Film Criticsim

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Film criticism has been taking a hit for the past ten years since the internet exploded. We’ve been writing about this subject for years because we’ve been here from the beginning of the sweeping change.  Filmmakers have noticed because the old guard film critics were careful about creating and maintaining the legacies of the best ones. Not all of them, of course, but you could always count on a handful of film critics to preserve and encourage filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, like Jane Campion, like David Cronenberg.

When AwardsDaily began in 1999 (as Oscarwatch) one of the reasons I started was to look at the vast disconnect between what the critics said was great and what the Oscar voters said was great. The industry was never going to impact the critics but the critics could and did impact the Oscars, going all the way back to the 1930s. Still, when looking at Oscar history there were these major upsets that drove the frustration critics had with the Oscars, some of whom just wrote them off outright. Raging Bull versus Ordinary People, Goodfellas versus Dances with Wolves, Apocalypse Now versus Kramer vs. Kramer.  My aim was to track the Oscar race from the beginning of the year through to the end to see what influenced them and why their choices differed radically from the critics.

I built charts, I looked at reviews. For the first five years of my site (readers can attest to this) I never even wrote my own reviews or film analysis much at all. I copied and pasted quotes from critics, emphasizing the films the critics said were good, mostly.  I did not spend much time reporting on what they thought was bad unless those films made it into the race.

I have always had a high respect for film critics, so much so that I don’t even call myself one. And I could. Easily. I wrote film reviews for a paycheck for the Santa Monica Mirror for years. I write reviews for my site now. I belong to the Alliance of Women Film Journalists (though I do not vote on their awards) and I’m blurbed on film posters and advertising by studios. In all ways I could do what so many I’ve watched do over the past 16 years – call myself a critic, or even a hybrid critic. I could belong to the Broadcast Film Critics and get free screeners, invites to fancy parties and a ticket to the show. I don’t because I personally draw that line out of respect for the people whose reviews have shaped the way I look at film.

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I spent the first five years online, from 1994 to 1998, just writing about movies on a listserv called Cinema-l where we would all pretend to be film critics, day in and day out. I call it my blogging school. From there, I launched the website Cinescene.com, which was just a place to discuss movies and feature film reviews by those of us on Cinema-l. But it wasn’t going to pay the bills so instead I launched a site I hoped would, Oscarwatch.com. From then on, my business was writing about the Oscar race.

The old timers, mostly, were the ones I paid attention to early on, like Todd McCarthy and Kirk Honeycutt but of course, Kenneth Turan, Roger Ebert, Janet Maslin (back then), Manohla Dargis (who worked at LA Weekly), Owen Gleibermann and Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly, David Thomson, David Edelstein, Joe Morgenstern, Jonathan Rosenbaum – I read their reviews and considered their opinions. Sometimes I agreed, sometimes I didn’t but there was no doubt that they mattered back then. They mattered and I made sure they mattered to the awards race.  It was the one thing I tried to do from day one.

But things started to change and change dramatically. David Cronenberg noticed:

“I think the role of the critic has been very diminished, because you get a lot of people who set themselves up as critics by having a website where it says that they’re a critic.”

“There are legitimate critics who have actually paid their dues and worked hard and are in a legitimate website connected perhaps with a newspaper or perhaps not … Then there are all these other people who just say they’re critics and you read their writing and they can’t write, or they can write and their writing reveals that they’re quite stupid and ignorant.”

No movie is a more stark reminder of how much things changed than the way the critics responded to Maps to the Stars, a film that would have needed the careful observations of a small group of astute critics to notice just how great it is. If you count on audience testing, which is essentially what modern day film criticism has become, you’re likely to get an opinion that is somewhere along the lines of a Cinemascore rating.

When I first began I had the freedom of quoting from the major critics because they were the only ones who were putting out reviews. But as things began to change and their jobs began to vanish I had to dig out those reviews where I could find them. Metacritic used to be a place that selected the real critics from the noobs. And Rotten Tomatoes a more generalized summation of what modern film criticism is. My longtime readers know I’ve been on this topic for years now. But as the major film critics began losing their jobs Metacritic kept the name-brand venues but not the critics. Since those veteran critics were gradually replaced by noobs, things eventually collapsed all around so that there was no distinction anymore between Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. I still use both sites for different reasons but I no longer see one as being all that different from the other.

I use Rotten Tomatoes primarily to look at the negative scores and Metacritic to find the best written reviews.

When the National Society of Film Critics announced Goodbye to Language their top pick, edging out Boyhood by one vote, I didn’t think much of it except to note that in the years I’ve been doing my site, the National Society was one of the major groups that’s always been around. One thing you could count on with them was that they were going to pick a film that was highly praised by film critics. The part of it that I paid attention to was the low score of Godard’s film, at 72, which is on par with The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything.

I said nothing more beyond that. I made no judgments on them. I just thought, huh. That’s interesting. I was not caught up in this entanglement on Twitter. I did not say anything disparaging about them at all. Yet somehow I got called out on Twitter by Glenn Kenny who eventually stated I was anti-art, combining my observations with the two other people who really did outwardly criticize the National Society of Film Critics, David Poland and Scott Feinberg, the whole ugly mess reported on Kris Tapley’s site – Tapley taking the side of Kenny and the many who stood up with their flag of freedom for the right of the NSFC to pick something “outside the box.”

I didn’t mind the selection of Goodbye to Language. I sat next to David Poland in Cannes and I know he thought it was weird. I thought it was a hilarious, absurdist experimental film. I had no problem with it – I didn’t walk outside raving about it because I will be the first to admit I didn’t fully understand it. This is why I respect film critics. In the old days I might dig out a wonderful review by someone smart and read about why they found Goodbye to Language so great. The last thing I did was shit on their choice and yet I find myself being called anti-art.

The only thing that makes me WANT to criticize their choice is the way the critics are once again rallying together like an oppressed group under siege by the awards bloggers. I remember Sam Adams puffing up and freaking out over Ryan’s joke about the Utah film critics coming from the Land of White people. Their reaction reminded me of the kid at school who does nothing but terrorize his classmates and when you say a single negative thing about him he starts to cry. Film critics are CRITICS. They don’t hold back when it suits them. They shred movies when it suits them. And they can’t handle a little criticism? RULLY?

But this wasn’t my fight. I would never fight them because I didn’t think it was a bad choice, not like the New York Film Critics terrible choice of American Hustle last year. If I thought it was a bad or “colorful” or even pretentious vote I would have said so. But I didn’t. Yet I got roped into the whole thing as though I did. Glenn Kenny said it wasn’t my “finest hour.” Again, I didn’t sling shit in this particular monkey cage. I have way too much respect for Jean-Luc Godard to ever criticize his getting any award. Ever.

So let me talk about what I do think about it – it marked, for me, the end of film criticism as mattering to me in terms of the awards race, which is what I do for a living. I write about the Oscars and the things that impact them. I get money to write about the Oscars and I do it to support my daughter as a single parent for her entire life – she’s now 16 years old. Noting that a film that scored 72 on Metacritic was named best film of the year stopped me. It seemed out of step with the National Society’s OWN history. As follows:

1990 Goodfellas – 89
1991 Life Is Sweet – 88
1992 Unforgiven – 82
1993 Schindler’s List – 93
1994 Pulp Fiction – 94
1995 Babe – 83
1996 Breaking the Waves – 76
1997 L.A. Confidential — 90
1998 Out of Sight – 85
1999 Being John Malkovich – 90
Topsy-Turvy 90
2000 Yi Yi: A One and a Two (Yi yi) – 92
2001 Mulholland Drive – 81
2002 The Pianist – 85
2003 American Splendor – 90
2004 Million Dollar Baby – 86
2005 Capote – 88
2006 Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno) – 98
2007 There Will Be Blood – 92
2008 Waltz with Bashir (Vals im Bashir) – 91
2009 The Hurt Locker – 94
2010 The Social Network – 95
2011 Melancholia – 80
2012 Amour – 94
2013 Inside Llewyn Davis – 92
2014 Goodbye to Language – 72

We in the Oscar business follow what the critics say, or I have anyway, for years now. My only point that could have been read as a negative was that I said it makes it harder for film reviews to matter — IN THE OSCAR RACE. So if Goodbye to Language can win top honors with a score of 72 on Metacritic, why can’t Unbroken then also be considered with a score of 59 on Metacritic? This is essentially what the studios would prefer, by the way, for the critics (old school film critics) to have no say in how things in the Oscar race go.

It is, perhaps, the height of irony that after 16 years of being the only one in my industry to praise the critics, to quote them, to value the good ones – and yes, to sometimes battle with their choices – that I would be called out as someone who doesn’t respect their choice this time around.

I look TO THEM for guidance as to what films are the best. I use their reviews as a guideline for that. The face of film criticism has changed so dramatically you can see the last bastion of what it used to be in the National Society of Film Critics. They represent the old world.

For my purposes, their choice kind of eliminated the argument I make every year that their critical consensus ought to matter. I didn’t invent their awards. They’ve been giving them out on their own for years. If a competition for best of the year is anti-art then you could say these critics groups are anti-art. I didn’t force the New York Film Critics to push their announcement date back so that they could be FIRST in the awards race. They did that. I didn’t inject any sort of judgment on the Los Angeles Film Critics when they decided to purposely go against the awards consensus and NOT choose Zero Dark Thirty in 2012.

The awards race is shaped BY THEM – or it used to be. When they reject that consensus, when they reject their anointed darling in a given year JUST BECAUSE it’s headed for Best Picture they are only rebelling against themselves. We in the Oscar field didn’t tell them Boyhood should get 100% on Metacritic. It just did. They did it. They’re the ones that, in unison, declared that film best. We in the awards race then take their lead and say, okay, this is the one the critics have declared — unanimously — the best of the year.

But it is the height of presumptuousness to think I give two shits or a single fuck what they pick in a given year. I follow them. I don’t expect them to follow me. And they wouldn’t even if I did.

That choice by the NSFC tells me that critics scores don’t matter. Unanimous votes don’t matter. When the AFI put out their list of the Best Films of 2014 they included three films that the critics didn’t even like. I criticized THAT choice because it WENT AGAINST what I value in the race, that the opinion of critics matter.

I’m guessing by their revolutionary war battle cry that they don’t want their opinions to matter to me, to the awards race. Okay? It’s not like anyone thought the NSFC was the Critics Choice or anything. We’ve always regarded them as a mostly eclectic, outside the box group. They got far more shit for picking Yi Yi – a choice that resonated (not with me, mind you) for years after that. They were criticized by film critics loudly and vocally for that obscure choice. Goodbye to Language is child’s play compared to Yi Yi.

David Cronenberg is right. The modern version of film criticism is pooled over at sites like The Dissolve and RogerEbert.com where a reasonably sized community of like-minded individuals spend their days talking about movies. It’s probably a refreshing place to be. But film criticism, the way I used to know it, does not exist anymore. Stick a fork in it.

Will I still take film criticism seriously? Sure. Do I think it has the power it once had over the Oscar race? If anything, the new breed of film critics represent audiences, probably, more than critics particularly — so yeah, that won’t change. Just the particular kinds of tastes and agendas will change. Marketing will have more control. The studios will gain power over critics because to a certain extent they can control them. I’m lucky that I won’t be in this job much longer so very little of it matters to me anymore at all. We’re still talking about a mostly male, mostly white group of people voting on awards that revolve around the mostly male, mostly white protagonists.

Here are the members of the NSFC. I would say to them, if you can’t handle a little criticism about your choices perhaps you are in the wrong profession.

SAM ADAMS – Criticwire, The Dissolve
JOHN ANDERSON – Newsday, Variety, Wall Street Journal
MELISSA ANDERSON – Artforum
DAVID ANSEN – freelance
GARY ARNOLD – freelance
SHEILA BENSON – Critic Quality Feed, Seattle Weekly
JAMI BERNARD – Movie City News
RICHARD BRODY – The New Yorker
TY BURR – Boston Globe
JUSTIN CHANG – Variety
GODFREY CHESHIRE – RogerEbert.com
MIKE CLARK – Home Media Magazine
RICHARD CORLISS – Time
DAVID DENBY – The New Yorker
MORRIS DICKSTEIN – Dissent
DAVID EDELSTEIN – New York Magazine, CBS Sunday Morning, NPR
STEVE ERICKSON – L.A. Magazine
SCOTT FOUNDAS – Variety
OWEN GLEIBERMAN – bbc.com/culture
MOLLY HASKELL – Town & Country
J. HOBERMAN – freelance
RICHARD T. JAMESON – Straight Shooting, Queen Anne News
DAVE KEHR – davekehr.com
BEN KENIGSBERG – freelance
LISA KENNEDY – Denver Post
PETER KEOUGH – Boston Globe
STUART KLAWANS – The Nation
ANDY KLEIN – L.A. Times Community Papers, KPCC-FM
NATHAN LEE – Film Comment
EMANUEL LEVY – Financial Times, EmanuelLevy.com
DENNIS LIM – freelance
TODD McCARTHY – Hollywood Reporter
JOE MORGENSTERN – Wall Street Journal
WESLEY MORRIS – Grantland
ROB NELSON – Minneapolis Star-Tribune
GERALD PEARY – The Arts Fuse
MARY POLS – freelance
JOHN POWERS – Vogue, NPR
PETER RAINER – Christian Science Monitor, NPR, KCET-TV
NICOLAS RAPOLD – L Magazine
STEVEN REA – Philadelphia Inquirer
ELEANOR RINGEL – Atlanta Business Chronicle
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM – jonathanrosenbaum.com
RICHARD SCHICKEL – Truthdig
LISA SCHWARZBAUM – TV Guide
HENRY SHEEHAN – KPCC-FM, CriticsAGoGo.com
MICHAEL SICINSKI – Nashville Scene
MICHAEL SRAGOW – Film Comment
CHUCK STEPHENS – Film Comment
DAVID STERRITT – Tikkun
AMY TAUBIN – Film Comment
CHARLES TAYLOR – The Yale Review
ELLA TAYLOR – NPR.org
PETER TRAVERS – Rolling Stone
KENNETH TURAN – Los Angeles Times
JAMES VERNIERE – Boston Herald
MICHAEL WILMINGTON – Movie City News
WILLIAM WOLF – wolfentertainmentguide.com
STEPHANIE ZACHAREK – The Village Voice

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Kenneth Turan writes what I think is a fair dissent of the uniform critical opinion of Boyhood. And indeed, had he written his review, and had it gone on Metacritic, Boyhood’s score would not be a perfect 100 as it is now. Turan didn’t want to be the one bad apple who spoiled the whole bunch. Why would he want to dump on a movie before it had a chance to show in theaters? It is admirable, I think, that he held his tongue in light of such an ambitious project, such a hard thing to pull off, and an even harder sell to audiences. The big picture is that Hollywood needs more films like Boyhood and less like the kind its making now.

In Turan’s dissent, he admits that it might just be him:

For one thing, I find that as I get older and younger filmmakers focus more and more on their own young years, I have become increasingly resistant to coming-of-age stories, which at its core is what “Boyhood” is. Living through my own childhood was unnerving enough; I don’t take pleasure in living through someone else’s unless there is as good a reason as two personal favorites, Ken Loach’s “Kes” and Jean-Claude Lauzon’s “Léolo,” provided.

And that, in the end, he might just not like Linklater’s work overall:

Finally — and this is critical — I have always been cool to Linklater’s films, have never connected emotionally to his self-involved characters and a slacker aesthetic that treats banalities as if they were words of wisdom. Though “Boyhood” could be his best film and certainly has its satisfying moments, its narrative feels fatally cobbled together, veering haphazardly from underdone moments to overdone melodramatic contrivance.

On one hand, the fuss about “Boyhood” emphasized to me how much we live in a culture of hyperbole, how much we yearn to anoint films and call them masterpieces, perhaps to make our own critical lives feel more significant because it allows us to lay claim to having experienced something grand and meaningful.

And finally, he admits what very few are ever able to, and why guys like Turan are so valuable to the overall discussion of film:

Ultimately, however, what thinking about “Boyhood” brought home, and not for the first time, is how intensely personal a profession criticism is. Whether we like it or not, even if expressing it makes us feel clueless and out of touch in our own eyes as well as the world’s, we cannot escape who we are and what does or does not move us. As I’ve said before and likely will have cause to say again, in the final analysis, as a critic either you’re a gang of one or you’re nothing at all.

There is not enough humility in film criticism anymore. Too many critics today pronounce films as great or terrible and if you go against that proclamation there is something wrong with you.

Films contain doors that either open or stay closed for anyone seeing them. For me, the door to Boyhood opened with the mother watching her own children grow up and how that catches up to her in the final scene between mom and son, mom and ex-husband, mom and self. I know that since the majority of writers about film are men and since that generation seems to have difficulty letting go of their childhoods (hence the continual worshipping of things that should have been long left behind) their way into Boyhood was by relating to the boy. The only way I related to the boy was in watching him grow up and how precarious that view can feel as a parent. I just watched my own daughter grow up — she is now 16. So much can go wrong. They figure out who they are and it is rarely whom you think they are going to be. You worry constantly that they’ll be okay. This movie dug into that.

Finally, I DO relate to and love Richard Linklater’s films. I take a bath in the Before movies just to listen to the two smart characters talk on and on about things. For me, that is far more interesting and entertaining that the supposed “tight” structure of most films. I appreciate that someone out there still values the art of curiosity, observation and conversation. For me, that is what Linklater’s films have been to me.

I cried at many different points throughout Boyhood. It changed the way I look at the world. How much more powerful can a film get? There will be a temptation, as with all things, to generate backlash against something so good. It happened last year with 12 Years a Slave. All of its rave reviews amounted to an Oscar prediction to win Best Picture and an ultimate chafing from the major critics groups. The year before it was Zero Dark Thirty. If a film that is highly praised sits out in the sun long enough people start to think “it’s good but it’s not THAT GOOD.” That is human nature as observed by me, someone who’s watched this dynamic play out for years.

This is how Argo won. This is how The King’s Speech won. Fly under the radar, don’t make yourself a target for backlash – that is how it’s done in the Oscar race. And that rule is in place ONLY because human beings are funny. They like to be distinctive. They don’t want to be one of the herd. Film watching and observing is often like the Emperor’s New Clothes for many. Even if they don’t get the movie at all if the “cool club” liked the movie, they will like it. If the “cool club” doesn’t, they won’t. It takes guts to do as Turan is doing here, offer up a reasoned dissent in the face of uniform love.

Film criticism IS personal. It isn’t like writing a review of a new car you just bought or a hotel room you stayed in. There isn’t some agreed upon structure we’re supposed to think is “right.” Film is art and art is subjective. If a film like this did not offer YOU up any doors you will never find a way in. For me, with Boyhood, those doors flew open.

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The Dissolve’s Tasha Robinson writes up a brilliant piece about female characters in films who are supposed to be “strong” but who, in the end, really are just your usual backseat babe, making the world easier for the male hero to swoop in and save the day. Most of the films aimed at young people and the male demographic that Hollywood believes dominates the box office feature this dynamic.

Writing strong female characters does not mean always making them “good.” Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep are both strong female characters in The Devil Wears Prada, for instance, and neither of them are “good.” What Robinson is addressing isn’t the status quo: women hardly ever exist in films at all unless it’s to provide support to the male characters. She’s writing about this new trend of pretending you have a strong female in the film when it turns out, in the end, she isn’t. You can test this by imagining those supporting characters actually in the lead. Imagine how much better The Edge of Tomorrow would have been with Emily Blunt in the lead. They set her up as a fighting machine, an expert monster killer. But in the end, we never see her do any of that because he’s the better fighter, ultimately, and the one she defers to again and again. We are an audience that has evolved enough to accept a movie with a woman in the lead being the badass who wins the day. We can totally go there. We all watch Game of Thrones and Hunger Games, with no problem. But for some reason, it is assumed that a movie like this can only get made if there is a central male figure in the lead.
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Someone was bound to, sooner or later, come down on the critics for one thing or another. So these two writers, Adam K Raymond and Matan Gilat, decided to gather up all of the Metacritic scores and rank the critics from most agreeable to least.

I wouldn’t ordinarily mind this particular method of ranking critics if it weren’t based on the premise: who most agrees or disagrees with the fully branded, targeted demographic of 13 year-old boys. They used the top 200 highest grossing films of the past decade. That is like ranking food critics using their reviews of the five fast food chains that dominate every corner of every street on America (as I wrote in the comments). That doesn’t tell you anything about the taste of film critics. It doesn’t illuminate anything about anything. All it does is help advertisers and studios figure out which critics most agree with their pointed and successful strategy. They write:

To ensure a statistically significant sample (and our sanity), we started with a list of the 200 highest-grossing movies of the last decade and concentrated on only those critics who had reviewed at least 40 of them, though for many, the sample was closer to 100 films. To narrow it down to the most influential critics, we considered factors like reach and reputation, the frequency of their reviews, and whether or not they’re still in the game, with a focus on those who write for newspapers, magazines and websites people actually read. We (reluctantly) left out certain notorious self-promoters like Fox 4 Kansas City’s Shawn Edwards, four-time winner of eFilmCritic’s annual quote whore award, who isn’t even in Metacritic’s database—likely because he’s more PR shill than critic.

They are selective when it comes to the critics but not selective when it comes to the movies. Do you think it’s fair to judge the worth of a critic on Dead Man’s Chest, for instance, which topped the box office in 2006? I don’t. I don’t need a critic for that reason. We value our critics because they are great writers, many of them, though that breed of critic is disappearing. Replacing them are the kinds of critics the writers of this piece would value – not critics at all, really, but consumer reporters. They will tell you whether the film is worth your money depending on what exactly you’re looking for. Okay, fine. But there is a dimension to cinema and film that most of the great critics got into the business for. The fanboys and bloggers who have replaced them did not. They got into it because they loved movies. Fandom=fanboys. Coming from that place, one is an advocate – and we need those too. But film critics do have their place not to judge the branded sequels, tent poles and remakes that dominate the box office but to illuminate the magic, the complexities of the art of cinema.
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Of Course Captain America took the box office this weekend even though the weekend isn’t over. All that’s left is the final total where we’re all meant to stagger backwards – shock and awe at the size and hardness of that GIANT MEMBER — I mean NUMBER.

We are in a hamster’s wheel of these super hero movies. Remember when Comic-Con was on the fringe? Remember when super hero movies were for geeks? No longer. They are the meat and potatoes of Hollywood now and they are mostly interchangeable. By many accounts, Captain America is one of the good ones. But one can’t help but lament this trend as it just feels tired by now. Nonetheless, nothing is stopping it. Sequels and reboots — anything that’s familiar as we move towards a system that offers less choices. Good movies are still being made, of course. They’re harder to finance, harder to keep afloat but here’s Oscar island taking them in like refugees in the storm.

It really takes a great film critic (and they are disappearing too) to notice this and have the balls to comment on it. I wonder if, by now, Manohla Dargis is getting death threats. I imagine she’s being called old and out of touch – I imagine that her gender is being called into question. I hope she flips them all the bird.

A simple link to her review on Twitter launched a full on debate about how film critics dismiss super hero movies the same way they’d dismiss, say, westerns or horror films. Perhaps that might be true for one or two movies back in the day. You can point to a dismissive review of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, for instance, that complains about it being a popcorn movie that dumbs everything down. These reviews pop up now and again throughout film industry. The difference was those films did not threaten to consume and destroy everything that was around them. There was variety because adults were still buying movie tickets rather than sitting home watching their giant, beautiful HDTVs. And so it goes.

But Dargis’ simple critical act of defiance in the face of the new normal is worth noting – she likes Captain America just fine, as do most. It does what’s required of it plus a little bit more. Whatever’s happening in cinema that’s exciting it isn’t within the super hero genre which has become far too predictable and branded to be exciting anymore.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane — oh, wait, it’s Captain America.

The costume looks different, of course, as does the looker (Chris Evans) squeezed into the form-fitting corporate brand. But, gee, it can be hard keeping track of all the men flying and fighting in the superhero cinematic universe. Next up is yet another Spider-Man movie, and then come the X-Men, and then the Guardians of the Galaxy, and then (again) the Avengers, whose numbers include Captain America. So, he’ll be back. Meanwhile, he has another movie to call his own, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” one that, like many others of its type, gets off to a kinetic start only to lose steam before blowing everything up.

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It really must be a sign of the times that Entertainment Weekly has laid off its second great film critic, after Lisa Schwarzbaum took a buy off earlier this year. This one hurts worse than many others because Gleiberman has been writing film reviews for EW as long as I’ve been reporting on film criticism, going on 15 years now.

When a movie comes out there are only a few voices that matter. I know many self-invented film critics (really, bloggers who have decided they can be called critics) are filling the gaps and taking jobs because they’ll work for less, or in some cases, for nothing. I know that we live in a time where everyone is, quite literally, a critic. I know that film reviews read like user reviews at Amazon or Yelp, just a general take that hovers around “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it.” But film criticism — GOOD film criticism — expands and enriches our experience of cinema itself. At its best, it opens up closed minds. It inspires. It can teach. Only a few writers out there know this. Even fewer who know it still have jobs. One of the best just lost his.

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New York Times’ reporter Brooks Barnes and Anne Thompson tweet just moments ago:

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On April 1, Martin Scorsese delivered this year’s prestigious Jefferson Lecture at the National Endowment for the Humanities in a presentation he called “Persistence of Vision: Reading the Language of Cinema.” You can watch a recording here at the NEH site.

The desire to make images move, the need to capture movement seems to be with us 30,000 years ago in the cave paintings of Chauvet. … The bison appears to have multiple sets of legs. Maybe that was the artist’s way of creating the impression of movement. I think this need to recreate movement is a mystical urge. It’s an attempt to capture the mystery of who and what we are and then to think about, to contemplate that mystery.

Options to listen to the audio embed or read the transcript after the cut.

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2011 represents either the weakest year for great films in a while, or at least for those that have been released so far.  One can’t use Rotten Tomatoes for this because they don’t draw a hard enough line.  Ditto for the Critics Choice.  But Metacritic draws a hard enough line that we can look back at previous years to see if there were any very well reviewed films being released before the end of the year.  Where are those movies that start to hit the low to mid 90s on Metacritic?  Do we really have to wait until the end of the year to see them?

Here is how different this year has been from previous years, going back to 2006.  I’m only looking at films that were released before October 20, 2010, and I’m going higher than our highest get, which is 87 (Harry Potter and Moneyball). There is nothing approaching 90 0r higher.  Melacholia doesn’t count because it doesn’t have enough reviews and it hasn’t yet opened.  I suspect that The Artist will be a high scorer with plenty of 100s.  I’m going to bet The Descendants does very well also.  But beyond that?

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Beautiful Boy, the film about a teen who kills himself after going on a shooting rampage at his college will be among those competing at the TIFF September 9 through 19.  The film stars Maria Bello and Michael Sheen, and is directed by Shawn Ku.

A Movieline interview with Kyle Gallner about the film:

You’re also in a movie coming up called Beautiful Boy, where you’re the catalyst for a school shooting. Maria Bello told me about it and it sounded rough.
It’s an interesting movie. There’s been takes on Columbine and school shooters, and it’s always very sad and a difficult situation, but this is a movie where you see it through the eyes of the parents [of the killer]. The kid isn’t the main focal point; as you said, the kid is just the catalyst. People forget at the end of the day that these parents lost a child as well. They’re still going through a mourning process, and they have to deal with all the parents who blame them: “Why did you raise such a monster? You must be terrible people.” Really, it might not have been their fault at all — their kid could have been a loose cannon who never spoke to his parents.

How do you deal with the people who might not want to see that sort of story dramatized?
It is a difficult situation, but that’s the point of film: to push boundaries and tell things that have never been told and try to see things through different people’s eyes. I’ve played a handful of evil or bad people, but for the most part, these kids kind of see what they’re doing as right. It makes sense to them, even if the rest of the world doesn’t understand. Everyone does something for a reason and these are terrible things, but it’s not like [Beautiful Boy] is making this kid out to be a hero.

Pics originally posted at Maria-bello.org.

Two more after the cut.

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For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism “is the first documentary to dramatize the rich saga of American movie reviewing.” Offering an insiders view of the critics profession,
For the Love of Movies screened a couple of weeks ago at the 10th Annual DeadCenter Film Festival in Oklahoma City. Earlier this year Brandeis Film Professor Thomas Doherty Film scholar and professor Thomas Doherty wrote about this documentary in an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled ‘The Death of Film Criticism‘:

Defenders of the bloggers, texters, and tweeters laud the democratization of opinion and the instant access to inside dope. (Many Web-based critics have few qualms about pirated scripts and studio screeners.) Untethered to the industry and not co-opted by plush press junkets, the argument goes, the unpaid fan-bloggers are more independent, more honest, and more in sync with the mass audience than the jaded sexagenarians. Moreover, purely as a media forum for cinematic analysis, the widescreen Net blows away the printed page, offering unlimited space for analysis, links to like-minded sites, and photo “captures” and streaming clips for illustration. The bloggers get the info out first and fast, the readership bookmarks its own comfort zones, and critic and reader begin a two-way conversation that collapses the distinction between interlocutors.

Controversial food for thought and springboard for debate — but if anyone’s weary of hearing about the decline of print journalism empires and the rise of barbarian blogs, there’s a more personal question buried on the website for The Story of American Film Criticism in a contest for movielovers:

If you adore movies as much as we do, then prove it! In two minutes or less, make your own video in which tell us about, or show us, how one film had a major impact on your life. It could be the one that scared you when you were a wee one, the one that made you laugh till you regurgitated buttery popcorn, the one that convinced you to quit your job and try to make a difference, or the one that showed you the mysterious, dream-like wonders of the cinema.

For readers here without time or equipment to make an illustrative video clip, the same challenge could be answered in the comments.

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