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The Criticwire Survey: The Best Film Criticism of 2012

Criticwire By Matt Singer | Criticwire December 17, 2012 at 10:03AM

This week the critics praise their colleagues and pick the finest film writing they read in 2012.
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"That's My Boy."
"That's My Boy."

Joanna LangfieldThe Movie Minute:

"I don't always agree with Manohla Dargis and her top ten list is sure different from mine, but I did find her year-end review not only a terrific summation, but also a downright uplifting look at the state of our art."

Andrew Lapin, The Atlantic:

"There was, for me, only one essential piece of film writing this year, and that was Anthony Lane's 'A Shooting In A Movie Theater,' published on The New Yorker's website in the near-immediate aftermath of the Aurora mass murder this July. The killing of so many innocent people during a midnight screening, in a manner so similar to that of fictional onscreen killers, was so jarring to me that for the first time, I began to ponder the possibility that the industry we obsess over is part of the problem, that PG-13 films with assault rifles maybe really do contribute to horrific, hyper-violent real-life events. Lane published his blog not 24 hours after the fact, in the heat of the ensuing media firestorm, and he took an amazingly calm and level-headed approach to the proceedings. While reaffirming, in no uncertain terms, that 'no film makes you kill,' Lane also took the entertainment industry to task for, among other things, its sensationalizing of midnight screenings and box-office takes. The piece is not a defense of violence in films, nor an attempt to completely separate the killer's actions from the actions of those onscreen. But it makes the exact distinctions between fantasy and reality that needed to be made on that day. I am grateful to Lane for helping lift me out of the darkness in some small way this July. Words don't come easy in the immediate wake of tragedy -- we learned this fact yet again this weekend -- but sometimes, if you're fortunate, the right ones find their way to the right people."

Joey MagidsonThe Awards Circuit:

"Not to be a teacher's pet, but I'm actually choosing an article that our very own Matt Singer wrote. In many ways Criticwire itself is the best piece of criticism this year in my eyes, but specifically I'd say his piece on so called "Poochie Sequels" was incredibly underrated, besides just managing to use an awesome pop culture reference. There have been some great articles written this year, but that one's stayed in my head the longest."

Calum MarshSlant Magazine:

"Fernando F. Croce's 2012 summer viewing log is a trove of stellar short-form criticism. Croce, as these nine blurbs prove, is a master of the capsule review, cramming more great prose and insight into 200 words than most critics can manage to do in 2000."

Mike McGranaghanThe Aisle Seat:

"Despite what some bitter, borderline irrelevant old farts would have you believe, film criticism is alive and well in the hands of a new generation. Most of it is being done online, where writers have the freedom to combine elements of traditional film criticism with their own unique personalities. I read so much good film writing online in 2012 that picking the best is almost impossible. Therefore, I'll pick one that stands out as a favorite, and that would be Eric D. Snider's review of 'That's My Boy.' In his singular voice, Eric pinpoints everything that is wrong with that movie's crass 'comedy' and with star Adam Sandler's career in general. He then caps it off with a brilliant, hilarious final paragraph. Eric is one of the critics I read most often because his analysis is always thoughtful and his ability to craft a humorous turn of phrase always makes me envious."

Scott MeslowThe Week/The Atlantic:

"The piece that immediately jumps to mind is Steven Hyden's 'Loving the Most Unlikable Movie of the Year' at Grantland. Like Hyden, I walked out of 'The Comedy' needing to talk about it -- but until I found his article, I hadn't found a way to articulate my complicated feelings about it. You'd be better off actually reading Hyden's article than reading my summary of it, but he offers a stellar piece of criticism on a very difficult film; Hyden clearly 'gets' 'The Comedy,' but simultaneously (and correctly) acknowledges that the people who hated it enough to walk out might 'get' 'The Comedy' even more than he does. It's an intelligent review, analysis, and defense of a movie that deserved better reviews, deeper analysis, and more defenders."

David RoarkPaste/Christianity Today:

"Richard Brody of The New Yorker shares my adoration and enthusiasm for all things Wes Anderson, and this year he wrote two insightful posts on Anderson’s 'Moonrise Kingdom.' Since the film already won best picture in my book, the articles for me represent the most important and, thus, best pieces of film criticism this year. Brody, in my opinion, 'gets' Anderson more than any other critic, praising the spiritual substance underneath the auteur’s idiosyncratic style."

Josh SpiegelMousterpiece Cinema/Sound on Sight:

"Though the year has had a wealth of excellent film criticism -- I considered Jim Emerson’s outrageously thorough dissection of the debate A.O. Scott and David Carr of The New York Times had about the purpose of criticism in the modern age, as well as Scott’s searing and hilarious pan of 'The Oogieloves' -- I’m going with something I was alerted to thanks to this site. It’s 'Escaping the Overlook' by B. Kite from a recent issue of Film Comment. The article, focused on Stanley Kubrick’s seminal horror film 'The Shining' and 'Room 237,' the theory-driven documentary inspired by it, posits that Kubrick was a so-called elephantine termite, a hybrid of auteurs as classified by Manny Farber. Kite’s analysis of 'The Shining' and 'Room 237' adds to the glut of discussion surrounding the films but stands out as a vital, unique point of view. (Fitting, as the piece acknowledges how POV-centric 'The Shining' is, and how those points of view shift so frequently.) As I grow to appreciate and embrace 'The Shining' more, I’ve probably become a bigger sucker for any new writing on the film. But Kite’s tone and central thesis here are greatly fascinating. 2012, like the years before it, was a superb year for films and film criticism, no doubt, yet this B. Kite piece is my pick for the best."

Andreas StoehrPussy Goes Grrr:

"In the big year of 'film is dead' thinkpieces, my favorite piece of film criticism wasn't a review, but a rebuttal by Richard Brody: 'The Movies Aren't Dying (They're Not Even Sick).' In his typically limpid prose, Brody runs through the fallacies underlying those thinkpieces while staying rooted in eclecticism and pleasure. It's as ideal an articulation of why I love movies as anything I read this year."

R. Emmet SweeneyMovie Morlocks:

"Taken as a whole, the 'Further Research' column that Dave Kehr writes for Film Comment is the best piece of film criticism I've read in 2012. Inspired by the 'Subjects for Further Research' section in Andrew Sarris' seminal American Cinema book, Kehr does an intensive study of forgotten directors of the classical Hollywood era in each issue. These are all revelatory in one way or another, products of enormous amounts of research filtered into Kehr's lucid nuts and bolts analysis of the artist's particular style and themes. This year directors William A. Seiter, Bernard Vorhaus, John Reinhardt, William K. Howard, Roy Ward Baker and Hugo Fregonese benefited from Kehr's pioneering work. The column proves how little we still know about film history, and how important it is to keep exploring and learning."

Luke Y. Thompson, Nerdist:

"Todd Gilchrist's review of 'Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie' for Box Office. While most critics, including many who should know better, fell for the obvious outrage-bait that Tim & Eric threw out as deliberate alienation tactics, Todd actually engaged the movie, refusing to dismiss it outright simply because of the superficialities. Granted, he admits to already being a fan -- but every critic ought to try to engage every movie on that same level. When it comes to comedies and genre stuff, sadly too few do."

Anne-Katrin TitzeEye For Film:

"Anthony Lane's 'The Kid with a Bike' review in The New Yorker, for pointing to the most remarkable quality of the Dardenne Brothers' work and Cécile de France's outstanding performance: 'It offers something changelessly rare and difficult: a credible portrait of goodness.' In a year with so many films exploring terror, war, and more than ever, a chilling, all-encompassing human indifference, I have been looking out for other such film portraits ever since."

Max Weiss, Baltimore Magazine:

"This piece on 'Brave' by Lili Loofbourow made me rethink the movie and admire it much more."

Andrew WelchAdventures in Cinema:

"At a certain point, everything you read throughout the year -- no matter how good -- starts to run together. But one writer consistently stands out to me for his personal, almost memoir-like approach to criticism: Jeffrey Overstreet. No other critic has influenced my own particular style, or my tastes, as much as he has. There’s a fair chance I wouldn’t even be doing what I’m doing now if I hadn’t discovered his blog, Looking Closer, almost 10 years ago, fresh out of high school. I could pick just about anything of his for my answer, but I’ve narrowed it down to two: his review of 'Moonrise Kingdom,' my favorite movie of the year, and his review of 'Holy Motors,' for the way it challenged me to re-examine my initial reaction. In both you’ll find sharp, intelligent criticism guided by a strong sense of humanity and faith."

Alan ZilbermanBrightest Young Things/Tiny Mix Tapes:

"The best movie review I read this year was A.O. Scott's review of 'The Avengers.' Not only did it start a minor controversy when Samuel L Jackson tweeted the review, but it addressed my issues with the film perfectly. When I finished reading it, I thought, 'Man, I wish I had written that.' A runner-up is Christopher Orr's review of 'The Words.' One of the worst movies of the year inspired the year's funniest review."

The Best Movie Currently In Theaters on December 17, 2012:

The Most Popular Response: "Holy Motors"
Other Movies Receiving Multiple Votes: "Lincoln," "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," "Life of Pi," "The Master."

This article is related to: Criticwire Survey


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