Duck, You Sucka

I’d just like to say that not many years ago I was the one who thought someone should start a year-end film critics’ poll, a la The Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop survey, and I nagged editors at both the Voice and Film Comment on it several times before the idea took, first at the Voice, then, now it seems, everywhere. It was my idea. Dammit.

Anyway, as it has been folded into the Zeitgeist via polls and appearances in The Village Voice, indiewire, Sight & Sound, Film Comment, The Boston Phoenix, In These Times, The L Magazine, and, in a sense, Moving Image Source, here’s my 2011 Top Ten, qualitatively arranged as always.

1. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
2. A Brighter Summer Day
3. A Separation
4. Mysteries of Lisbon
5. My Joy
6. Poetry
7. Martha Marcy May Marlene
8. City of Life and Death
9. Tuesday, After Christmas
10. Bellflower

Runners-up, in order: You All Are Captans, Le Quattro Volte, Putty Hill, Meek’s Cutoff, The Trip, Certified Copy, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, Silent Souls, Children of Hiroshima, The Arbor, Drive, Shame, The Artist...

The grand total: 2 old movies, 1 Iranian, 1 Iranian in exile, 2 documentaries, 1 Russian, 1 Ukrainian, 1 Korean, 1 Romanian, 4 U.S. genuine indies, 1 U.S. dependie, 0 Hollywood studio entries... 0 sequels, 2 films edited down from made-for-TV mini-series, 1 found-footage film...

The year's Nobel goes, a little too late, to Raul Ruiz.

Note that the list does not come within a Nigerian-runner’s short mile of Melancholia, J. Edgar, The Help, The Tree of Life, Tabloid, Hanna, Moneyball, The Debt, The Descendents, We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Ides of March, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Rampart, X-Men: First Class, Young Adult or Albert Nobbs, which have come to be this year’s most celebrated deflated souffles, gobbled up by some critics remarkable only for the bloated scale of their bellies and the numbness of their taste buds. So to speak. In other words, far too many critics today know next to nothing about the medium of which they are ostensibly expert. It’s safe to say that far too few even bothered to see ten or more of the films on my twentysomething list, because the damn things are demanding or long or weren’t gifted with a robust ad campaign. This reality makes polls, however well-intentioned, essentially meaningless. Among sports writers, for instance, this kind of rigor-less attitude toward material and achievement would cost people jobs. With film, the opposite has often proven to be the case.

Note too that A Brighter Summer Day (1991) and Children of Hiroshima (1952) are not new or newish films, but are included because they received, simply enough, their first U.S. week-long engagements. Period. To ignore them is to let the whims and market cowardice and dull-wittedness of film distributors, and the reasons they do or do not choose films for theatrical and video release, control the discourse.

As for blogging, I'll say what Warren Beatty said when he won his producing Oscar: I'll try to do better. 

       
      
 

 

 

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  • 12/19/2011 10:09 AM Erich Kuersten wrote:
    Michael - No one wants to argue with the Dr. Zaius of original Planet of the Apes series defenders about Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but you was wrong, Mr. Dunston.

    You can argue the rest of us don't know about the medium just because we couldn't get more than 10 minutes into Uncle Bonmee without dozing off (and we tried, not once, not twice, but thrice). We could argue instead that a swanky pants critic is much more likely to praise an artsy film made in a foreign country--especially if they're the only ones who saw it, at some snooty festival us non-comped mortals would never go to for fear of boredom-- than recognize one from their own native soil, especially if it's a big old blockbuster. There wasn't a more ballsy film made this year than Rise of the Planet of the Apes! At least you didn't put on the goddamned 'The Artist.' Being as you're one of my favorite critics by and large for your superlative Apes essay in Ghost in the Machine, I'm aghast, yes, aghast.

    PS - Pazz and Jop hasn't been relevant since 1997, the year Liz Phair broke.
    Reply to this
    1. 12/20/2011 1:02 PM Michael Atkinson wrote:
      You could argue that some swanky-pantsers would choose a foreign film, because blah blah, etc., but you'd be wrong, and you're dissing Boonmee, which you admit to still not having seen, because you're afraid to admit you don't understand what it's trying to do. Your preference for unchallenging Hollywood pulp is yours to brag about, but that doesn't make you knowledgable about the art form, just about how much mindless fun you know you can have in the dark. Which isn't much good to anyone else. But also: the new Apes film is a doodle compared to the conceptual majesty of the original five.
      Reply to this
  • 12/19/2011 12:50 PM Carson Lund wrote:
    Your comment that writers who include any one of the films you list in the first big paragraph after the main top ten "know next to nothing about the medium of which they are ostensibly expert" strikes me as profoundly condescending and disingenuous. I'll agree with you that many of the films there suffer from weak filmmaking, but who are you to stand on the ivory tower and declare them ultimate examples of bad filmmaking? I'm a filmmaker and critic myself and can stand proudly behind The Tree of Life. What exactly makes it so abysmal? There is both supreme technical craftsmanship and aesthetic ingenuity in the film.
    Reply to this
    1. 12/20/2011 1:08 PM Michael Atkinson wrote:
      I never said "ultimate" anything -- they're just unchallenging, predictable, mindless pab, getting dissed by me for having been too overhyped and beloved by critics so far, critics who, as I've said, haven't seen nearly enough films, haven't thought very hard about what they have seen, and in many cases are either green college grads or journalists literally enlisted to review movies because their editors thought it'd be a good idea to give them a break from the real estate desk or wherever. If you've read my S&S review of the Malick, you know I'm ambivalent about it, and honestly don't want to trample on swooners. But if that movie isn't about to explode from its own unvented narcissism gas, no film ever would.
      Reply to this
      1. 12/20/2011 6:35 PM Carson Lund wrote:
        I guess I just see the aforementioned swipe (and the generalizations thereafter about real estate journalists or whatever) as unnecessary and rather mean-spirited. You're free to dislike these films, but it's not admirable criticism to put down those who do enjoy them. I suppose I'm also curious about what you mean when you speak about the knowledge of the medium. Are you merely classifying knowledge as an awareness of diversity in film culture, or are you getting at something more technical about the medium (which is how I interpreted it)? If the latter is the case, I'm tempted to mention that, as much as I love Uncle Boonmee and its thematic accomplishments, it suffers from some qualitatively bad filmmaking (flat lighting, awkwardly framed close-ups, questionable lens choices, overexposure). Finally, I don't think that praising The Tree of Life is symptomatic of a failure to see beyond Hollywood pulp. It's my favorite film in a year that also left me amazed by such comparatively obscure international films as Two Years At Sea and Mysteries of Lisbon. And I don't think I'm alone in this regard.
        Reply to this
        1. 12/26/2011 6:15 PM Michael Atkinson wrote:
          Well, to clarify, I am talking about knowledge of diversity, depth, history, aesthetics, etc., not merely technical imperfections, which I think are close to irrelevant. It's amusing when a crummy and expensive Hollywood movies gets even the simple shit wrong, but otherwise that stuff is nitpicking, and doesn't necessarily impact style, theme, thrust, etc. (Within reason: very, very badly made films are usually hopeless for that reason.) I'm not joking about "real estate critics" -- Gene Siskel was a real estate reporter when he got called up; other papers have roped in dance critics, jazz reviewers, book critics, general editors, etc., because they just don't fucking care. But to your finer point, I'm not putting down anyone for "enjoying" anything -- which is a subjective matter, and of only marginal relevance when you're having serious discourse about culture. (Unless we're good friends, and your gut reaction means something to me personally.) And I don't think Tree of Life is symptomatic of anything; clearly, it's own beast, and one that glows with nothing so much as its maker's cosmic narcissism. If that doesn't bother you, or doesn't impact your esteem of the film, that's fine, make your case somewhere. But don't do it pretending that the cosmic birth-of-the-universe = little-Terry equation isn't there, because it is.
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