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NYT Critics Dargis and Scott Weigh In On Everything That Rankles Them About the Film Industry

by Beth Hanna
May 6, 2014 12:35 PM
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A.O. Scott
A.O. Scott

The NYT has published a fairly fabulous series of "emails" from their two top film critics -- that would be Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott -- openly addressed to a number of groups throughout the industry, including everyone from Megan Ellison and Sony to "directors," "Hollywood liberals" (with Amy Pascal and Steven Spielberg CC'd) and "everyone who is freaking out about the new Barbie and Peeps movies." In other words, they're cutting a wide, mischievous swath. Read some excerpts, below.

They also take a swing at things they believe to have been blown out of proportion (Scott tells TV and its oft-mentioned Golden Age to get over itself -- but CC's movies, too), at professions close to home (Dargis tells film critics to stop being so damned self-absorbed), and at that digital monolith called the internet (Scott says we shouldn't be confusing quantity with quality).

The "emails" below appear only in very small part -- head over to the NYT to read the memo in its entirety.

To: Everyone who is freaking out about the new Barbie and Peeps movies.

From: A. O. Scott

Subject: Calm down

“The Lego Movie” was really good! And while I wouldn’t necessarily say the same of the “Transformers” franchise, that Hasbro-Paramount corporate mind-meld, as realized by Michael Bay, has its own kind of aggressive capitalist integrity. Whether we like it or not, mass-produced plastic toys are objects of affection and vehicles for the imagination, as the “Toy Story” movies so brilliantly proved. And since commercial movies are clogged with distracting and clumsy product placements anyway, we should applaud rather than complain when the studios cut out the coyness and obliterate the near-obsolete distinction between entertainment and advertising…


To: Sony

Cc: A.O.S.

Bcc: The ghosts of D. W. Griffith, James Agee, Ben Hecht, Pauline Kael, David O. Selznick, etc.

From: M.D.

Come on — a Barbie movie?!

To: Television

Cc: Movies

From: A.O.S.

Subject: Get over yourselves

American popular culture is acting out a version of the parable of the prodigal son. The younger sibling, a habitual underachiever, is now basking in glory while the firstborn suffers from neglect. The current conventional wisdom holds that television has entered a golden age while movies are in a period of decline. Those are dubious notions for many reasons — for one thing, a lot of TV is still really terrible, and a lot of movies are really good — but there is no doubt that the small screen has snatched some of the cultural prestige that cinema has long regarded as its birthright.

Reports of this rivalry tend to understate the creative overlap and corporate codependency of the two art forms...

To: Movie critics

From: M.D.

Here’s an idea: how about we all stop writing about ourselves, about other movie critics, about other critics’ opinions, about the state of criticism and about what criticism should and should not be. How about we just write about, you know, movies?

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More: News, New York Times, News


  • fred | May 7, 2014 1:37 PMReply

    Here's the main thing that rankles you critics about the film industry: you're not in it.

    Really, "film critics rankled by the industry" is like seventh-graders rankled by their homework. These days, even the "best" of critics have about as much power as "Occupy Wall Street".

    I could go on with these hilarious zingers but I'm saving my best material for paying customers.

  • kevin | May 6, 2014 6:57 PMReply

    Amen! Write about movies, like Pauline Kael did. Like Canby or Maslin. Like Sarris, Ebert and Truffaut. Like you two do. It is OK to review "The Lego Movie", for exactly what it is and why it succeeds or fails with the audience and why it might succeed or fail within the parameters of our social climate. And yes, write about great movies. Maybe if you write it, they will come! And write about movies without the business being such an important factor. Maybe, just maybe, how much money they make will become less valuable to why we tell the stories of the future. The story of how much they make is only valuable to the studios, not to the audience. Criticism can once again shape the cinema. Filmmakers have lost the voices who appreciate cinema, to craft a story for. But, you two are those voices, so stay true and guide the talented few who still hold dear to that projected beam of emotion on a silver screen. Thank you, AOS and MD.

  • homer | May 7, 2014 1:59 PM

    Get a life, nerd. "Man Getting Hit In Groin With Football" is always going to be popular.

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