By Matt Singer | Criticwire April 16, 2012 at 9:10AM
Every week, Criticwire asks film critics a question, and brings you the responses in The Criticwire Survey. We also ask each member of the poll to pick the best film currently playing in theaters. The most popular choices can be found at the bottom of this post. But first, this week's question:
Q: "The Eisner Awards -- the comic book industry's equivalent of the Oscars -- used to give out an award for "Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition." So this week we want to know: who in the world of film criticism is a talent deserving of wider recognition? What critic that you love doesn't get the acclaim and attention they deserve?
The critics' answers:
"Vince Mancini at Film Drunk is not a traditional critic, and he’s probably not technically to be labeled such. Film festivals that consistently reject him for credentials would say so. But he’s one of a very small number I read on a regular basis because his reviews are like TV recaps. We need more of this. Mancini’s reviews don’t tiptoe around spoilers, so they can insightfully address every aspect of a film. And they’re goddamn hilarious to boot. I congratulate Film Drunk on their first DVD quote this week for 'The FP' and hope it garners him more attention. I know he’s widely read, but he also needs to be widely respected."
"A friend turned me on to Girish Shambu's blog a few months ago and I've been hooked ever since. He's written for Cineaste, Senses of Cinema, and Artforum amongst others, but his blog is a real cinephile's delight and often directs me to great pieces of film criticism around the Internet."
"Josh Timmermann is a brilliant film critic. He used to write professionally, but now operates his own blog, JLT/JLT. When I'm looking for some insight or inspiration, I'm most likely to peruse some Rosenbaum, maybe some Bordwell, and, of course, some Timmermann. Check out his recent piece on Kenneth Lonergan's 'Margaret' and Lana Del Ray, and go further into his archives -- you will be rewarded."
"Since I think print critics get a fair amount of exposure, as do critics associated with big online sites like Movieline, Slate, etc., I'm going to turn to those writers who maintain there own smaller blogs. There was a time I would have nominated the Self-Styled Siren, Farran Smith Nehme, as a Talent Deserving Wider Recognition. Thing is she's popping up all over the place now, deservedly so in my opinion. So I'll get a tiny bit more obscure and nominate Bill Ryan of the blog The Kind of Face You Hate. Ryan covers all kinds of films, but his expertise definitely lies in the horror genre. Despite his focus on a genre often associated with fanboy snark, Ryan finds a way to offer unique insights, be refreshingly articulate in his analyses, and be quite funny in the process. I always look forward to reading his next piece, even though it will likely cover some film I'm totally unfamiliar with, because he is an excellent wordsmith. If that's not the sign of a great talent, then I don't know what is."
"Since this is clearly a 'give a shout-out to your pals' question, it deserves a 'shout-out to my pal' response and I'd have to go with Mike Ryan of The Huffington Post. I'm sure Mike would be the last person to consider himself a 'critic' but the way he's found a way to poke fun at critical rhetoric in his weekly '25 Questions' reviews for HuffPo (and Movieline and Vanity Fair before that) really is the most entertaining way someone has found to share their opinion on movies on a weekly basis. In those 25 questions, he finds a way to let the reader know what the movie is about, often in a funny way, finds ways of being critical and poking holes in the plot by asking questions, and he caps almost all of them with a fake pull quote that might be derived from his (often-negative) commentary to make it sound like he loved the film. Mike's 25 Questions are clever and hysterical and lighter reading than most of the reviews out there."
"Walter Chaw, who writes for the modest FilmFreakCentral.net site, is one of those guys who always finds a different perspective on a film than just the either/or binary chorus of 'great/terrible.' He doesn't softball his reviews, and I don't always agree with him, but what he has to say is almost always interesting. There've been a couple of times in my own writing, when I've thought 'What would Wanter Chaw do?' What Chaw would do is take a scalpel to a film, lay it bare, then invite everyone to come and examine the remains. I can aspire, but I can't compare."
"I want to talk about a friend of mine and an excellent film critic: Kate Erbland. Kate is one of the hardest working people I've ever met, and her integrity and dedication never cease to impress and inspire me. Her reviews are always insightful, concise, and thought-provoking. She currently writes for Film School Rejects and MSN and lives in Los Angeles, a city that should feel damn lucky to have her."
"Fernando F. Croce, a film writer of such clarity, wit, and intelligence that his essays consistently force me to reassess my own writing style, always for the better. Every word/idea in a Croce review reveals a new pathway toward understanding and framing a piece of film art, always with a sense of humility and compassion, and never arrogance. As a result. his is a film criticism of revelation, not limitation or ego."
"This is somewhat of a cheat because I consider him a friend, but I think Kenji Fujishima has been doing some really great work at both The House Next Door as well as his blog, where he tracks his artistic consumption every week. A problem with a lot of the younger critics these days is a sense of 'know-all-ism' but Kenji never shows it in his work, despite, I think, knowing a lot. You get the sense that he's working out some of his feelings and ideas on the page, which gives you the sense of having a discussion with him. I noted this in his recent blurb on Terrence Davies's 'The Long Day Closes,' which he was comparing to Davies' first film, 'Distant Voices, Still Lives.' Kenji writes, 'I can only report how I felt, and I felt more of a sense of elevation while watching 'The Long Day Closes.'' I also think he's able to connect things I'll often miss, such as his noting of the auteur style of DP Jody Lee Lipes in his review of 'Martha Marcy May Marlene,' or his excellent summation of the ending of 'Margaret.' Plus, Kenji takes in all types of art: opera, theater, classical music, and more, which is pretty awesome."
"At the risk of sounding over back-scratchy -- I'm not sure it's a 'risk,' really; more like a 'certainty' -- but I think if every critic took their job as seriously, with the professionalism, inherent fairness, and open-mindedness/open-heartedness as Tim Grierson, this might be the most beloved, trusted, legitimately helpful segment of journalism in the field. Also, not enough people realize how good Rich Juzwiak, who writes on pop culture in general at Gawker, really is. And for all the praise he gets, I still feel like Ebert might be underrated, forever."
"For my money, one of the most underrated film critics in the business is James Berardinelli of Reelviews. He was one of the first 2 or 3 critics that I began to seek out on a regular basis for reviews, and to this day I still find myself reading his work a few times a week. He's intelligent, but never condescending. Roger Ebert was an early fan of his, and so was I. A few fine examples of his work include a 4 star rave of Tim Roth's film 'The War Zone' and his review of 'Salo' which questions the very point of having a star rating given at all to the flick."
"After I've written my own reviews, I always enjoy reading those of Brian Orndorf. He's a terrific writer, with a sharp sense of humor. His website not only has current theatrical and DVD/Blu-Ray reviews, but a number of other cool features as well, including vintage movie newspaper ads. Every year, Brian does a series of weekly Summer Moviegoing Diaries, in which he revisits the warm-weather flicks from 20 years prior, to see how they measure up today. It's an enormously fun read."
"As a fairly new entertainment journalist and critic I know it's hard to get the readership you crave, so this is a topic near and dear to me. I have to give my plug to Jay Cheel who runs The Documentary Blog, the web's best, if not only site solely devoted to the world of documentaries. Cheel not only reviews and introduces new docs, but he's also an accomplished documentary filmmaker himself."
"Nathaniel Rogers' blog The Film Experience is essential reading for Oscar fanatics, but it's pretty indispensable year-round, and when he does write reviews of new releases, they tend to be level-headed and thoughtful and open-minded, from a guy who loves watching Hollywood reward the best of its best but is equally fascinated by giant blockbusters."
"Though Theo Panayides no longer writes capsules for every film he sees on his personal website, he still writes witty, perceptive and unshowily gregarious longform weekly reviews for the Cyprus Mail, like this evenhanded, hyperbole-resistant take on 'Hugo.' The more time you spend digging through his personal website's archives, the more compactly incisive digressions you'll find. The juxtapositions can be head-spinning: cf. October 2003 (chosen at random), when he's equally lucid and thoughtful about 'Demonlover' and 'American Wedding,' considered side by side."
"While I work with (or, rather, around) her at MSN, Kat Murphy has the real goods -- amazing insights, deep knowledge, clear prose, true enthusiasm. Her 'The Lady' review talks about the film, not its feel-good subject; her 'Goon' review, a minor miracle of showing how a critic was, literally, won over by a film in spite of prior doubts. If any talent in our field is deserving of wider recognition -- in a field imperiled by the likes of the arrogant, self-styled 'smartest film critic alive' and cartoony (literally) one-joke gimmicks -- it's Kat."
"Yes, I'm biased. Which means I'm going to pick the film critic from my hometown newspaper. I don't want to say that Joe Williams doesn't get 'the acclaim' he deserves. Because I think he gets plenty of acclaim, locally. I can only imagine, though, there are inherit ceilings that comes along with being the lead film critic in a (conservative) city that isn't exactly known as a film haven. I enjoyed 'The Hunger Games' a bit more than Williams did, but I really did like this assessment: ''The Hunger Games' is dressed as a dark satire of soulless entertainment, but like Katniss' adversaries in the PG-13 hunting scenes, it fails to develop a distinctive identity or go for the throat. The foppishly coiffed elites who cheer for blood are a cliché in such movies, as are the smarmy telecast host (Stanley Tucci) and the callous control-room overlord (Wes Bentley).' And I also liked that he wisely compared Channing Tatum's turn in '21 Jump Street' to that of Mark Wahlberg: 'He's not in Mark Wahlberg's league, and '21 Jump Street' isn't quite as funny as 'The Other Guys,' but by lampooning himself here, Tatum has bought himself a grace period to grow in.' Anyway, I just want to share the reviews of a guy that I've never met, but have been reading since 1996."
"Right now, many voices proliferate in film criticism, but so few have the support necessary to really cut through the noise and establish a presence, a place within the broader conversation -- cultural criticism more generally conceived -- which is, I think, the benchmark we should all be striving for. One writer who, I think, embodies this effort, and should be read and published more often, is the Bangalore-based writer Srikanth Srinivasan. His site The Seventh Art, which he manages under the all-too-modest pseudonym "Just Another Film Buff," is required reading."
"My talent deserving of wider recognition would be the enigmatic 'Outlaw Vern,' who has been an internet-famous film critic for well over a decade now. He claims to be an ex-con 'who is trying to go clean after a life of crime, alcohol, etc.,' and I always suspected that this backstory was an elaborate ruse to drive traffic to his site, or, as he puts it, 'web sight.' But he's been at it for so long, and writes with such passion, that I could care less how exaggerated his backstory is. His main beat is the direct-to-video action movie, for which he has made a sustained and eloquent case. A proponent of long-takes and coherent geography in fight scenes, he has found them in the disreputable DTV flicks, which he has persuasively shown to be a grievously unexplored territory. His favorites, including 'Universal Soldier: Regeneration' and 'Undisputed III,' were revelations to me in their attention to their craft: they capture every body blow like Vincente Minnelli captured every Fred Astaire toe tap. Scott Adkins and Stone Cold Steve Austin are his Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, and that's a world I want to live in."
"This is easy: Don Simpson, Managing Editor for the Austin, Texas movie website, Smells Like Screen Spirit. Simpson is one of the most passionate film critics I know. He spends his days at a 9-5 and nights watching movies and writing about them. Using his vacation time to travel to as many film festivals as he can, this guy sees everything. Want to know more about that little indie film you saw a trailer for on your favorite movie website? Don has seen and reviewed it. I believe in this guy so much I 'strong-armed' Film School Rejects into hiring him. Have I mentioned he’s also the nicest guy on the planet?"
"When I'm reading other critics, I know a review is good when I think 'Damn, I wish I wrote that,' or 'I disagree, but I completely see where they're coming from.' The critics who inspire the first thought are the usual suspects, but for the second group, I find myself admiring Reverse Shot's Andrew Tracy. In the first weeks after the release of 'Drive,' for example, I vehemently defended the movie against its naysayers. Tracy's 'Drive' review is the first negative review to make me reexamine what I loved about it so much."