Note: If you have a low tolerance for navel-gazing masquerading as soul searching, skip this and check out my angst-free post on David Arquette's The Tripper.
I think I might have turned into too much of a wimp to be a good film critic. I mean: even when I see a movie that I really don't like - Spider-Man 3, say - I'm perfectly willing to lay out what I didn't like about it, but I'm just not interested in arguing with someone who did like it. And while I definitely enjoy writing about movies and I enjoy reading other people's writing about movies, I'm just as definitely not writing to convince anyone of anything or reading anyone to be convinced of anything.
A couple of things from The House Next Door triggered this. (1) This negative review of Juno and some of the responses in the comments. Is letting people know that I like/don't like Little Miss Sunshine so important I have to be nasty about it? (2) This line from Steven Boone inhis piece on Armond White: "A.I. is just one of those tests I use to separate the blind from the sighted." Man - I like A.I., but that's such a pompous, infuriating thing to write. I mean, I think the idea of holding up any movie as a litmus test is pretty obnoxious, but if you have to, choose Grand Illusion or The General, but certainly not a movie like A.I. that divides even Spielberg's biggest fans.
I'm looking at all of the "Year's Best" lists that are flooding the internet right now. I'm torn: God knows I love making these kinds of lists myself (and am working on my own for this year's crop), but seeing them all together (like, for example, this pdf) is a little bit depressing. The same movies pop up again and again, or, if not the same movies, the same "gambits", i.e. "I'll include a dumb teen comedy to prove my credentials as a populist."
My standard take on these lists is that they're best seen as a way to start a conversation, but reading them one after another gives the impression that these critics are engaged in a ritual that, while public, is essentially solitary. It seems to be less about engaging with all these movies and with all these other movie buffs and more about staking out your claim. It's territorial, even.
I've been keeping up with new movies as best as I can. Mainly, I bother because the annual list party I go to has consistently been the most fun/interesting/engaging/enlightening time I have all year. I like blogging about new movies, here, too, and I certainly enjoy the internet discussions I get into, but without a face-to-face social event to spur me on, I'd probably be writing more posts like this and this and fewer posts like this. Without the social element, watching all these new movies would be too much of a mechanical exercise: keeping up with new releases can make me feel too much like a cog in the machine.
Still - unless you're a professional critic (and thus have access to special screenings/screeners), it's nigh impossible to come up with a Top Ten List anytime before March or April of the following year. I bet at least 50% of my work-in-progress list will change by March of 2008:
What kind of conversation do I want to start with that list?
Well, for one thing, I'm becoming more and more accepting of my own fairly mainstream tastes. I used to be really concerned about posturing and/or making a statement with these lists. All part of the normal process of getting older?
And, no, this really isn't meant as posturing now. No Country for Old Men and 28 Weeks Later really are my top movie experiences of the year. Do I think they were the "best" movies I saw all year? Eh - I don't know. They're certainly the two movies I'd be most likely to recommend to people who don't mind violent movies. (The Hoax and The Simpsons Movie would be the two movies I'd be most likely to recommend to just about anybody).
Another thing: looking at this list and thinking about my favorite directors of the last 15 years of so (that is, of most of my career as a movie buff) - the Coen Bros., Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg, Robert Altman, i.e. the usual suspects, no surprises that a white 30-ish American college educated quasi-artsy comic book-reading guy would be into them - I wonder how much of my "taste"/"sensibility"/etc. is just a by-product of my time and place. That's partly why whenever I have one of these "crises of faith" what I want to do is go watch a bunch of old foreign movies.
Also - I think it's funny that my blog post dealing with my "#1 movie" consists of me complaining about it.
But I do like lists. I can't help it! Part of it, though, is that I think (or should that be I hope) they can help to get across the idea that I like different things about different movies. I mean: there's no single movie that magically sums up everything I like about the movies and if I had to give one - twist my arm and I'll say The Night of the Shooting Stars - I'd feel like I betrayed all those movies I like for completely different reasons - like Caddyshack, for instance.
To get back to how I started this post: I do like reading other people's take on movies. But I'm finding that the people who's takes I most enjoy reading are not necessarily the people who I actually agree with all that much. For instance: Michael Sicinski is currently my favorite movie critic-type guy, but I rarely actually agree with him. Or, rather, while I think he almost always makes interesting points, his overall judgments don't really line up with mine. They kind of do: my favorite movies he tends to rate 6/10 and his favorite movies tend to be the ones that I admire but ultimately don't care for very much. I can't imagine, though, reading his negative review of Hostel and telling that not liking Hostel proves that he's blind or even that he's wrong not to like the movie. I understand what he's saying about that movie and why he's saying it, even if, for me, the movie doesn't work that way. I can talk about how it works for me and maybe why it works for me, but, right now, that's as far as I really want to go. It would have been a different story back when I was an undergrad.