The Best New Yorker Film Critic Isn’t Anthony Lane. And It’s Not David Denby.

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Feb. 17 2012 3:06 PM

Follow Friday: The New Yorker’s Best Film Critic

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A portrait of Richard Brody, from his Twitter feed.

Those who proselytize on behalf of Twitter often say that the micro-blogging platform is like a virtual dinner party. Really: If you Google twitter “like a dinner party” you get 76,600 results.

But many of the people who use Twitter—even those who use it well and are delightful to follow!—are not particularly conversational. Happily, my favorite New Yorker film critic is not only on Twitter, but uses it largely for witty, learned exchanges with any number of fellow tweeters.

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Anthony Lane is on Twitter, you ask? No, and neither is David Denby. My favorite New Yorker critic doesn’t have a review near the back of the magazine every other week, as those two do; he is the movies editor for the “Goings on About Town” section in the front of the magazine. He also writes an excellent blog on the New Yorker website, and is the author of Everything is Cinema, a biography of Jean-Luc Godard. His online perch gives him the freedom to approach movies at an angle, rather than writing straight reviews—but even if he was doing those, I suspect his takes would still be more surprising and illuminating than nearly anyone else’s.

Consider his contribution to a back-and-forth between two other movie lovers about the relationship between Robert Bresson and the Dardennes:

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Or his reply to Michael Phillips, another terrific critic, who asked on Twitter whether the switch to digital from film meant “the death of shadows”:

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Or his snarky, amusing retort regarding the latest film by Jason Reitman (of whose work Brody is not fond):

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When I tweeted a recent Brow Beat post about the upcoming HBO film Hemingway & Gellhorn, he quickly captured the unintentional silliness seemingly lurking in Clive Owen’s portrayal of Papa:

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Brody doesn’t only tweet (or write) about movies; he also loves jazz and classical music and baseball, and occasionally shares amusing and insightful comments made by his kids. And he’s not above tweeting about, say, the Grammys: During Nicki Minaj’s batshit “Roman Holiday” performance, Brody tweeted, “Ken Russell is dead; long live Ken Russell.”

I frequently disagree with Brody’s take on particular movies and directors (we’re pretty far apart on the Coen brothers, for instance). I don’t even, for that matter, quite share his fundamental philosophy about the movies as an art form (he’s more of an auteurist than I am). But he brings to his criticism a real passion for the movies, deep and serious thought about cinema as a visual medium, and also his own experience with filmmaking. And he brings to Twitter all of this as well—along with a genuine and uncommon appreciation for that newer medium’s potential to spark smart, albeit virtual, conversation.

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David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.