Friday, December 28, 2007

Film Critic Lists

Andrew O'Hehir at Salon makes a lot of sense:

Maybe the term exists; maybe it's "herd mentality." Or brainwashing. Read enough of the top-10 lists that American movie critics put together, for one thing, and you might wonder whether a single damn film worth watching came out before the first of October. There are exceptions to this rule, naturally enough, but by and large the films that rack up the rave reviews and award nominations, and thereby begin to emanate "Oscar buzz" like some mutant horror-movie bumblebee, are films of a certain kind, released in a certain season.

It's not merely that these swooned-over movies are likely to be fall releases from the specialty divisions of the major studios (e.g., Sony Pictures Classics, Fox Searchlight, Focus Features and so on) or from the shrinking roster of midsize independent distributors. It's not just that they tend to be mid-budget productions packaged around serious-minded intentions, name directors and a handful of well-liked actors. That's all true, and it applies to most of the critical-fave releases of the past few years, from "There Will Be Blood" and "No Country for Old Men" to "The Queen" and "Babel" and "Little Children" and "Brokeback Mountain" and "Good Night, and Good Luck." Beyond that, these are movies that offer a specific kind of cinematic experience, and involve a specific understanding of what movies are supposed to be and how they should make you feel.
Yes, and this is the only thing I can think of to explain some of the critics' lists this year. In particular, every critic seems to have "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" and "Into the Wild." This is insane, given that neither movie is actually good. As I discussed when it came out, "Into the Wild" at least has good acting, despite its overall mediocrity. "Assassination of Jesse James" is just boring.

It seems that if you make a really slow movie, claim to be "saying something," and put it in a iconic western backdrop, critics will love it, no matter of its actual quality.

The second thing that is bugging me about critics lists is the lack of comedy. Hello there!!! Are you people watching these movies? This is only the finest year of comedic movies in a very long time. Remember the 1990s, when David Spade and Rob Schneider films passed for watchable comedy? Yeah, great times. "Juno" and "Knocked Up" are first-rate pieces of work while "Superbad" only suffers from the extended cop scenes. Each of these movies are pitch perfect and all capture the difficulties of young people dealing with sex, relationships, and growing up. Most of all, they are all freaking hilarious. But, to riff on O'Hehir for a moment, none are VERY SERIOUS MOVIES that they must be to make the cut. Some critics are including some of these films, but many have none of them.

Another thing to mention is that "Sicko" is nowhere to be found on these lists, despite the fact that it is a truly powerful political documentary and far and away Michael Moore's best film. But again, it was released before October so I guess it doesn't count.

This is probably the best year for film since the early 90s. 1994 maybe. Maybe the 70s though. Really. There have been some fantastic films. I'm not prepared to do a top 10 list yet. It's pointless until I can see "There Will Be Blood." Even then, there are some foreign releases that are coming out on DVD in January and early February that I need to see. Before the Oscars, I will put out my list. The sheer quality of this year's films makes me even more furious at the selection of "Assassination of Jesse James" and "Into the Wild." It's not like there is a shortage of good choices.