Exhibit A: The Reader. I will not make any grand claims about this film--I thought it was flawed, with the balance being a little off between the sexual affair the boy has with the Kate Winslet character, and what comes after it; still, I found the film to be serious, a consideration of how people might come to terms with a horrifying history that I found to be something like an allegory. Yet the bile people have heaped on this film is quite amazing. Moreover, when the Oscar nominations came out, so did the rage--it was as if the reviewers had coarsened and cheapened their own views, so that Dana Stevens, for instance, summarized the film as "Boo hoo, I slept with an illiterate Nazi." Wow. (sorry, I can't find a working link on Slate for this piece.)
Okay, I thought there was another exhibit, but maybe not. I have been a little overly-exercised about The Reader. I wouldn't have nominated this film as a Best Picture (ditto Frost/Nixon, at which I had a perfectly good time, but come on), but I don't understand the hate. I heard someone talking on NPR in the most glib way imaginable about how Holocaust films are Oscar-bait, arguing that perhaps there should be a moratorium on Holocaust films.
Right. Because at the point when most of the people who were around during that period of time, in some way involved in that historical moment, are gone or going, it's good to stop trying to figure out what it meant. Surely by now we've figured every single thing there is to understand about those events. And surely, therefore, a film that might in fact be seeking some prestige can be nothing but that, a prestige-seeking artifact, rather than another story that tries, in a flawed way, certainly, but tries nonetheless, to imagine what it might be like to grow up in the generation after the Holocaust, in Germany, surrounded by people who aren't all that interested in talking about any of it. That project would be a specious one, because there are too many Holocaust movies.
Smug, snarky movie reviewers, so so cynical . . . they make me so mad.
Just this week, I read a reconsideration of Waterworld. Did any of you see this movie? I sure did, and I wondered about that one, too--why there was so very much hate of it when I thought it was actually kind of cool and certainly interesting. Well, now it turns out that the film may have been an eco-parable, ahead of its time. So what if Kevin Costner was full of himself back then? Isn't every artist (yes, I said artist) kind of full of him or herself sometimes? If they weren't no one would ever make a thing--you have to trust me on this.
Ditto Ishtar. I saw that movie later, after the burnings-in-effigy were over, and I laughed. What the hell?
Finally, let me say that I checked in, as I do from time to time, to Joshua Clover's blog, jane dark's sugarhigh! He may be a smarty-pants extraordinaire--but he did admirable critical work in this post on Che, and this post on the SF MOMA. Also, this post, where he discusses M.I.A.'s song "Paper Planes" in a way that completely altered how I understood the song. (If you dig around a little, you can find high snark passing as film criticism--but it's pretty good snark: he suggests that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is really Meet Joe Blackward. Ha.)
Basically, what I really want in a critic--and maybe that's the difference: who are the actual critics, as distinct from reviewers?--is someone who will help me be more thoughtful about what I am seeing, what I have seen, or what I am about to see, or hear, or view. Someone who might take just a moment to give a film more than a passing thought. Someone who might let the ideas of the film play in the mind long enough to hear what it has to say. And maybe a movie reviewer doesn't have time to do this. But I hope there are critics who can and who will.