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The Best of Criticwire, Year One

Criticwire By Matt Singer | Criticwire December 28, 2012 at 11:15AM

Matt picks his favorite pieces from the first year of Criticwire.
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"John Carter."
"John Carter."

It's weird that this is just the end of the first year (or even just the first ten months) of Criticwire. It feels a lot longer. In that time, assistant editor Steve Greene and I have produced a lot of content. We hope you've enjoyed it.

If you've missed anything, or you've just found Criticwire recently, this post is for you: a brief look back at some of our best pieces of 2012. The criteria for inclusion had very little to do with popularity or traffic and more about personal pride: out of the hundreds of features, lists, rounups, and surveys we've published on Criticwire so far, these are my twenty favorites. Thanks for reading so far, and stick around for 2013. It should be pretty cool.

The Best of Criticwire, Year One

On how nerds who attacked critics of "The Avengers" missed the point of "The Avengers:"

"The core values of super-hero comics are in direct opposition to bullying. The bad guys in comics -- Dr. Doom, The Red Skull, Thanos, and, to a much lesser extent, Batroc the Leaper -- those guys are the bullies. The super-heroes are the ones who stand up to the bullies. Many of them -- Peter Parker, Steve Rogers -- were picked on before they were blessed with powers. Others -- The X-Men, The Hulk -- get picked on as a result of their powers. They know what bullying feels like. That's why they fight against it and that's why we love them. But if we start to love them so much that we have to tear down anyone who disagrees with us then it's time to take a good long look in the mirror and consider what we've become. Comic book fans used to be a welcoming, inclusive bunch. Now a lot of them seem like elitist assholes. It makes me ashamed to be a part of this community."

On the ten types of midnight movies:

"The term 'midnight movie' is incredibly flexible. There isn't just one kind of movie that's fun to watch late at night. So many genres, styles, and tones lend themselves to midnight screenings. But how many exactly? This seemed like something worth settling in quasi-definitive fashion."

On Spike Lee's two 2012 movies, and how one might provide the means to interpret the other:

"Now that I've seen 'Bad 25,' my entire perspective on 'Red Hook Summer' is shifting. Maybe it was never really intended to be a movie about a kid coming of age in Brooklyn -- maybe that was just Lee's excuse to arrive at the subject he really wanted to explore: the search for redemptive qualities in great but flawed people, and the impact these heroes' mistakes have on the lives of others when they fall from grace. Like Michael Jackson, Enoch is a community leader and a charismatic performer (not to mention a spiritual man who gives God credit for all his successes). Like Michael (at least allegedly), he has many demons hiding in his closet."

On why "Argo"'s inaccuracies make it a better movie:

"The act of going to the movies is the act of willful self-deception: we want to be tricked into believing the impossible just as much as when we go to a magic show. 'Argo' is not a journalistic record -- it is a movie about movies' ability to reshape reality for the better. Mendez and the hostages' adventure, then, is all moviemaking in microcosm, and as the film deviates further and further from the true events -- particularly in the nail-biting airport finale -- it further and further reinforces that idea. This is a story about the power of movies. And in turning the relatively mundane details of that story's true ending into a crackling fictional thriller, Affleck proves that power twice over."

On a great, fallen genre: the buddy cop movie: 

"Clearly this generation is suffering from a distinct shortage of tough, sarcastic guys who drive around in '70s muscle cars making wisecracks. But why? The core elements of buddy cops are still the core elements of most blockbusters: big, dumb action featuring big, dumb guys saying big, dumb things while shooting big, dumb guns. It's not like there's been a movement away from the sort of disposable popcorn cinema that buddy cop movies represent. If anything, movies have only gotten dumber lately. So why the scarcity of buddy action movies, once the height of great dumb cinema, in an age of mediocre dumb cinema?"

On the scene from "Boogie Nights" that explains why you should see "The Master" in 70mm:

"It's a romantic notion, but it's also a practical one. Here Anderson tells you why film -- actual film -- is good for all directors, not just pornographers. The freedom of digital moviemaking has been a boon to the world of cinema but, as the old expression goes, freedom isn't free. Sometimes the throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks mentality yields good results. Many times, it doesn't. Anderson would counterintuitively argue that the difficulties celluloid presents logistically and financially are its greatest strengths. Those are the things that separate the amateur from the professional."

On the least plausible sequels in history:

"Sandra Bullock's character from 'Speed' had a better chance of winning the lottery while getting struck by lightning than stumbling into another hostage situation on a runaway vehicle orchestrated by a disgruntled man who'd recently lost his job, but hey -- a movie where she wins the lottery and gets struck by lightning would make for a very short and tonally inappropriate sequel. Instead, she and her latest rock star daredevil cop boyfriend (Jason Patric) -- who is in no way like the rock star daredevil cop from the last movie (Keanu Reeves) -- have to stop Willem Dafoe before he kills everyone aboard a luxury cruise liner. The scenario made slightly (slightly) more sense when Reeves was originally set to reprise his role. After he passed, director Jan de Bont added a few lines about his and Bullock's characters breaking up, gave Patric his dialogue, and then basically made no other changes to the screenplay whatsoever. Never has a movie's subtitle more accurately describe the state of creative indifference that guided its production."

On whether critics are too easy on documentaries:

"If you wrote a basketball movie about a world-class three-point shooter named Shmeggie Shmiller and then told the story of "Winning Time," no one would believe that he would score eight points in nine seconds! (“High drama and beautifully choreographed action fall apart with ridiculous third-act heroics. #comeon #nooneisthatgood (B-),” the theoretical Twitter reviews would say.)" 

On the role of nitpicking in online film criticism:

"Let's not forget either that comic book fans love to nitpick. In the 1960s, Marvel Comics even began encouraging nitpicking by awarding a 'No-Prize' to readers who not only found mistakes in Marvel books, but found plausible explanations for them. If an issue of 'The Amazing Spider-Man' stated Peter Parker was 17 years old six months after another had said he was 18 years old, and you hatched a convincing reason for the mistake (i.e. 'Peter was so flustered talking to Betty Brant, he gave her the wrong age!') Stan Lee would award you a No-Prize (appropriately, given the absolute absurdity of the pursuit, the prize was an empty envelope). Nitpick posts on 'The Dark Knight Rises' or other comic book movies fit into that long, dorky tradition."

On the greatness of Timothy Dalton, the forgotten James Bond:

"Most other Bond actors had a 'thing:' Connery’s ruthless wit, Roger Moore’s refinement, Pierce Brosnan’s swagger, Daniel Craig’s icy determination. Dalton did not. His Bond was more of an amalgam of other interpretations before and after: humor, charm, swagger, and intensity all rolled into one. He wasn’t as flashy as the others, or as clearly defined. When he introduced himself as 'Bond, James Bond,' it seemed as much out of fear his enemies might forget him as an expression of personal style."

On why remakes aren't the modern equivalent of folklore:

"The storytellers of yesteryear were partly sharing their folklore to keep it alive -- it wasn't written down, so they had to keep telling it over and over or lose it forever. But the first 'Total Recall' isn't lost -- I've got a copy of it sitting five feet away from me on my DVD shelf. There's a new Blu-ray available. You can download it onto your computer or PlayStation -- or buy the Philip K. Dick short story and read it on your Kindle. The only things being preserved by modern remake repetition are copyrights and brand value."

On "John Carter" and "Perpetual Sneak Preview Culture:"

"Hollywood has always produced bombs, but I do wonder how much of 'John Carter''s failure is related to contemporary online film culture and its increasing obsession with prejudging movies. Films are no longer anticipated by a single trailer and poster; every day of every week, it seems, there is a new teaser, or set of publicity stills, or junket interviews, or exclusive clips. Studios pass them along to film blogs and news sites, who reprint them and analyze them; their readers, in turn, weigh in with detailed comments. To a certain degree this is free advertising for the studios -- and you know how there's no such thing as bad publicity. But as perpetual sneak preview culture becomes normalized, audiences are being conditioned to weigh in on a movie before it even comes out. They're trained not only to trust their expectations, but to express them constantly. At a certain point, it begins to feel like people want a movie to fail, if only to prove their expectations right."

On the theme that connects all of Paul Thomas Anderson's movies:

"PTA's movies share certain stylistic similarities, and even a few thematic concerns (like surrogate fathers finding and teaching, but eventually failing and losing adopted sons). But something else connects his films, from the sprawling epics of 'Boogie Nights' and 'Magnolia' to the intimate character studies of 'Hard Eight' and 'Punch-Drunk Love.' That something is salesmanship."

On critics' secret shame -- blindspots:

"That's why no film critic is without their fair share of blindspots. But the fact that everyone has them doesn't make them any less embarrassing. Knowledge is what gives critics their authority. When a film critic confesses to never having seen a classic title, they're like Superman right when Lex Luthor pulls out a piece of Kryptonite. They're still super, but they're not quite as super as they were two minutes ago."

On the most emblematic movie of the 2010s -- "Sherlock Homes: A Game of Shadows:"

"On the one hand, Sherlock Holmes is a perfect subject for a movie circa the 2010s, because he has great brand recognition, and everything in movies circa 2010 is about brand recognition (see above). On the other hand, he's a horrible subject for a movie circa the 2010s because his defining characteristic is his intellect, and we live in an age in which Hollywood's defining characteristic is a sort of intentional brainlessness. Naturally, the film is less a mystery than a connect-the-dots chase movie, and Ritchie's Holmes, played with undeniable flair by Robert Downey Jr., is as much an investigator as a pugilist, who uses his brain primarily as a means to succeed in fist fights. The climactic confrontation with Holmes' arch-enemy Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) boils down to an imagined battle in which the two men each conceive of different ways to out-box the other in oh-so-cool, oh-so-modern, oh-so-ready-to-look-dated-in-five years speed ramping. Two geniuses 'imagination fighting' each other. In modern cinema, this is what qualifies as 'thinking.'"

On The Worst Movie Theater Ever:

"In my neighborhood in Brooklyn, The Pavilion is legendary for its shoddy customer service record. If you want a full accounting of their ineptitude, the blog Fucked in Park Slope has a pretty extensive record. Like the time they oversold a screening of 'The Hunger Games.' Or that time they disrespectfully hung their American flag (the theater, by the way, is located on a street recently renamed for a soldier who died in Afghanistan). Or that time the digital print of 'The Other Guys' started freezing and skipping like an old DVD (I witnessed this one firsthand). Other than that stuff, and the constantly broken seats, stained and torn movie screens, tiny auditoriums with bad focus, muddy sound and possible bed bugs, there's basically nothing wrong with the place."

On Tom Cruise on the occasion of his 50th birthday:

"If he was a baseball player, Tom Cruise would be the guy everybody in the clubhouse calls a 'gamer' -- he shows up every day and gives you maximum effort. He might not always hit a home run, he might sometimes make an error in the field so embarrassing you wonder how he even has a job (like, I don't know, jumping on a couch on national television), but you always know he tried his best. Have you ever had a conversation about Tom Cruise that involved the sentence 'Boy, he really phoned that one in!'? No, never. Tom Cruise has given good performances and bad performances. But he's never given a lazy performance."

On the eternal debate between film and television:

"[James] Wolcott credits the Internet with helping fuel television's rise; everyone watches the same episode of 'Mad Men' at the same time on Sunday, and everyone can participate in the same post-show conversation on Twitter. Cool arthouse movies like 'Martha Marcy May Marlene' tour the country incrementally, limiting their audience and their possibilities for large-scale conversations. But the way in which movies resist instant gratification speaks to one of the things that still makes cinephilia special in the age of telemania: it's harder to be a movie lover than a TV lover. Compare the amount of legwork required to see an underground arthouse hit like 'Martha Marcy May Marlene' -- following it from Sundance to acquisition to distribution to its opening at your local art house -- with setting your DVR box to record an episode of 'Luck' after someone recommends the show to you."

On "The Dark Knight Rises," after the hype:

"In thirty years, if people want to know what the reception of 'The Dark Knight Rises' was like, I'll refer them to the film itself, and the scenes where the villainous Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) serves as judge, jury, and executioner of Gotham City's elite in a kangaroo court. 'No jury? No witnesses? What kind of justice is this?' asks Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) when he's placed on trial for crimes against the sadistic government led by the evil Bane (Thomas Hardy). 'This is not a trial!' Scarecrow replies, 'This is merely a sentencing.' That's what it felt like to watch 'The Dark Knight Rises' last summer. Before they had even seen the movie, deranged Bat-fans had already passed judgment; anyone who didn't like the movie should be put to death."

On how an old episode of "The Simpsons" predicted a strange, desperate trend in movie sequels:

"The thinking behind these movies goes something like this: 'We have a proven audience for Property X. We know people like it and we know we can sell it, so let's find someone else to carry on the Project X name and convince people it's exactly the same thing they enjoyed before.' Poochie sequels are sort of like New Coke; they look exactly like the product you've always known and loved, but something ephemeral about them has changed. The constant references to past, better films just serve to remind us how far these franchises have fallen."


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