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Criticwire Survey: Should Critics Give Out Awards?

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by Sam Adams
January 13, 2014 10:16 AM
4 Comments
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Globes

Cameron Williams, The Popcorn Junkie

Politics should be reported on away from the halls of power. A political journalist once told me that and I think it applies to film criticism as well. Critics should give out awards, but it's the meddling of publicists in the process that ruins it for everyone. A good critic should be removed from the advertorial side of a film in order to remain an independent voice with integrity. Awards should be the free expression of a group of critics, not the opinion of a group who all got to have lunch with Martin Scorsese as part of the award lobbying business. I always cringe when I see great film critics doing set visits, junkets or being lured by the offer of award season parties. These are events designed to transform a critic's credibility into a form of advertising. Nothing constructive or useful ever comes out of any form of well orchestrated publicity; it's geared to favor the film being promoted and satisfy hacks who get off on meeting celebrities. It's understandable that with limited budgets for film editorial, critics now need to be a "jack-of-all-trades," and there is no avoiding these pitfalls for writers to stay employed. Those critics need to be transparent with their readership in order to explain their opinion when it comes to the critical analysis of a film. How can you trust a reaction to a film when the critic went on a tank ride with Arnold Schwarzenegger? (This actually happened with a group of writers before the release of The Last Stand). Last year a group of critics from America were flown to London for a pub crawl with filmmaker Edgar Wright ahead of the world premiere of The World's End. Sure, it's a neat story to write about and good work if you can get it, but leave your opinion of the movie at the bottom of a pint glass, please. 

The process of a critic is pretty simple: see the film, let it simmer, and then write about it. Somewhere along the way this activity has been muddled by the publicity machine and it's quite sad. Critics have every right to hand out awards and discuss the merits of which films deserved to be honored. Just beware of the ones with full stomachs and bulky autograph books.

Joanna Langfield, The Movie Minute

Critics groups have been giving out awards for longer than most of us have been alive. Back in 1935, for instance, a group of New York City based movie critics got together (apparently in a circle) and doled out kudos. Now, everybody and their mother and brother gives out awards and offers up prestigious top ten lists. Each has his or her own agenda in doing so.

I'm not a huge fan of the whole award thing. It pains me, for instance, that in this year of so many strong male performances, for example, some amazing work may dip way under the public radar (like Christian Bale, American Hustle) because it has been muscled out by equally impressive actors who, for various reasons, were awarded by various critics groups. And the whole circuit, where sweet talk and photo ops are exchanged over a drink or dinner, is as sad as it is admittedly kind of entertaining. But a critic can often face some ethically tricky territory way before the year end/best of rush. How many of us have been assigned to not just review a film, but also to interview some of the people who made it? It's a slippery slope to try and talk respectfully about the work with filmmakers whose finished product, you feel, is a dud. But, often times, that's the job.

I laughed out loud when one professional tweeter recently deemed a new awards program a "fake". As opposed to what: an awards program so not fake it was written as the 11th Commandment, Thou Shalt Award Awards for Moviemaking, good, bad or offering Best Kiss? Like it or not, there are more awards being tossed around than ever and the trend is not going to recede for a long time. Whether a critic participates in it or not, I feel it is essential to try every day to maintain a true sense of objectivity, in reviewing, in interviewing, in voting. If not, we're acting as publicists. And they get paid a whole lot more.

Danny Bowes, RogerEbert.com/Movies By Bowes

The best thing to do, if critics want to make a list of superlatives for the year in film, is for each individual so desiring to create their own list, rather than try to merge them into a conglomeration. As much as it sucks to fight over movies we feel huge passions about with people who hold different passions of equal hugeness, those are always the most interesting movies. The ones everyone agrees about are the ones no one cares enough about to drop the gloves. I'd suggest a film crit version of Thunderdome to settle these questions, except I would win all the time and we'd be stuck with a canon consisting of, like, The Maltese Falcon, Sholay, Robocop, a half dozen Shahrukh Khan movies, and Space Jail, which wouldn't be fair for huge numbers of the rest of you.

Edwin Arnaudin, Ashvegas

I don't want to completely write off the Awards Season system because I love the weeks-in-advance screenings and catching up with films via screeners. The wealth of access that studios provide at the end of the year is extremely helpful. But I think critics' association awards themselves are as problematic as any annual film industry award. All viewers should feel confident in their tastes, and trophies suggest that certain choices are superior to others just because a certain group collectively thinks so. People like what they like, and as long as they can articulate why they like what they like, that's OKā€¦even if that something is Grown Ups 2.

Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat, Film Racket

Yes, I think critics should definitely give out awards because, as Siskel and Ebert used to say in their "If We Picked the Winners" episodes, critics see everything. For that reason, we're able to single out worthy films and performances that may need singling out. Giving awards -- or even nominations -- helps shine the spotlight on them a little more, so that hopefully more people will see them. And really, what greater purpose does this job have? To me, it's the whole point of being a film critic. The awards process is admittedly flawed, but as long as we are celebrating great work, it still has enough benefit to be worthwhile. 

Sean Chavel, Flick Minute

Critics invest more time seeing all the films of the year that need to be seen, and that makes us more credible than the Oscars. Most Oscar voters don't really do their duty to see the range of films necessary, the ones that count for something. Therefore, critics will never stop being invaluable.

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

As a member of a number of critics' organisations, the final one having balloted just this last few days, I have to admit to feeling a bit of awards fatigue for the first time this season. While a part of me enjoys the circus of silly season, thanks to the bizarre spectacle that it brings with it, the 'serious' part of me sees it as little more than a peripheral element of criticism. That said, a part of me does believe that critics' circle awards do play a legitimate role in the overall picture of The Year In Film. If AMPAS, BAFTA, and the dreaded HFPA were the only ones giving out the awards then we might find ourselves in a worrying position regarding the projected legacy of the industry, and the films most keenly remembered by the wider populace.

Joey Magidson, The Awards Circuit, First Showing

I personally am a fan of critics giving out awards, not solely because I myself enjoy participating. Mainly, I find a value in the critical community coming together on something, like when critics awards helped to get The Hurt Locker an Oscar win for Best Picture. Now, they don't always have much to do with the Academy Awards, but they're an essential part of the precursor season to me and I find value in the awards as a sort of early tastemaker. It does amplify the critical "voice" beyond the individual and I like that...unless I disagree with them, and then, well...

Jeff Berg, ABQ Arts, Las Cruces Bulletin

Absolutely not, since we are all so biased in our opinions in what we like and what we look for, as witnessed by the wide range of likes and dislikes during the 'best of' posts. Sometimes I can't believe what others like and feel are great films and I am sure that it is a mutual observation.(Upstream Color? Puh-lease!)

John Keefer, 51 Deep

Louis B. Mayer started the Academy Awards to quell public opinion about Hollywood and its non-existent morals. Awards class up a joint and if critics want to get in on the action that's fine by me. As long as the awards themselves are those "Worst Golfer" trophies that have that little golfer guy with a nine-iron wrapped around his head. Is that what they hand out at the NYFCC ceremony? Are my views on the type of trophy to be given the reason I am not a member of that organization? If so then the awards ceremony and the organization should be abolished! Abolished I say! But award ceremonies are a nice way to say, "Hey, we appreciate you and your work dude," and there's nothing wrong with that. But you also do that in reviews. Hey waitaminute! You just have this nifty little awards ceremony to make you guys feel better about your standing in the world! It's an inverse narcissism! You're trying to convince us you matter as a collective when you only really matter as individual perspectives on the state of the medium and its latest offerings! And even then you don't matter because Americans don't read! Oh My God life really IS meaningless! Thanks a lot Louis B. Mayer.

Alan Zilberman, Tiny Mix Tapes and The Atlantic

There are pluses and minuses to critics awards. On one hand, they quell individual voices and the awards do not necessarily represent the views of everyone involved. On the other hand, critics awards are an early opportunity to steer the end-of-year conversation about the year's best films, which in turn begin the conversation about Academy Award nominees and winners. I'm a member of the Washington Area Film Critics Assocation (WAFCA), and my organization is one of the earliest regional bodies to announce the year's best films. I've voted for three years now, and I've found the process frustrating and rewarding in equal measure.

For WAFCA members, anyway, here's how the process works. In early December we're given a short window to submit our weighted top five picks for the awards (e.g. Best Film, Best Actor etc), which are then scored. The top five scored picks are the nominees, and then we submit our ballot online. My initial ballot rarely reflects my honest-to-God opinion -- I doubt my favorite film of 2013, Beyond the Hills, was on many other ballots -- so I use the weighted nomination process to push dark horses toward the top. A good example is Best Supporting Actor: instead of nominated Jared Leto, who was fantastic, I put James Franco for Spring Breakers at the top just because I want to see him on the final ballot. I'm not sure other critics vote with such a strategy, but my approach speaks to the flaws/virtues of the system.

Sometimes I'm thrilled with WAFCA choices. We chose Zero Dark Thirty as the best film of 2012, and even though it didn't win any major awards, I was proud to be among its early defenders. The year before that WAFCA chose The Artist, which I didn't even think deserved to be on the ballot. In other words, critic awards are great whenever I'm part of the majority. Otherwise they're frustrating as hell.

Mark Young, Sound on Sight, New York Movie Klub

Of course critics should give out awards! Virtually every critic on the Internet feels obligated to deliver some sort of year-end top 10 list, and what is that, if not an award of sorts? Moreover, I think it is a good thing overall to deliver those awards, thus separating the very best films of the year from the films which are well-reviewed but not the best of the best (like Captain Phillips this year, for me).

Maybe the real question is, "Should critics' awards be televised?" Because once the TV money starts pouring in a danger exists of the awards show turning into something like the Golden Globes. Where money is involved, the award validates not just the film, but the people giving it, in a way that can be corrupting.

'Her'
'Her'

Q: What is the best movie in theaters?

A: Her

Other movies receiving multiple votes: Inside Llewyn DavisThe Wolf of Wall StreetAmerican HustleNebraska

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4 Comments

  • Mavis' hubby | January 20, 2014 1:28 PMReply

    Here's your answer: you boobs can do whatever the hell you want in fringe-land, nobody cares.

    And don't mistake truncated truth for flippancy.

  • Dan Mirvish | January 13, 2014 5:32 PMReply

    How about asking filmmakers this question?

    It's a huge conflict-of-interest for critics to host these sorts of awards ceremonies - where the actors are invited. For a group that prides themselves on being journalists they should know that it inevitably leads to this sort of behavior. As a filmmaker, how can I trust that a member of the NYFCC isn't liking my film just because he or she wants to invite my actors to their awards show - or disliking my film because an actor spilled a drink on her lap at last year's ceremony? And as a reader, how can I trust that the reviews and year-end-lists aren't tainted by whom the critic wants to have a drink with, rather than what they objectively thought of the films.

    At least the HFPA and the Golden Globes are somewhat unapologetic about their priority in putting on a good show and inviting and hobnobbing with as many stars as they can get. And after 70 years of it, they've made themselves far more relevant than they have a right to be. But the NYFCC should ask themselves - do they really want to have the same "journalist" reputation as the HFPA? If so, then put on a show, and invite Armond White to MC next year: They'd probably get better ratings than the Oscars.

  • Joe H. | January 13, 2014 11:28 AMReply

    There's nothing wrong with critics naming their top picks and awarding them. It's after all part of the fun, and they often have better choices than the major award ceremonies. Josh Spiegel raises some good points.

  • Rick | January 13, 2014 11:03 AMReply

    I think Christopher Campbell has the right idea

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