MCN Columnists
Ray Pride

By Ray Pride Pride@moviecitynews.com

On Predicting Sundance Bests

Predicting film festival bests isn’t my game. But I am hopeful for surprises like a couple years back when, toward the end of Sundance, Robert Koehler is urgently telling me to run, don’t think, go directly to an end-of-festival presser for Man On Wire. (Thank you, Bob.) I’d gotten the same pleasure from being at the very first press showing of Once and then gabbling to anyone I hoped would listen. Go! Discover! In the week’s run up to Sundance 2011, I’ve liked posts by programmers and reviewers and filmmakers that aren’t about impressing a 140-character opinion in one sharp tweet of the cheeks. For instance, Toronto’s Cameron Bailey (@cameron_tiff) hits the ground happy: “Sunshine, snow, SUVs, excessive cheer. Hello Park City!” A keen reminder to get out of doors and read those tweets while waiting for the shuttle to get to headquarters for that badge…

This afternoon, Movieline solicited from attendees three films they wouldn’t dream of leaving Sundance without seeing, and sleep-deprived that I am already, fished out three sincere replies. Top of mind is the premiere I’m seeing in six hours about three miles out to the far edge of town at the Temple Theater, Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz‘s The Interrupters. James is a consummate observer and collaborator, and his work with nonfiction ace Kotlowitz holds promise. Its 161-minute running time suggests the Kartemquin crew is going for the same kind of observational, longitudinal work looking at superficially troubled communities, such as Hoop Dreams, to name but one fine film James has made. Braden King‘s earlier work, including Dutch Harbor, builds off rhythmic accretion, a sense of the land, a drenching sonic texture. Why not make a movie like HERE, about a geolocator gone astray in Armenia? (Plus, it’s shot by Lol Crawley, whose credits include Ballast.) Two years ago, one of the co-directors of The Redemption Of General Butt Naked [pictured, top] told me the story at a Sundance event in 2008. My reaction was physical: I leapt up and looked around the room for people to introduce her to, someone who might know someone who could get this amazing story brought to completion. The title is provocative, but the tale, well, if it matches what I heard…

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Pride

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“The worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes. It’s the destruction of our business. I have such respect and admiration for film criticism. When I was growing up film criticism was a real art. And there was intellect that went into that. And you would read Pauline’s Kael’s reviews, or some others, and that doesn’t exist anymore. Now it’s about a number. A compounded number of how many positives vs. negatives. Now it’s about, ‘What’s your Rotten Tomatoes score?’ And that’s sad, because the Rotten Tomatoes score was so low on Batman v Superman I think it put a cloud over a movie that was incredibly successful. People don’t realize what goes into making a movie like that. It’s mind-blowing. It’s just insane, it’s hurting the business, it’s getting people to not see a movie. In Middle America it’s, ‘Oh, it’s a low Rotten Tomatoes score so I’m not going to go see it because it must suck.’ But that number is an aggregate and one that nobody can figure out exactly what it means, and it’s not always correct. I’ve seen some great movies with really abysmal Rotten Tomatoes scores. What’s sad is film criticism has disappeared. It’s really sad.”
~ Brett Ratner Has A Sad

“The loss of a local newspaper critic is a real loss. People who know the local audience and know the local cultural scene are very important resources. You can’t just substitute the stuff that comes in from nowhere through syndication or the wire. I think at the same time, some of the newer outlets have really beefed up and improved their coverage and made room for criticism. The real problem is in the more specialized art forms — fine arts, classical music, dance and jazz, say. There is a real slowing of critical voices, partly because those art forms have smaller audiences. Newspapers and magazines can say that doesn’t get enough traffic, so we don’t have room for that. To me, that’s especially worrisome. This is the opposite of what newspapers are supposed to do, which is not to try to figure out what people are already interested in and recite that back to them, but to hopefully guide them to something that they should be interested in, connecting potential audiences with more interesting work.

“Then again, not everyone needs a critic. People have been going to movies for more than 100 years now, and probably the vast majority of those people have not read movie reviews or cared what critics thought. But there has always been an important subset that wants to know more, that wants to think about what they’ve seen and what they’re going to see, and wants someone to think along with. I think critics are important, not just as dispensers of consumer advice — though that’s certainly part of it, too — but as trusted voices and companions for people to argue with in your head when you’re going to movies or afterwards.”
~ A. O. Scott