiting for the Times to claim authority once a-fucking-gin.

Don't know about you, but that's exactly one of the reasons I became a critic. I don't want an institution or its representative being my authority. I'll make up my own mind, based on my own feeling, taste, and education. Independence of thought is largely missing when film culture is so unquestioning and beholden to the establishment. (That good old '60s term.)

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Second Gear: As you jump through loopholes, Stephanie, it appears to me that we don't really disagree. I guess people just like to bicker with me—after all, I don't write for the Times so how dare I have an opinion! And as for "consensus," that's another word for democracy, isn't it? Or is it just another word for nothing left to lose? After all, a critics poll is merely a place where you throw in your likes and hope they gravitate toward a sympathetic pollee. Since we all took part in the Voice poll it must, finally, speak to our common hope in consensus.

Stephanie, please realize that I think consensus is no more than that. And it does indeed indicate what a number of people agree upon and how they think and what they feel. It absolutely can be judged and commented on. That's what Movie Club is about, right? Thin-skinned critics who can't stand to have their opinions challenged ought to get out of this glass-house profession.

Third Gear: Disliking Before Sunset does not mean disliking you. (Congressman White begs your assurance.) It's no more unfair of me to characterize Before Sunset lovers than it was for Tony to characterize Sideways lovers. I don't know what more "sense" you expect him to make. He's only thinking his way through like all of us. (And since he and David started this Club, his participation is, of course, welcome. Bring on the other charter members as well.)

In discussing/arguing the state of criticism, poll results are probably the best place to start. A poll is not about writing, it is only about judgment. As for the "art" of criticism: No amount of fancy wordplay can excuse the destructive effect of praising offal like Before Sunset. (That's not a personal attack, it's a defense against the injury of bad criticism and poor taste.) I don't read criticism for style (or jokes). I want information, erudition, judgment, and good taste. Too many snake-hipped word-slingers don't know what they're talking about—especially in this era of bloggers and pundits. That's why a hack like Michael Mann gets canonized while a sterling pro and politically aware artist such as Walter Hill is marginalized. Let me be more blunt: I am not the least bit interested in reading the opinions of people who don't know what they're talking about. There, I've said it. Publishers and editors don't demand the same standards of movie reviewers that they do for the other arts or trade and professional coverage. Why should any reader settle for mere stylists on the movie page when what is really needed is informed cultural scrutiny!

One thing allows me to feel this way: I take movies seriously. I doubt that many other critics do. (I say that based on the generally held notion that movies are no more than fun-fun-fun!) And yet, I know that they take themselves awfully seriously.

Fourth Gear: I remember Bertolucci saying, "You can only argue with the people with whom you basically agree." Let that explain my response to Stephanie's last e-mail. As for Charley's latest: I don't disagree about Ray, Charley. I just don't like it very much. I gotta wonder how many reviewers are noticing Jamie Foxx now just because Ray is so incessantly hyped. Foxx won me over in Any Given Sunday but I got more out of his player-who-got-played in Breaking All the Rules than I did from his prestige act in Ray. (I also recommend Breaking All the Rules to anyone impressed by the blather in Before Sunset. Foxx's and Gabrielle Union's discussion of skin went deep into the psychological need for romance, it's unfortunate that shills and indifferent editors and bored critics weren't paying attention to that incisive but unhyped movie.)

Finally, Charley you are right to point to editors as decision-makers, but I honestly wonder how many critics actually fight for coverage for small movies. Does it take a revolution to buck the publicist-run system? I remember Jami Bernard's rave review of Mr. 3000 taking pride of place (almost the full page with a big, inviting photo) in the Daily News. More of that kind of guts-and-glory criticism needs to happen. Media coverage is economics, but economics is also politics and ideology. No doubt some other, ugly, reasons also went into some editors' preference to promote Sky Captain over Mr. 3000. But those reasons can always be manipulated when people of good will want to. (At the end of the year, who cares about Sky Captain anyway?) If critics don't push for the-little-movie-that-could, who will?

Armond White

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