Criticwire Survey: Everyone (Else) Is Wrong

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by Sam Adams
September 23, 2013 9:20 AM
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Every week, the Criticwire Survey asks film and TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday morning. (The answer to the second, "What is the best film in theaters right now?" can be found at the end of this post.) Send suggestions for future questions to sam at indiewire dot com.

Q: It's important for critics to keep an open mind, but there are some cases where it feels like no sane person could differ. What's a movie or a show where you feel like anyone who doesn't agree with you is just plain wrong?

Alissa Wilkinson, Christianity Today

Having grown up in a family that didn't really watch movies, I didn't see the original Star Wars trilogy until I was in college -- an engineering college, to boot, where I was studying computer science and where Lucas's trilogy was more or less holy gospel. So the first time I finally sat down and watched the films, I was about twenty-one and at my boyfriend's house. All I remember is leaning over to him about fifteen minutes in and saying -- convinced by, above all, the dialogue, that this was some kind of comical special feature on the disc -- "Wait, when does the movie actually start?" I have tried off and on since then to love the films, and I do own a very lovely boxed set, but, well: to truly love Star Wars, it seems, you've got to see them at the right time (childhood) and place (in a movie theater), and I'll just have to take everyone's word on it.

Luke Y. Thompson, Topless Robot

I could name three big ones from this year alone -- Oblivion, After Earth and The Lone Ranger -- where I feel most of the negative reviews either misunderstood the film or considered external factors excessively, but those are small potatoes compared to my real gripe: namely, that it is so often taken as fact and consensus that of course the Star Wars prequels and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull were terrible movies and everybody agrees on that.

Well, I don't. I'll give the haters Phantom Menace, and chalk most of that up to George Lucas' directorial rust and the miscasting of Jake Lloyd (Yes, Jar Jar was annoying, but that actually paid off plotwise in the subsequent films.) I will not accept that the other two have no value. Lucas still has the ability to direct an action sequence with a perfect sense of geography, to where you know exactly where your main character is at all times in relation to other things, and what the goal is. Can Roland Emmerich -- whose execrable White House Down got more of a pass than  Lucas gets on anything - say the same?

As for Revenge of the Sith, it has even more to recommend it. The way it begins as a buddy comedy, then things start to feel slightly off, the hero becomes murderous, and soon enough he's killing children and his best friend is dismembering him. You realize you got all that in a mainstream sci-fi epic, right? Oh, but Darth Vader says "No!" one time, and Padme dies too easily. Those two scenes represent the vast majority of the knocks on the movie -- that, and complaints that Hayden Christensen being whiny and creepy is somehow wrong for the portrayal of a selfish adolescent with untapped power that can go through the roof on command.

With Indiana Jones, I think people really forget that each film is done as a tribute to the B-movies from the era represented onscreen. So of course an Indy movie set in the '50s will have weird ideas about radiation, aliens and giant ants. People totally okay with a 500 year-old knight in the last film are suddenly sticklers for accuracy about radiation and lead.

Jordan Hoffman, Film.com, NY Daily News

Everyone loves The Blues Brothers but me. I've tried, oh, I have tried. It's just not funny. It's a bunch of car crashes and forced catch-phrases. The music is good, I'll grant you - well, the parts where Aykroyd isn't singing, anyway. See, Dan Aykroyd is not cool. When he's playing a dope (Ghostbusters or even, God help me, Driving Miss Daisy) he's fine. Here, he's just not funny. "Animal House"'s anarchy comes from a position of a rebelling minority, a leftover haze of Vietnam-era anger -- a middle finger toward The Man. The Blues Brothers, ironically enough considering its subject matter, is The Man. A movie made by people who had been told they were geniuses so much they began to believe it. It's awful and everyone who loves it is wrong. Granted, I haven't seen it in probably 25 years. But, still.

Kate Aurthur, BuzzFeed

It's not a good feeling when you judge people who disagree with you. With divisive movies like Where the Wild Things Are and The Master, I've found myself thinking things about people in my life (and critics I respect) that reflect poorly on me. Because I cannot believe that there are people who like those movies, and I can only assume that those who did were in a compromised state while viewing. See what I mean about reflecting poorly on me? But those two movies are bad examples, because they're so polarizing: of course they draw out strong feelings in me and other people who like to fight about such things. The film I've found myself stupefied by in its longevity is Love Actually. As a fan of Four Weddings and a Funeral, I was sad to sit through Love Actually hating every second of it, but these things happen, and filmmakers have missteps. Imagine my surprise when not only did a good number of people like it at the time, but it has gone on to be a cult movie, especially among The Youngs. Very tragic to me how wrong people can be! 

Glenn Kenny, MSN Movies, Some Came Running 

It doesn't happen that often, but when it does, it's a doozy, as they say. Most recently I was appalled by Villeneuve's Incendies, which I called "as meretriciously overdetermined as art cinema, or any kind of cinema for that matter, gets." It really is awful, and more awful for being as (conventionally) well-made as it is. It has a 92 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I won't even mince words or try to be diplomatic here. The people who like it are wrong. Or at least they're wrong in saying it's any good. But this is the sort of thing that happens at the confluence of "well made" and "ostensibly important." Oh well. 

Adam Nayman, The Globe and Mail, Cinema Scope

I remember when Xavier Dolan's pretty-ok debut I Killed My Mother was hailed in the Canadian press as the second coming of Citizen Kane because its resident Baby Genius wore so many hats on the production. I also remember thinking that it was going to be hard for somebody who wasn't yet 20 to live up to all of that hype. A lot of critics in my neck of the woods feel like he has, but to my eyes, Les Amours Imaginaires was a glossy botch, while Laurence Anyways' tale of a man born in the wrong body felt like a bad three hour movie with a good 90 minute one trying desperately to get out. Dolan's new thriller Tom at the Farm was very positively reviewed at TIFF, but it did nothing for me at all. What comes through most strongly in Dolan's work so far is an undisguised lusting after greatness. And since there are apparently plenty of others who would confer it, I guess I'm off the hook. 

Todd VanDerWerff, The A.V. Club

This is maybe not strictly answering the question, since I still like the show, but I don't really get the critical hosannas over the last few seasons of Parks & Recreation. I think they're basically fine TV, and I still laugh a few times per episode, but it does seem to me like the show has settled into its long, fruitful decline, with the characters basically repeating themselves over and over. They're fun characters, so I don't mind watching, but I can't fathom calling this one of the best shows on TV. I long ago learned to be in the minority about this, however.

Robert Greene, Sight & Sound, Hammer to Nail

There are boring, tame, made-for-I'm-not-sure-what-medium documentaries every year that get a full pass from critics, due to importance of the subject matter (see: this one and this one, that virtually no one thinks are good movies. This phenomenon has been well-documented, but it remains a problem that ruins many weeks for me. Dear critics: issue documentaries are not little baby birds, nervously shivering in your mighty hands. If they suck but expose something important, say that. You will not be the enemy of society if you call a spade a spade. I know I'm not the only one that doesn't think The Invisible War is a 100% perfect movie. I just can't be.

Pat Padua, DCist, Spectrum Culture

I so don't get the general love for Room 237. I have nothing against movie kooks and their implausible theories, but the director takes this great material and makes something terribly amateurish, with the cheesiest possible music and the most obvious use of stock footage. A good filmmaker could take consipracy theories about The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 and make a fascinating documentary about perception and artistic intent. Rodney Ascher had a wealth of inherently compelling material to work with, and dropped the ball.

Mark Young, Sound on Sight, The New York Movie Klub 

Not only did Leviathan make me a little seasick when I saw it at last year's New York Film Festival, but I would not have found it all that good if the camera had held still. I feel like the main message that I took away from the film - that the machine of industry is pushing away the natural beauty of the world - was delivered much, much better in co-director Lucien Castaing-Taylor's previous film, SweetgrassLeviathan felt too cold for me, its camera at too much of a remove from its subjects. When I saw this picture multitudes of half-year top 10 lists, I felt as though I myself had been thrown overboard.

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap, What the Flick?!

My contrariness on both of these accounts has become something of a running gag on my podcast, Linoleum Knife, but I'm not a fan of either Pulp Fiction or The Shawshank Redemption. I find the Tarantino film terribly paced and overly self-satisfied (although I'm a big fan of all of his subsequent films, including and particularly Death Proof) while I think Shawshank is a big phony sapfest. But I harbor no illusions that either will be giving up their slot on the IMDB Top 10 anytime soon.

Scott Renshaw, Salt Lake City Weekly 

I've worked hard in recent years to jettison that feeling--to reach the point where I can simply express and defend my perspective with confidence, while still understanding that there are perfectly rational reasons for a whole lot of people to think exactly the opposite. So while I completely understand the emotional, visceral experience that has led so many people to embrace Fruitvale Station this year, I'm simply too put off by its mechanistic structure to lose myself in its tragedy. I've just lost interest in trying to "win" aesthetic arguments.

Peter Howell, Toronto Star:

In his 2002 Village Voice review of Death to Smoochy, J. Hoberman asked the urgent question: "Who could be the audience for this impressively designed, unrelentingly foulmouthed, exuberantly mean-spirited, and increasingly violent send-up of kids' television?" To which I meekly raise my hand and reply, "Me, sir!" And I feel very alone in my guilty appreciation of this demented Danny DeVito-directed satire. It had Robin Williams as an evil clown and Edward Norton as a guitar-strumming mook in a shocking pink dinosaur suit, a combo that seemed to infuriate many critics -- Hoberman was one of the few who actually liked it, and his appreciation was due in part to his joy at watching Williams getting repeatedly beaten up. 

Stephen Whitty, The Star-Ledger, NJ.com

You're all perfectly welcome to heap abuse on my head, and I'm sure you will, but I remember enjoying Sucker Punch at the time. Maybe I was just in the mood, maybe it was the benefit of my usual seat in the front row (I haven't seen the film since), but I just thought it was a wonderfully, deliberately over-the-top, rock-n-roll, junk-culture dream -- like Heavy Metal but with live action. And according to Rotten Tomatoes that puts me in opposition to exactly 85% of "Top Critics." Ah well. I wouldn't say that anyone is "wrong" to feel differently, and I won't speculate as to why they didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I did (although I do think Zack Snyder is underrated, even if only strictly as a visualist -- even that damn talking owl cartoon he did had some wonderful camera movements). 

John Keefer, 51deep.com

The only recent example I can think of is Pacific Rim.  That movie really wrapped me into the world it created, I got a sense of a true love of giant monster movies, I enjoyed the action which I felt was an example of how to properly use CGI effects (effects I usually feel are of the well-polished first draft varieties) and was genuinely entertained for the entirety of it.  Then I would see reviews complaining of a lack of proper character motivation, or that the characters names were dumb, and then I realized these reviewers never read Film Art: An Introduction and don't have a criteria for reviewing films nor are they able to judge a films value by the mise-en-scene established within the work.  I felt a terrible sense of lazy viewing and entitlement in most of the reviews I saw and was genuinely shocked that something so earnest could be met with such hatred but such are the times we find ourselves in.  And I know it should have no impact on a review but if Guillermo Del Toro is making a giant monster/robot movie as opposed to some for-hire hack it should demand more of your focus.  We have forgotten how to be entertained.

Rafer Guzman, Newsday

The Lone Ranger. What is everyone's big problem with this movie? Is it really worse than the last three Pirates movies or the two recent Sherlock Holmes movies? I grant you it was an uneven mix of comedy and epic, but I appreciated its ambitious moments and was not overly  offended by the galoomphing comedy. It never bored me, rarely insulted me and occasionally impressed me. Maybe this is a matter of low expectations being met, but I found the movie a perfectly acceptable entertainment.

Richard Brody, The New Yorker

You troublemaker, you. There's no way to write the "why they're wrong" side of the question without unintentionally insulting writers I greatly admire, personally and professionally, whether I go with my original plan of sticking with enthusiasms and singing again -- aptly -- the praises of Gentlemen Broncos (there was also the matter of Godard's King Lear, which many others have come to appreciate and, I hope, even love in the intervening twenty-five years, and I suppose that one thing they have in common is dealing with great, even cosmic, matters in ways that are often puckishly antic -- both, for instance, have a bodily-function component that may, for some, be deal-breakers) or letting loose with the negative option, regarding the aesthetic nonexistence of many so-called serious TV series. So this is a good place to stop.

Andrew Welch, To Be (Cont'd)

My go-to answer for questions like this is No Country for Old Men, which I appreciate from a formal standpoint but have issues with in terms of narrative. Enough time has passed that I probably shouldn't worry about spoilers -- but I really don't want to ruin it for anyone who hasn't seen it. Suffice it to say, a character dies, and his send-off is problematic compared to how it's handled in the book. Cormac McCarthy prepares readers for what's coming with a poignant scene beforehand in which the character shows a modicum of growth and reflection, making his journey meaningful. The Coens remove this scene, denying him and the audience a sense of closure, which has always struck me as a deliberate slap in the face. It also sharpens the movie's already-nihilistic outlook by saying, essentially, that his life was meaningless. I'm getting angry all over again just thinking about it.

Danny Bowes, RogerEbert.com, Tor.com

Whenever people talk about Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye as being great, or even good, or even not a personal insult, I feel like I'm being trolled. Part of it is that I have a deep emotional attachment to Raymond Chandler's novel, which has some of his best writing and the culmination of the evolution of Philip Marlowe as a character. But the movie's awful. The entire thing comes off to me like Altman sneering at the book and the very idea of caring about anything. Altman's career, sometimes from picture to picture, varied between some of the best movies ever made in the United States, and painfully, aggressively terrible disasters. Good Altman having made a half dozen or so stone classics sometimes leads people to ignore and/or forget Bad Altman, when they really all stem from the same place, the uncompromising swing-for-the-fences maverick (as overused as that is as a descriptor, it fits Altman like a glove). Elliott Gould is awesome even when he's in a bad movie, which is another thing I attribute some of the Long Goodbye love, but it remains a mystery greater than any in the text why people love this movie so. Don't get me wrong, I'm willing to be convinced, but you all are going to really have to bring it.

Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat, Film Racket

I will never, ever understand the love for Fast 6. Actually, I don't understand the love for any movie in the series beyond the original, but the breathless enthusiasm for this most recent installment is particularly perplexing. People (including, and especially, other critics) have told me the film is "funny" and "exciting" and "awesome." All I saw was "stupid" and "boring" and "lame." The characters are one-dimensional, every single one of them possessing the same faux badass attitude. The action scenes stretch credibility to the point of inducing eye-rolling. And plot? This movie wouldn't know what a plot was if one dropped from the sky, bounced off Vin Diesel's shiny bald head and landed on Dwayne Johnson's. I can't even begin to speculate on why so many folks went gaga over this movie. My best guess is that it contains They Live-style subliminal messages, and I am somehow Roddy Piper.

Piers Marchant, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Sweet Smell of Success

Words cannot express how much I disdained Wedding Crashers. Not (so much) because I'm a joyless wretch with no sense of humor -- though, God help me, I also really hated Old School -- but because the film asked me to root for and celebrate an Owen Wilson character whom I thought was nothing but hateful and selfish. In general, I run into serious trouble with movies that want to force me to like their main protagonist, even though they are, in fact, loathsome (see also As Good As It Gets). I can enjoy a good anti-hero, and I'm fine with rooting for someone whom the film acknowledges as a douche; but when the film tries to stack the deck for someone to gloss over how much of a prick they really are, I get my out my heavy red markers.

Ernesto Diezmartinez, Reforma, Vertigo

My blind spot is Joe's movies AKA Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Simply, I don't get it. I know, I know: In fact, I'm little ashamed. Another blind spot: Harmony Korine. But I'm not ashamed of that.

Joey Magidson, The Awards Circuit, First Showing

That would have to be The Go-Getter for me, not necessarily because it was hated by everyone but me, but because it seems no one bothered to review it but me. It only has 25 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (to the tune of a 40% average), which is insane to me. I found this indie road trip dramedy to be incredibly memorable and one of my absolute favorite films of 2008. A few others have told me they liked it, but no one has ever told me they loved it, so I seem to be alone there. In keeping with the theme of this week's question...everyone is wrong but me!

Tony Dayoub, Cinema Viewfinder

Against considerable opposition I maintain that Drive only appeals to anyone who has never seen late '70/early-'80s era neo-noirs like Thief or The Driver and enjoys... excruciatingly... long... pauses... between bits of trite dialogue.

Jeff Berg, Local IQ, Albuquerque

Heaven's Gate: Even when it first came out, long before I did anything with movies besides watch them, I couldn't understand the thrashing the picture took. Certainly it was partially Mr. Cimino's fault as has been pointed out many times over the years, but the film itself is all in all quite good. Certainly not the best one ever made, but far better than has been realized by many, especially the cut.

Adam Batty, Hope Lies at 24 Frames a Second, Periodical

I'm resisting the urge to rag on a couple of films and filmmakers whose popularity befuddles me, and will instead choose to stand up for a picture whose widespread failure my brain just cannot comprehend. Francis Ford Coppola's One From The Heart. Last year, when prompted to name the best film of my lifetime my thoughts turned straight to Coppola's underrated musical, with it's form-breaking, innovative visual code and impressive Tom Waits authored score. To my knowledge it hasn't even been reassessed to any great degree, which is equally surprising. 

Gary M. Kramer, Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News

I defiantly despise Frances Ha. I was irked from the onset watching Frances (Greta Gerwig) humiliate herself at every opportunity. Noah Baumbach uses annoyingly quirky music cues, and a twee cinematic devices along with cutesy, too-clever-by-half dialogue all filmed in arty black and white. It's such forced whimsy. I found it absolutely excruciating. And to be clear, I'm not a Gerwig hater. I was absolutely charmed by Lola Versus, which people responded to the same way I did towards Frances Ha. Go Figure. As I want carved on my tombstone: "There's No Accounting for Taste."

Brian Tallerico, HollywoodChicago.com, Film Threat

So many choices. There are a few movies I adore that I've had to defend over the years (and will surely do so again soon as we're heading into backlash season in which critics seem to slam down accomplished films simply to go against festival buzz) but the first film that came to mind was last year's winner for Best Director, Life of Pi. I think I find the adoration of this grating, annoying, surface-level work even more frustrating because I'm such a fan of Ang Lee's other works, and so feel even more baffled by those who like this one. I've tried again since my first "meh" response to Pi and still find it too shallow, from its sense of self-importance to its "here's what it's all about" monologue at the end. It's a film that I think people embrace because it raises themes not often addressed in major films like faith and religion (but I would argue says too little about them) but the main reason it gets a pass is simple -- it's gorgeous. That's undeniable. For me, striking visuals will never make up for storytelling this deeply flawed.

Anne-Katrin Titze, Eye For Film

The fawning over Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers as if it were the latest, hippest cinematic masterpiece takes a dumbing down of film criticism, combined with overlooking the regression of a filmmaker. Korine packages his ideologically poisoned gift basket as art by reveling in shameless self-manipulation.The spring breakers repetitively pretending to be wild, rebellious, and in control are sold as something new and empowering, when they are actually stale young actors in the 21st century Disney tradition acting out in inane ways, playing on a collective self-hatred shared by the characters and a passive audience. 

Edwin Arnaudin, Ashvegas

Any support for Spring Breakers makes no sense to me.  Its characters are some of the most annoying ever committed to film and their lazy, improvised dialogue of the "LOL OMG" and gangster cliche variety is a chore to endure.  While many critics were taken with Harmony Korine's supposedly brilliant critique of pop-culture-fueled hedonism, I saw an intentionally soul-sucking experience bereft of pleasure that sacrifices its message in the process.  Where some saw one of the year's best films, if not the best, I saw quite possibly the year's worst.

Brie Larson in "Short Term 12." Cinedigm

Q: What is the best movie currently in theaters?

A: Short Term 12

Other movies receiving multiple votes: Blue Jasmine, The World's EndPrisonersRushWadjda.

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8 Comments

  • M | December 7, 2013 10:04 PMReply

    "Then I realized these reviewers never read Film Art: An Introduction and don't have a criteria [sic] for reviewing films nor [sic] are they able to judge a films [sic] value by the mise-en-scene established within the work."

    Gotta love earnest undergrads.

  • Art Clokey | September 24, 2013 2:04 AMReply

    Haw haw haw! You could have called this column, "Who are the biggest, socially inept eggheads in 'online film criticism' today?" and you wouldn't have to change a single word afterward.

    Haw haw haw! I blow cuban cigar smoke in your nerdly faces while cutting the line to see the latest Michael Bay masterpiece.

  • Evan Waters | September 23, 2013 11:48 PMReply

    I think it's much more interesting to talk about the movies that are underrated than the ones that are overrated. Speed Racer was one of the best films of '08, and do not get me started on the 1998 Avengers. I've got notes.

  • D | September 23, 2013 7:30 PMReply

    Every single insufferable quality that plagues film critics is contained within this article. This is actually quite an impressive artifact.

  • pol | September 23, 2013 1:51 PMReply

    I could go on at length. Three movies have literally put me to sleep. First is Citizen Kane, first on the list for putting me to sleep twice. Now I'm done with it. The second is Russian Ark, which really has no place on pretentious best-of lists. The third was one of the Harry Potters, the one with the tents that open up into mansions; at least I was drunk for Potter. The others have no excuse.

    Holy Rollers is one of the worst films ever assembled, and it made me question the sanity of some critics here. It makes zero sense, and seems designed to rub the bellies of stoned film geeks, and nothing more.

    I was 11 when I saw Star Wars, and it was 70mm on a big ass mf'ing screen. The first shot of the imperial cruiser blew my mind. It also has some of the best sound design, ever. Completely hypnotic.

    Pulp Fiction is highly disturbing, but so are all of Tarantino's films. It's hard to hate such a masterfully shot mind trip. Unforgettable.

    Not sure what critics thought of Independence Day, one of the worst, most bloated stupid movies ever to insult the audience's intelligence, until Twister probably. I couldn't imagine sitting through Pacific Rim or any giant robot craptacular. I'll leave that particular pain to the professionals.

    ----

    how to survive a mall shooting - http://wp.me/pwAWe-2NC

  • Dorothy | September 23, 2013 1:50 PMReply

    Thank you, Robert Greene, for pointing out this problem of not-very-good documentaries that critics believe they must love because they highlight important issues. As I sat in Blackfish at SFIFF this year, there was the gnawing discomfort of knowing that pointing out that the movie wasn't actually good wasn't going to go over well--even though I was right (obviously!).

  • Mark Newbauer | September 23, 2013 12:40 PMReply

    Ishtar-- I love watching Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty be a bad version of Simon and Garfunkel, and in the desert amidst political turmoil--- When films lose as much money as movies like Ishtar and Waterworld, it's very easy for the public to become poisoned by the anti-hoopla and the film titles themselves becoming the butt of late night monologue jokes until nobody even bothers watching the movie, let alone speaking out in favor of it if they did happen to see and be entertained by it.

  • Ian Mantgani | September 23, 2013 9:33 AMReply

    Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle got respectable reviews, but it's more than an ok stoner flick - it's one of the comedy masterpieces of our time. An irreverent view of society and race relations, and Leiner has the gift of making live action seem as fluid and boundless as animation for which only Frank Tashlin actually gets noted.

    Changing pace dramatically: Mondo gets a bad rap from everyone, even trash-cinema fans. Goodbye Uncle Tom is a brilliant film about slavery. Opportunistic, exploitative and misanthropic, sure, but in pure gripping texture and grubby verisimilitude, it's astonishing filmmaking.

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