Critical acclaim

It's been a couple of months since the last lugubrious screed by a film critic about the end of film criticism, and I must say I haven't missed them. So it was with weary resignation that I took a look at New Jersey Star-Ledger Stephen Whitty's "Why Critics Matter." 

To my surprise, it wallowed in neither of the typical modes of previous such items - self-pity and self-loathing - but actually took an objective look (note extensive quotes from reputable sources like Tom Bernard of Sony Classics and David Gross of  at what practical purpose critics serve for filmgoers and filmmakers.

Among other functions, they help smaller, less mass marketed movies find their audiences.

And get awards, like Oscars. As I've noted before, for several years now the vast majority of Oscar nominees and winners (Best Pictures "The Hurt Locker" last year, "Slumdog Millionaire" in 2008, etc) had already been singled out by awards from various critics associations. Coincidence? Precognition? Or maybe the voters in the Academy are paying attention, realizing that if anyone knows what their best products might be it's the critics, not the salespeople in marketing.

Skeptics will point out that despite the critical brouhaha and even the Oscars "The Hurt Locker" didn't make money. The films that make money do so despite the critics. Just take a look at "The Last Airbender." (8% Rotten Tomatoes rating; $51.8 at the box office first week of release). Not even David Manning would have liked it, and he doesn't even exist. Still it's making so much money that another film from M. Night Shyamalan is inevitable.

To which Whitty responds:

"If reviews really aren't important, then why do posters for even the silliest films arrive with a blurb from some deeply impressed reviewer - even if the studio has to drag the dregs of local TV to find them? Good reviews build the box office for every film, but particularly for smaller pictures - and the waning number of critics has meant waning profits ."

Be that as it may, the only critic who seems to have arrived at the secret of success in today's anti-critic environment is "The New York Press"'s Armond White. White seems to have realized that film criticism is one of the world's most despised professions, hated even by some practicing critics. So why not become the most despised critic of them all?

As explained in a recent story in "McClean's," one way to accomplish that is to be the sole critic to come down on such universally admired films as "Toy Story 3." Then laud such universally despised bombs as "Jonah Hex" and "Transformers 2." The result? Next to Ebert, White might be the most recognized critic in America. (Of course, it doesn't hurt to also attack Ebert, the only critic for whom the word "beloved" might apply, and whom White describes as  responsible for "the destruction of intellectual film response.")

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