Tuesday, December 11, 2007

America, Once Again, Wishes Critics Would Just Like The Same Brainless Crap They Do

Well, it's starting again. Earlier than usual this time. Most years it takes until the Oscar nominees are actually announced before some bullshit critic who should know better (and likely does) cynically panders to Middle America by whining about the disconnect between the movies the critical establishment loves and the movies Regular Americans pay to see. Two years ago, this same argument took on a cloak of homophobia, as Brokeback Mountain, Capote, and Transamerica were deemed (incorrectly, in the case of Brokeback) too gay for the American public. But really, this comes up every year, every time some publication wants to score easy points by telling the bloated middle of the cinematic bell curve that their shitty taste in movies is populist and anyone who says otherwise is an elitist.

This year, the bullshit critic is Richard Corliss at Time, and he's kind of pre-bitching, saying that this week's New York and Los Angeles film critics' awards -- which gave Best Picture honors to No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood, respectively -- will ultimately lead to an Oscar lineup full of movies that nobody in American has seen or will care about, resulting in yet another lowest-ratings-ever Oscar ceremony. None of these pandering, dishonest articles ever takes that argument to its logical end, that being a Best Picture lineup made up of the five highest-grossing (and thus "best") films of the year. In 2007, those wouild be: Spider-Man 3, Shrek 3, Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean 3, and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Now there's a lineup you can be proud of.

Dumber still is Corliss's seeming insistence that the fact that a performance like Julie Christie's in Away From Her should somehow not be touted by the critics simply because the film only made $5 million when the fact is that the only way people are going to hear about that (fantastic) movie and performance is for critics to yell at us about how awesome it is.

Look, I'm not saying that the critics' organizations don't get weird and sometimes embarassing with the look-at-me weirdo citations (the L.A. critics do seem to love choosing one actor absolutely no one has ever heard of from a movie no one's ever seen, not even movie fags like me), but overall, this idea that film critics need to be embarassed because the movies they love weren't the $100 billion blockbusters that everybody watches when they want to sit in air conditioning in the middle of July is pretty infuriating.

There are so many things about that article that are stupid that I barely have time to rant about them all. About how film criticism has a duty to be, to some degree, disconnected from the mainstream if they're ever going to guide us to transcendant films. About how the chain of causation from the critics groups to the Academy to the people who care about the TV ratings for the Oscars is tenuous at best. About how the Academy just got finished honoring a $132 million Best Picture last year and the artsy-fartsy NYFCC-approved No Country For Old Men will have made at least $50 million before it's all said and done. Just...ack! So stupid!


Anonymous said...

That said, I do think that a sub-conscious anti-populist attitude is hurting a film like Ratatouille. Which based on the fact that it was the best reviewed film of the year (that screened in more than 100 theaters) on both Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, you would think it would be cleaning up at critics awards. But its a kids movie that made $200 million so therefore it isn't worthy of their attention. Great movies can also be populist hits.

Joe R. said...

I don't think it's anti-populism that's keeping Ratatouille from critics' awards -- I think it's like you said: a kids' movie and animated besides. Persepolis is a critics' darling too, and it isn't getting Best Picture honors either.

Moreover, if you look at Critics Awards as less of an Oscar-propping entity and more as a way of drawing attention to movies that the critics view as underseen, brilliant gems, then I think it's totally appropriate to honor things like There Will Be Blood, Away From Her, 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days, et cetera. Everybody who needed to hear about Ratatouille has heard about it and seen it. If these critics want to use whatever clout they have to point audiences in a direction rather than simply pull the top-ranked film off of Metacritic, not only do I think that's their perogative, I think it's a perfectly legitimate way of fulfilling their mandate. A critic isn't just around to grade movies like a teacher would grade midterm exams. I don't need a critic to tell me whether a movie I just saw is any good. What I do need is for a critic to point me in the direction of something I may not be planning to see but I really should.

...Crap, now I'm pontificating about the proper function of a critic. Shoot me now. But you see what I mean?

(By the way, I really liked Ratatouille. Not better than No Country For Old Men, though.)