The Criticwire Survey: The Best Review I Ever Wrote

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by Matt Singer
March 27, 2012 10:38 AM
7 Comments
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"Gone With the Wind."
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: "What one review that you've written/recorded are you most proud of? Why?"

Their answers:

Michael J. AndersonTativille/Ten Best Films:

"Limiting myself to reviews (vs. longer critical or peer-reviewed essays) and those written directly for my blog, most of the candidates are writings on films that I consider to be among the best new works to come out since I started at this in 2005. Since nothing really rises head-and-shoulders above the rest, let me go with this piece on Lucrecia Martel's 'The Headless Woman' (2008), written on the occasion of its New York Film Festival premiere. Like all my personal favorites, my preference resides in a combination of feeling like I really "got" this film in a way that not every critic did, and that I was there when it happened, when a really significant new work of film art was first being seen (and struggling to be understood). I am proud of it because it almost feels as though it matters, despite the very small audience that I imagine it reached."

Ali ArikanPress Play:

"I go back and forth between a number of retrospectives I've written, which I prefer to regular reviews because they tend to let me go on my idiosyncratic flights of fancy.  I recently wrote a piece on 'Withnail and I' for Press Play, which turned out really rather well: It's one of my favourite films, and I was happy that I managed to highlight the ending motif.  it also turned out to be a much more personal piece than I originally thought."

Danny Bowes, NextProjection.com/Movies By Bowes:

"I'm pretty fond of this review of 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoofrom this past Christmas, for effectively summarizing the extremely complicated relationship(s) I have with the work of David Fincher and Stieg Larsson."

Matt CohenMeets Obsession Magazine:

"Any time I have the opportunity to champion a small, little-known indie film it gets me very excited, which was exactly the case with Andrew Haigh's beautiful romance 'Weekend.' I was ecstatic after seeing 'Weekend' and tried to convey my enthusiasm for the film and encourage my readers to seek it out. After it was published, I felt particularly proud and accomplished in my enthusiastic review for it, and was happy to see it was met with similar enthusiasm from other critics and colleagues."

John DeCarli, FilmCapsule:

"I'm most proud of a piece I wrote on Dziga Vertov's 'Man with a Movie Camera.' It's obviously a unique film, no less now than when it was made 80 years ago. I was moved by Vertov's efforts to begin searching for a uniquely cinematic language, one divorced from theater or literature. I'm happy with my piece because I think I captured the frenetic pace and web of associations Vertov makes through some long sentences and probably a shameful overuse of commas."

David EhrlichMovies.com/Box Office Magazine/Criterion Corner:

"Can't say that I'm too proud of anything I've ever written and/or done, but I've always been partial to the headline atop my review of Sofia Coppola's 'Somewhere,' which I think succinctly expresses my particular brand of idiocy." 

David FearTime Out New York:

"I'm not a fan of my own work overall (I can almost see a sea of heads out there nodding in unison and agreement), but I remember writing brief back-to-back reviews of respective revivals runs for 'Lawrence of Arabia' and 'Blue Velvet' when I wrote for the San Francisco Bay Guardian back in the late ’90s and feeling like I'd cracked some sort of code. Fretting over adding my two cents about two movies that had already prompted gallons of spilt ink, I decided to go off-book and write in a more helter-skelter, impressionistic style about them—focusing on certain small details, dispersing with plot since the story specifics were well-known and trying to replicate the giddy experience of watching them rather than passing some sort of thumbs-up thumbs-down judgement. It was one of the most liberating experiences I've had as film writer."

Kenji Fujishima, The House Next Door:

"Off the top of my head, I'd say I'm proudest of my review of 'Meek's Cutoff' -- and no, not because a quote from it was featured in a trailer for the film (or at least, not just because of that). It was, and remains, one of the more difficult reviews for me to write, and I think I ended up articulating my misgivings pretty well. Also, I suppose the contrarian side of me does retain a measure of pride simply for the fact that it is a negative review of a still pretty highly regarded film."

John Gholson, Movies.com:

"I'm particularly proud of my review for Vernon Chatman's 'Final Flesh.' It's not even one of my more in-depth, better-written pieces, but it is one of the very few formal reviews of the film anywhere, and for that reason alone, it stands out in my mind. Also, there's really no other film out there like it, so every time I plug the review, I feel like it's helping the film connect with its would-be audience."

William GossFilm.com/MSN Movies/The Playlist:

"I'm not terribly proud of going so recent with my response, but back in early February of this year, just after 'The Grey' had opened and the Sundance Film Festival had ended, I posted a piece about how I'd found both the former film and 'Oslo, August 31st' -- a film shown at the latter -- to be more similarly moving than I'd expected. As one runs the risk of coming off rather amateurishly in using it, I'd been trained to be wary of employing first-person perspective, and I feared that being this emotionally forthright would result in writing an exceedingly maudlin post that might as well have been written for an audience of one. So far as I can tell from the subsequent response, that wasn't the case, and if anything, I find myself encouraged to pursue more long-form criticism, as long as the essays to come aren't all as revealing of my personal pains as this one was."

Tim GriersonScreen International/Gawker:

"A really recent example comes to mind. I don't think my review of Craig Zobel's 'Compliance' is particularly brilliant, but since I was there for the film's divisive premiere at Sundance -- and vehemently disagreed with the movie's critics -- I was happy to be one of the first to advocate for what I think is an incredibly insightful, riveting study into human psychology. If it helped in any way, I'm pleased."

Mark Johnson, AwardContenders.com:

"I think my review of 'Black Swan' is the one I am most proud of, and probably because I got more compliments on it than anything else I have written. I loved the movie (my favorite of 2010), and so I think that showed in my writing."

John Keefer, 51Deep.com/Press Play:

"Since I've only one video essay published I'm going with my piece 'Parents: Nightmare of Childhood' on Bob Balaban's dark and, sadly overlooked, satire."

Adam KempenaarFilmspotting:

"The proudest I've probably been of a recent review would be last year's discussion of 'Take Shelter' with guest host Dana Stevens from Slate. In the show's bonus content we got into an analysis of the ending that prompted several listeners to thank me via email and social media for either making them appreciate the film more, or talking them back off the ledge to re-examine what writer/director Jeff Nichols might have been up to. That was rewarding since 'Take Shelter' was a film I loved, and my reading of the ending was borne out of a solid 48 hours of internal wrestling."

Eric KohnIndiewire:

"Last year, my review of 'The Help' seemed to play a role in early conversations about whether the film's approach to race was antiquated. It might not be the best example of my writing, but I felt like it had a ripple effect that played a role in a valuable conversation surrounding this troublesome movie."

Will LeitchDeadspin:

"I don't know if this is supposed to be 'ever' or 'what you happen to remember,' but I'll say that the one recent time I stumbled across something useful in a review was defending 'Shame' against the smuggish reactionaries who just wanted to snigger about Michael Fassbender's penis."

Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat:

"One of the reviews I'm most proud of is the one I wrote for a documentary called 'The Elephant in the Living Room.' The film only got an extremely limited theatrical release, but I raved about it in my review and on social networks. When it finally hit DVD, I got all kinds of emails/tweets from people who rented it based on my enthusiasm - and they loved it too. For me, helping a small, worthy film find an appreciative audience is the best feeling."

Jenni Miller, JenniMiller.net:

"My review of 'Melancholia' for BUST Magazine, because I felt so moved by the movie that the temptation to go on at length was thankfully hampered by a tight word count."

Tony Nunes, Dreaming Genius/Fangoria:

"I reviewed this obscure and exploitively surreal film called 'Frankie in Blunderland' for Cinema Suicide, a blog I wrote for a couple of years. It was refreshing to embrace the ironic pointlessness of the movie, and of all the reviews I've written, this one stands out as the most strange to me. I love that about it."

Matt PatchesHollywood.com:

"In recent memory, my review of comedian Tim Heidecker and director Rick Alverson's 'The Comedy' stands out as a thoughtful piece of writing on a much-maligned movie during Sundance, easily one of the more chaotic film events of the year. The piece isn't a lengthy dissection of the film -- which I'm already feeling the itch to craft, even before the movie finds distribution -- but I still feel proud of standing strong and making (at least, in my mind) a passionate case why 'The Comedy' is bold filmmaking and will end up as one of 2012's strangest gems."

Katey RichCinema Blend:

"It's hard for me to even remember most of my reviews, much less figure out the one I'm most proud of, but I did take some real pleasure in looking back at my writeup for 'The Three Musketeers' last fall, where I finally managed to scold one of many dumb movies that have made me feel dumb by making so little sense."

Vadim Rizov, GreenCine Daily

"Because I've been online since age 14, deletions of past work when websites fold or lose large portions are sometimes a mercy. (Growing up in public, film critic version.) For me, my best work is six months old, enough time to get some distance on the quality of the prose but not too long ago for me to forget what I was trying to get at. Lately I've been increasingly uninterested in my subjective reactions and way more interested in trying to find an objective justification. Mike D'Angelo noted on Twitter that my recent review of 'The Deep Blue Sea' had a 'Hobermanesque objectivity-to-subjectivity ratio' and wondered if that was a result of being 'cowed.' Absolutely: it gave me no pleasure to dislike a Terence Davies film, and the uncertainty in wondering what I was(n't) responding to, and what a viewing on a different day might have been like, is unnerving. In any case, that review is closest to what I'm trying to go for right now, and I'm unusually happy with it. "Objective criticism" can be a tool to hide subjective reactions you're second-guessing without actually wussing out, and I'm happy to embrace it when I can't get enthused."

Mike RyanHuffington Post Entertainment:

"I'd say a review I wrote of 'Sucker Punch' for Vanity Fair. Not so much because of what I wrote, but more because I wrote for an outlet that let me publish a title that included the phrase 'Amazing Spectacle of Bullshit.'"

Nick Schager, Slant Magazine:

"I hate re-reading my reviews, and I'm terrible at judging which ones work best. Still, I was always happy with the way my write-up of 'There Will Be Blood' turned out, largely because I felt I was able to articulate my many thoughts about the film in a coherent -- and, in terms of turnaround, quick -- fashion."

Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com:

"Since it's easier to write an entertaining review of a terrible movie than it is to write an entertaining review of a great movie, the one I'm most pleased with is 'Deck the Halls.'

R. Emmet SweeneyMovie Morlocks:

"'Histoire(s) du Cinema.' This is a difficult movie to write about, simply because there is so much to say. By focusing on one aspect of the film (imagery of hands), I think I managed to analyze one facet of it fairly well, instead of the whole thing badly."

Alan Zilberman, Brightest Young Things/Tiny Mix Tapes:

"I'm most proud of my review of 'Exit Through the Gift Shop,' the strange documentary directed by Banksy. The movie was difficult to write about, both in terms of summary and why I liked it. I managed to pull it off, I think, and the comments even include a detailed conspiracy theory."

The Best Movie Currently In Theaters on March 27, 2012:
The Most Popular Response: "A Separation"
Other Movies Receiving Multiple Votes: "We Need to Talk About Kevin," "The Raid: Redemption," "John Carter"

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7 Comments

  • JAKE JACOBSON | March 28, 2012 11:36 AMReply

    My favorite opening line was one I wrote in my review of the Polish film CROWS

    "CROWS blows PONETTE out of the kiddie pool"

  • jimbo | March 27, 2012 12:40 PMReply

    yes it's sad that anyone's college buddy can be considered a reviewer. what's happened?

  • David Glassman | March 28, 2012 7:53 AM

    Jim Dodge, you're right. I am not really familiar with those bastians of film criticism like Meets Obsession Magazine and AwardsContenders.com. Lol. I look at a variety of sites, most of them are just really poor quality with crap content.

  • Gholson | March 27, 2012 2:00 PM

    This is an entirely unfair accusation. I had no buddies in college.

  • David Glassman | March 27, 2012 10:40 AMReply

    This feature would be a lot better if these people were actually CRITICS.

  • Jim Dodge | March 27, 2012 8:01 PM

    So just because you haven't personally heard of some of these critics means they aren't legit? Oh, please. Maybe the *real* problem is that you need to broaden your horizons and read a more varied assortment of film sites. This is the same mentality that leads to "I haven't heard of that movie, so therefore it must suck."

  • Curt | March 27, 2012 2:57 PM

    Do you define a critic as "one who specializes especially professionally in the evaluation and appreciation of literary or artistic works"?

    (I looked up that definition on the internet all by myself.)

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