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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

The Reeler's Top 10 of Top 10 Lists of 2005, Part II

As noted yesterday, the film criticism potluck that festers around this time every year seems to be a little out of control in 2005. I scoured the Web for the Top 10 Top 10 Film lists that best represent where the tradition slumps if not implodes; like many of those lists of films, mine is likely incomplete and could benefit from at least another month of reading. Alas, time and Tony Scott wait for no man.
For what it is worth, the scale here runs from frustrating (10) to useless (5) to outright insulting (1). Please take a moment to review Wednesday’s selections, and feel free to comment away with your own “favorite” Top 10s as 2005 skids to a close. Thanks again!
5. Ed Gonzalez and Nick Schager, Slant Magazine

Invariably, I learn something when I read Slant’s film criticism. However, I often find myself slogging through some skunky writing to get to it. In sharing The New World as their top film of 2005, for example, Gonzalez and Schager compete in the All-Time Pillsbury Bake-Off of criticism cliches:

GONZALEZ: “Malick is a poet who approaches the story of John Smith and Pocahontas as if it were a specimen of lost time trapped in amber. He turns the fossil in his hands, reflecting the light of the sun through the resinous shell of history and onto his characters from many remarkable, expressive angles.”

SCHAGER: “A sumptuous tone poem of epic emotional proportions, Terrence Malick’s masterful The New World renders the Europeans’ arrival on the American continent in 1607 as a tale of diametric conflicts in which destruction and creation, constriction and freedom, become symbiotically knotted.”

Anyway, to Schager’s credit, he banishes A History of Violence to his Honorable Mention list. It is not as though the guy had much choice; after all, when every square millimeter of David Cronenberg’s cock is accounted for by some other critic’s tongue, you have to know when to just sit the whole thing out. Smart move, pal.

4. Jan Stuart and Gene Seymour, Newsday
I want to take this opportunity to congratulate Newsday–the first daily newspaper to print its film critics’ Top 10 lists entirely in the language of Bullshit. It is a tongue New Yorkers really understand, as evidenced by Jan Stuart:

Catharsis came via meticulously constructed thrillers that confronted the current global malaise through a transparent gauze of fiction (Syriana and The Constant Gardener) or the therapeutic remove of the past (Munich and Good Night, and Good Luck).

Not surprisingly, however, the movies that most successfully pressed our lachrymal buttons were the ones that made the most direct appeal to our hearts: 2005 was awash in movies that refreshed that creakiest of genres – the thwarted love story – with sincerity, wit and the occasional new wrinkle.

By “new wrinkles,” I think Stuart is referring to films like The New World, about which he writes: “Q’orianka Kilcher is the find of the year as the Indian princess who enchanted two continents.” Or maybe Gene Seymour has a better explanation in his backhanded praise for The 40-Year-Old Virgin:

You have one minute to wipe that look of aggrieved contempt off your faces. That’s better. So I suppose you want an explanation. OK, it made me laugh more often than anything else I saw all year. Its shopping-center-suburban-nerd universe cuts closer to American dream life than just about any other big studio movie.

Ah, yes–allllllways a pleasure to see some faux-prole film critic condescending to his readership. $50,000 goes to the first reader who can define exactly how “American dream life” and the realization of a “shopping-center-suburban-nerd universe” share apexes. On your mark, get set, go.

3. Richard Schickel and Richard Corliss, Time Magazine
Corliss and Schickel have earned no small shares of notoriety for each topping their lists with separate Werner Herzog documentaries–Corliss with The White Diamond, Schickel with Grizzly Man. As usual, Schickel reminds us who is in charge around here with an opening sentence that reads like a filibuster:

Perhaps the year’s oddest, and therefore most arresting, film, (Grizzly Man) is the story of a post sixties hippy names Timothy Treadwell, who spent every summer of his life, for over a decade, living dangerously–in close proximity to the great Alaskan bear population, and was, with his girlfriend, eventually killed by one of them.

For his part, Corliss proceeds coherently with Diamond but starts to trip up in his praise of Wong Kar-Wai’s 2046: “Like Bergman, (Wong) has made a sequel to a favorite earlier film. In the 2000 romance In the Mood for Love, Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-wai circled each other in slo-mo for an hour and a half, and their almost-touching sparked more erotic heat than a dozen Jenna Jameson epics.” If that does not have you vomiting in your mouth, have a taste of Corliss’s Chicken Little “praise”:

The title character (voiced by Zach Braff) has huge glasses, a studious mien, not the best posture. And, oh, is this chick adorable, whether trying to win a chaotic baseball game or shaking a tail feather in his patented chicken dance. At a pace as sprightly and assured as the great old Warner Bros. cartoons, the movie flirts with alien abductions, crop circles, Streisand jokes and familial reconciliation.

Corliss and Schickel also add plenty of references to that other, longer onanistic endeavor, the All-Time List of the 100 Greatest Movies, as well as a nice plug for Schickel’s shower-table session with Steven Spielberg from a few weeks back. Combined, these are as gratuitously awful as Top 10 lists get–self-promoting filler written by total fucking hacks. Which, of course, makes them eminently readable and great, guilty fun. Just like the rest of Time Magazine.
2. Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
As is his annual custom, Turan busts out his pontiff hat to bestow a wobbly blessing or 50 on the same films as everybody else. Except, of course, he is Kenneth Fucking Turan, so his recognition supposedly implies an authority and level of achievement that would make The New Yorker look like Soap Opera Digest. And this year, Turan is especially outraged:

Though quality films are always disappearing from theaters before people have carved out the time to see them, most motion pictures live as full a life as their subject matter and the resources of their distributor allow. Some, however, to borrow a phrase from Shakespeare, are “untimely ripped” from screens, throttled by distributor neglect even though a wider audience was there for the taking.

This year, not one but two exceptional films, The Best of Youth from Italy’s Marco Tullio Giordana and Duma from Carroll Ballard, suffered that excruciating fate, and it is to underline how infuriatingly destructive that state of affairs is that I’ve paired them at the top of my 10-best list.

Yes, yes, folks. Pity The Best of Youth, that hideously underseen, six-hour-long Italian film that just couldn’t find a theatrical audience in America. Nevermind that everyone from The New York Times to the ur-populist rag Entertainment Weekly gave it Top 10 play, thus ensuring it a successful DVD run (and likely word-of-mouth momentum) for months if not years to come. If only Miramax had just shown a little more faith that audiences were cool with going to the movies to watch subtitled miniseries, the world would be a better place.
Just before nodding off to sleep, however, Turan slobbered out perhaps the year’s single greatest Top 10 observation:

3. The Squid and the Whale. As perceptive as it is personal, Noah Baumbach’s well-acted and acutely observed family drama is as good as independent filmmaking gets, with Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain running a close second.

“As good as independent filmmaking gets”? What the fuck does that mean? Is it that independent films swing from the ladies tee, or that they park in handicapped stalls, or what? I mean, Brokeback Mountain is as “independent” a film as King Kong (indeed, they share a financier), so maybe stuff like Keane or Murderball is not just “independent,” but “special-needs” filmmaking? If we cannot ask Turan to get out of the house a little more, can we at least ask him to help us understand? Please?

1. Roger Friedman, Fox 411 (Third item)
You have already read most of what I have to say about Friedman’s list, a treasure trove of misspellings and malapropisms (the instant classic “Miranda Joy,” which, incidentally, still has not been corrected), inbred-level observations (“Focus Features has done a good job ignoring [Broken Flowers] so they could give us gay cowboys mumbling and tumbling together in Brokeback Mountain“) and film criticism so alive it shits:

With reservations, I have to say Good Night, and Good Luck is an admirable piece. David Straitharn will get an Oscar nom as Edward R. Murrow. The whole thing looks and plays right, with nice stuff from the underrated Jeff Daniels and the always appreciated Patricia Clarkson. Hesitation comes from the fact that the film turns on well-known newsreel footage of Sen. Joseph McCarthy being dressed down at last by colleague. But you can never see that too many times.

That is right, Roger. Like your byline and yet another masterful crop of Top 10 lists, there are some sweet cultural fruits we can never get enough of. I just hope that of the great pictures that you and most other critics seemed to forget about while wrangling over the right superlative for A History of Violence–tiny yet brilliant films like Pretty Persuasion, The Talent Given Us, The Dying Gaul, Keane and at least a dozen others–at least a few survive the genocide these little year-end flame-ups invoke. I know your heart–like everyone else’s–really is in the right place.

7 Responses to “The Reeler's Top 10 of Top 10 Lists of 2005, Part II”

  1. Just a question... says:

    Why so nasty? They’re just movie critics. What did they ever do to you?

  2. uhura says:

    Thank you for this truly inspired hilarity.

  3. pontiff says:

    Pretty Persuasion sucked.

  4. dwayne says:

    I thought this list would be funnier. Though it can’t be mentioned enough times that film critics and sportswriters pretty much always suck balls.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Are you kidding me? There’s something wrong with criticizing critics in a pseudo-intellectual fashion for writing pseudo-intellectual top ten lists. You strain yourself trying to come with cute ways to demean a critic’s passion for a film. I find it ironic that you accuse critics for not having a social life, yet you took the time to undergo such a pointless endeavor as this? You indulge yourself as much as you claim these film critics’ have. Yet while they’re trying to explain their love for a film in as few, worthwhile (albeit exceedingly complex) words as possible, you practice a brief exercise of pettiness. You’re more of a hack than the people you hope to disparage.

  6. spotted reptile says:

    “As good as independent filmmaking gets”? What the fuck does that mean? Is it that independent films swing from the ladies tee, or that they park in handicapped stalls, or what?”
    ha ha ha! Brilliant (wipes tears.)

  7. Suntaktes says:

    Roger Friedman is one of the biggest idiots who writes about film — and it’s a pretty competitive pack. I’m not talking about his opinions — as trite as they are, I would defend his right to have them — as I am his refering to his errors, whether it’s misspelling someone’s name, or assuming a studio lost money when he is ignorant of who actually financed a movie. Reckless journalism aside, he will be with us for a long time, and probably move on to more high-profile gigs, leaving a wreckage of unverified (and uncorrected) reporting in his wake.

Quote Unquotesee all »

“The thought is interrupted by an odd interlude. We are speaking in the side room of Casita, a swish and fairly busy Italian bistro in Aoyama – a district of Tokyo usually so replete with celebrities that they spark minimal fuss. Kojima’s fame, however, exceeds normal limits and adoring staff have worked out who their guest is. He stops mid-sentence and points up towards the speakers, delighted. The soft jazz that had been playing discreetly across the restaurant’s dark, hardwood interior has suddenly been replaced with the theme music from some of Kojima’s hit games. Harry Gregson-Williams’ music is sublime in its context but ‘Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots’ is not, Kojima acknowledges, terribly restauranty. He pauses, adjusting a pair of large, blue-framed glasses of his own design, and returns to the way in which games have not only influenced films, but have also changed the way in which people watch them. “There are stories being told [in cinema] that my generation may find surprising but which the gamer generation doesn’t find weird at all,” he says.
~ Hideo Kojima

“They’re still talking about the ‘cathedral of cinema,’ the ‘communal experience,’ blah blah. The experiences I’ve had recently in the theatre have not been good. There’s commercials, noise, cellphones. I was watching Colette at the Varsity, and halfway through red flashes came up at the bottom of the frame. A woman came out and said, ‘We’re going to have to reboot, so take fifteen minutes and come back.’ Then they rebooted it from the beginning, and she had to ask the audience to tell her how far to go. You tell me, is that a great experience? I generally don’t watch movies in a cinema at all. Netflix is the future. It’s the present. But the whole paradigm of a series, binge-watching, it’s quite different. My first reaction is that it’s more novelistic, because if you have an eight-hour season, you can get into complex, intricate things. You can let it breathe and the audience expectations are such that they will let you, where before they wouldn’t have the patience. I think only the surface has been touched with experimenting with that.”
~ David Cronenberg