Monday, December 31, 2007

Wherefore Film Criticism?

Sometimes I wonder about the purpose of film reviews. Obviously everyone’s taste is different, and film critics’ recommendations aren’t always good predictors of what people will enjoy. But is that what it’s supposed to be about?

I’ve always liked reading intelligent criticism, and I hope there are readers who do also. I still relish John Simon’s astringent, erudite film reviews from the 1970s. (Find a copy of his collection, Reverse Angle, if you can.) He held movies to demanding standards, and rightly so. I’m not fond of the “consumer guide” approach, so popular today in newspapers and other media, providing rankings and “thumbs up/thumbs down” ratings of current movies. Nor am I especially interested in celebrity gossip, box-office tallies or other things that should be of interest only to the film studios, their investors and Variety. When did it become necessary for the average person to follow the box-office earnings of current movie releases, the way many follow sports scores? Around the same time, I think, that "citizens” became “consumers.”

I try to provide thoughtful analysis and maybe a different perspective. Occasionally this will rankle someone, and they’ll fire off an angry letter, which is fine. Sometimes, I hope, that approach will be a balm to someone who can't understand why he doesn't love the movie everyone is gushing over.

This season, we are told we will love Atonement (a beautifully designed but botched adaptation of a popular literary novel), No Country for Old Men (irresolute Coen brothers exercise in nihilism whose stark landscape and skillful cinematography made some people mistake it for art), and Juno (snarky teen-pregnancy comedy whose profoundly irritating Web-slang dialogue and screenplay by a former stripper has given it undeserved cachet and a 95% approval rating on

But what if you don’t love them?

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