This opinion I hold to be true is not a popular one on the web. We live in a time when anyone with the energy, desire and wherewithal can start up a blog and write about movies. Life experience not required. A knowledge of film history helpful but not required. Of course, you’d never know how important having a film education — an education at all — and life experience was unless you had lived past the phase where you don’t think it matters.
There is a story about a young artist who wanted to chip away at the feet of Michelangelo’s David because it represented the “old” and not the “new.” While it’s true that sometimes it takes a young and unspoiled mind to see the purity and greatness in something that might have otherwise been written off by an elder, most of the time, wisdom is the reward you get by having lived through things.
The simple fact is, you see life differently once you end your 20s. Maybe you’ve lived through enough of the highs and lows to better see or understand a character’s motivations. Maybe it is the looking back at your own youth that inspires you to connect with a story about someone who was too young to know better. Maybe you’ve reached the point where you understand disabilities are not something to poke fun at, because now you know that no one escapes this life without war wounds.
If you try to be a voice of authority — or a film critic — you’d better be sure that your strong convictions are thought through. Most of the old school Film critics have been vetted to the point where we at least know that they are educated enough to know what they’re talking about. They’ve fucked and been fucked. They’ve maybe had children. They’ve maybe lost a relative or two, or a dear friend. They got through college, they had their hearts broken. They fell in love. They lived through the patterns we set for ourselves early on that are sometimes really hard to break. They have been through enough life to know that writing about a film means you have the depth of knowledge to see the film beyond just the usual “I liked it”/”I didn’t like it.”
That doesn’t mean that the old school critics are always “right.” They often come off as out of touch when they pan something that is obviously great — and they do it because, and this is the important part, they failed to connect with the material. Good or bad, liked it or hated it – these are all subjective readings. But to be able to see the filmmaker’s intention, marry that with their library of films, see a filmmaker’s thumbprint and read the throughline of his or her career? That’s the stuff of great film film writing and it is all too rare these days.
Spend an afternoon on Twitter and you will see this at play. As I said, this is not a popular opinion. This will get you labeled a bitch, a moron, a c*nt, an idiot — all in a good day’s work. Much of this thinking, I have to admit, was brought out of Guy Lodge’s tweet that gave Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours a D+.¬† He is entitled to his opinion, absolutely. He is entitled to write it on a popular Oscars website and put it out there. But I’m here to say that, as much as like Guy, he’s just flat out wrong this time around. I can’t really blame his young age. It isn’t just about age. It isn’t just about life experience. It isn’t just about wisdom. It is about subjectivity — and this is a slippery little sucker, isn’t it?
Two people agree with Guy — @theplaylist and Craig Skinner, who writes for Hey You Guys. Skinner tweeted the following about 127 Hours:
The editing was pretty atrocious. Some of it wasn’t even fluid when it was clearly supposed to be. The obsession with constant visual flourishes that did nothing but distance the viewer were pretty terrible.
Wow, really? I tweeted back to him that he didn’t seem to be familiar with Danny Boyle’s style. I did not hear back. But I wonder. I’m sure he probably has — but constant visual flourishes and rapid-fire editing? Yup, that’s Danny Boyle. But sure, if you weren’t aware of that maybe your “like” of the film would falter. Guy Lodge, I feel sure, is well versed in Boyle’s style but he not only didn’t like it, he HATED it.
The thing is, opinions are everywhere now. They are thrown out, good and bad — we Oscar bloggers write reviews and sometimes those reviews are blurbed on advertisements for the films. My own quotes have found their way onto ads. Maybe there isn’t anything wrong with that – it is an opinion, after all. My own opinion is something I value above all others. It’s wrong of me to assume that because someone disagrees with me that they are wrong. But that is my corrupt inclination. And I always feel shame about this. I should just keep my trap shut and let freedom ring. But it is really difficult to do so when I see so many people writing off films I believe are way too good for that treatment.
So do I believe that not all opinions are created equal? I think they are of value, all of them. I can’t make a decision about the big picture so I must confine them to the Oscar race. And here, I do believe that some opinions do matter more than others. This is partly due to the popularity of the critic. It’s partly due to our longstanding knowledge and trust of their writing ability. And it’s due to how often they agree with the tastes of the Academy.
Richard Schickel and Richard Corliss at TIME, Peter Travers at Rolling Stone (yes, Peter Travers), Roger Ebert (good christ, he should have a university for film criticism), David Thomson, Kenneth Turan, David Edelstein, Manohla Dargis, AO Scott, Lisa Schwarzbaum, Owen Gleiberman (the amazing Owen Gleiberman), Todd McCarthy, Kirk Honeycutt, Stephanie Zacharek, Andrew O’Hehir, Anne Thompson, Glenn Kenny, Pete Howell, Frank Rich and Christy Lemire, to name a few. But that doesn’t mean other film writers aren’t of value. Guy Lodge writes beautifully about film. J Hoberman, Armond White, Karina Longworth, Marshall Fine, James Rocchi, Erik Kohn, Craig Kennedy, Kim Voynar, and I forgot to add one of my personal favorites, Matt Mazur, etc.
So I want to do a bit of a mea culpa here and say that I do think all writers of film matter. All opinions matter. But finding the sweet spot between what kinds of voices out there control the narrative that often defines the Oscar race means putting a hierarchy to it all. And from that basic assumption, I will never waver.