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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Why Criticism Is Dying – Episode 9478: NYFCC Devolves Into NBR

I’m working on the first 20 Weeks of Oscar piece for tomorrow. It’s about the changing tone of the season this year… and how ugly it’s getting to be as a cottage industry for one organization has turned into a main business plank for an increasing number of desperate businesses.

And then, this morning, New York Film Critics Circle beat me to the punch with a harsh illustration of just how bad things are, announcing that it was going where no legitimate critics group has gone before… into November.

I am surprised how upset I am about this. It immediately burrowed deep under my skin.

Why?

Well, the self-proclaimed “nations pre-eminent critic’s group” has abandoned its critical post and has reduced itself not to a call girl showing up in a Penthouse at The Plaza, but to a Javits Center street walker.

I guess it’s the same reason why I am so unhappy when major outlets mess up industry stories. I want someone out there holding up the standard. I honor the intentions of these groups, even if I sometimes question their specific choices. So my disappointment in the failures – not in typos or silly errors, but in clearly intended bad calls – is extreme. It really bothers me.

There is no honor in this move. There is no excuse for this move. There is only one possible reason for this move… and it has NOTHING to do with honoring movies. It’s to be FIRST!

This was somewhat confirmed by NYFCC member Lou Lumenick, who tweeted when I asked for a single good reason for this move other than being first, “Being first is a totally fine reason to do this!”

Meanwhile, my immediate call to the group’s publicist to go through proper channels to speak to group president John Anderson was met by stonewalling bullshit. “John is tied up on deadlines today. Let me see if he can call you tomorrow.” Way to take a position, John. You make an announcement like this and then won’t take a 10 minute phone call about it? This is the same guy who felt so strongly about the boundaries of critics and publicity that he swung on Jeff Dowd?

Don’t bother trying to call tomorrow. You made a very clear statement today… twice.

For me, this kind of fight goes back to the DVD ban of a few years back when the studios decided not to send DVDs. LAFCA, in particular, was enraged by this call. How could they possibly see all the movies? Well… how about not voting on year-end awards less than 2 weeks into December?

I still think this practice is horrible. However, I concede that these groups would have a hard time dealing with their events, which piggyback on other events with bigger talent travel budgets, if they didn’t plant their flags before the holiday break. It’s kind of a sucky excuse, but it is a functional excuse.

But to push your vote to before NBR… an utterly illegitimate awards organization? To push before the first week of December, in which two or three of the December movies have traditionally waited to be shown? To try to strip the Gotham Awards of their tenuous media slot by announcing on the same day as their show? To make the object of a once-legitimate critics group to be “kicking off the annual end-of-year discussion?”

Here’s some footage from NYFCC headquarters just before the decision was made…

Lou added another bit of fresh air, tweeting, “I’m sure the rest of the trade press will be unhappy too. They know where their bread is buttered.”

From a personal perspective, may I note… fuck off, Lou. You’re bread is buttered by Page Six. You’ve got no standing from which to stick your nose in the air about anyone else.

But from a professional perspective, might I note… it means NOTHING to the trade press. NYFCC doesn’t butter anyone’s bread. Moving your awards earlier will actually make you less relevant, all but forgotten by the time BFCA, HFPA, and LAFCA announce. NYFCC will no longer be part of the heat of the conversation. The organization will just be another NBR, with only the most desperate publicists who have nothing else to offer bring it up as an award of significance.

One more thing… for better or for worse, the “end of the year discussion” was kicked off 7 weeks ago. Looks like you’ll have to move the voting to August next year.

The New York Film Critics Circle is now an official victim of “first” desperation mentality. As bad as things are for criticism right now… in the perspective of a small circle that really cares… this is a real tragedy.

The only thing that would be more tragic is if any other group followed their lead.

20 Responses to “Why Criticism Is Dying – Episode 9478: NYFCC Devolves Into NBR”

  1. movielocke says:

    New York Film Critics, just like Republicans!

    first you have Republicans moving their primary dates back into 2011, now you have Film Critics following suit. Yay!

  2. movieman says:

    I guess they don’t mind voting before seeing some major films.
    And there are always a handful of “major” films traditionally withheld from the press until at least the first week of December, sometimes later.
    Stupid, stupid, stupid.

  3. movielocke says:

    ELAIC, Dragon, Iron Lady, the Jolie flick and probably War Horse won’t be done until Dec.

    Even if the studios get a picture lock before thanksgiving you have to build in about three weeks for the final mix, scoring sessions, color, post deliverables and the myriad of other considerations that go into making a film ready for her closeup.

  4. Edward says:

    The Former Online Film Critics Society Members’ Film Critics Society (FOFCSMFCS) would like to congratulate Quentin Tarantino and his Django Unchained as the winners of their 2012 Best Picture and Best Director Awards. Other major winners include Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuarón and Rodrigo García for their screenplay for Gravity, Anne Hathaway for her Lead Actress work in The Dark Knight Rises, and Jason Segel for his Lead Actor work in Jeff Who Lives at Home. Awards will be given out as soon as we can afford to rent a VFW hall in Tarzana.

  5. I WAS at the meeting, David. (Lou wasn’t, having to file.) And I can tell you that John DID have four different deadlines he was trying to meet that day.

    I can also tell you — as could any of the other members there this morning — that we never sat around discussing the voting dates of the HFPA, the NBR, the Los Angeles critics or any other groups.

    Frankly, I didn’t even know what those deadlines were. We’re New Yorkers. You know us. We’re arrogant. We don’t CARE what other people think, or do.

    That’s a joke. Mostly.

    Seriously, what we did discuss, before we decided to move up our voting date, were simple logistics; i.e., we pay for our awards dinner largely by selling program ads and selling tables — and this year, it seemed to make sense to give ourselves some extra time to do that.

    As a former NYFCC chairman, I can tell you it’s always a mad rush to get all of that done in time — especially as you’re also trying to book presenters, and doing that over a period interrupted by several holidays, when people are out of town. (Our gala is always in early January.)

    Add that to the general feeling that the Oscar season is narrowing, and that most serious contenders are ready for screening long before their “official” roll-outs, and we felt we could safely move things up by 10 days or so.

    So honestly, that’s what really drove our decision-making. It doesn’t make for a very exciting story. And people may believe it or not, as they care to. They always do. But that’s the truth.

  6. David Poland says:

    I am completely willing to believe it, Stephen.

    And it’s worth noting that the one interview I know that John did do today didn’t suggest any of that.

    But I feel strongly that taking what has always been a mad dash to the mid-December voting and making it even earlier does no one any favors – except, perhaps, your sales team – and makes legit critics like yourself seem rather cavalier about the end of the year movies.

    The irony is that while John has promoted this “NYFCC will start the conversation” line, the logic behind the move seems dependent, in great part, on the conversation having already started and y’all thinking that it was so close to being over that this move made sense.

    I appreciate you coming in and making the case. There a lot of people I respect in your group, but I think this move is a horror show in an atmosphere where critics are losing an authoritative voice. This just gives people another reason to think we don’t deserve one.

  7. I understand your point, David.

    I guess I just feel that your head — “Why Criticism Is Dying” — is a bit of an exaggeration. As, indeed, might be anyone’s perception of this group of 30-odd (make that VERY odd) critics as some sort of establishment monolith. (Believe me, our entire “sales team” consists of one commission-based freelancer.)

    I do appreciate the argument, just in general, that critics are losing an authoritative voice. (And there are a trunk-full of reasons for that, which we’ve all written about.)

    But I think you actually could make a counter-argument that we give some of that authority away — and willingly let ourselves be co-opted — by always unquestioningly buying the studio line about when Oscar contenders are actually “ready” to be seen.

    The simple truth, I think, is that studios are now increasingly holding back many hopefuls longer than they need to — so they can leak them to “friendly” critics, hold star-driven events, stage “taste-maker” screenings at the SoHo Club, and micro-strategize everything so they “peak” just right, preferably long before any outside group gets to weigh in.

    That’s their business, of course. But that doesn’t mean we need to accept it without question, or allow it to dictate how we conduct our business.

    Obviously, there’s a balancing act that needs to be done here; I’d agree that to expect to see all the year’s best films by, say, Nov 1 is absurd.

    But I don’t think it’s too much to expect a major film that a studio was going to all-media screen on Dec 4 might actually be ready to see on Nov 26. In this industry-shortened awards season, I think the days of the wet-from-the-lab, last-minute contender are long gone.

    Personally, of course, we’ll have to see how this new deadline plays out, and adjust accordingly. I’m certainly willing to give it a chance, and would hope others would to.

    Anyway, thanks for the response. Although the NYFCC votes by secret ballot, there’s nothing secret about us; most of us have email addresses that are all over the web. Mine is swhitty@starledger.com; although I don’t speak for the group, feel free to DM me anytime you have a doubt, suspicion, criticism or question.

  8. chris says:

    I think it’s insane to shove the ridiculousness of a critic’s December even earlier, too, but “the Jolie flick” has already been rated. Shouldn’t that mean it’s done now?

  9. David Poland says:

    I appreciate your sense of humor about yourself and the organization, Stephen. But what I read into your second set of comments is that NYFCC’s year-end choices are heavily defined by the rest of the award season and your sense, as an organization, that you are being left out of the fun somehow.

    On the NYFCC website, amongst many self-serving pronouncements, it is stated: “The Circle’s awards are also viewed — perhaps more accurately — as a principled alternative to the Oscars, honoring esthetic merit in a forum that is immune to commercial and political pressures.”

    Well, wait a minute. NYFCC is making the argument that it is immune to outside pressures. There is the suggestion that NYFCC is MORE principled than The Oscars.

    What are these principles? To presume that films will be ready when NYFCC says they should be ready, because you all assume that will work out okay because you have all decided that a Christmas Day release not being ready before Thanksgiving must be a lie?

    You have helped me crystallize my heartfelt anger at this choice by NYFCC.

    This choice is the ultimate sell-out to the system. You have, as Mamet once wrote, become what you beheld. You have become so cynical… so completely focused on commercial and political pressures… that you have lost track, as a group, of what your actual job is.

    Your job is not to force studios to show movies earlier or to teach them a lesson. Your job is not to sell seats at a dinner or ads in a program. Your job is not to influence Oscar.

    You’re a bunch of film critics. And you are acting like a bunch of salesmen. Seriously. You’re acting like the HFPA, protecting its unearned turf.

    Somehow this became okay for you. But if NYFCC is one of the best organizations, how immune to commercial and political pressures can any other group be?

  10. movielocke says:

    Regarding the award prospects of this year in particular, the move should give a big boost to Tree of Life when it wins Pic and Dir from NYFCC. Those being the first awards of the season, it’ll start the awards chatter in an interesting direction… if they go whole hog and give Pitt and Chastain supporting awards it’d really be a coup for the film and cause a rush to out-accolade TOL this season amongst the chattering classes.

  11. LYT says:

    Wait…NYFCC is “30-odd”?

    LAFCA is 50-ODD!!!

    IN YER FACE!!!!

    (God, I hope we don’t try to compete and go earlier)

  12. Don’t think I said, and certainly didn’t mean to say, David, that we’re trying to teach anyone a lesson; I know I said nothing about being “left out of the fun.”

    But while some folks may enjoy the whole “First!” idea, as presented at the meeting, the prime motive was a logistical one — and, as I said in second post, there was a feeling that we COULD vote earlier as holiday films would already be ready to be seen.

    If that proves not to be true — well, as I said, we’ll soon see, and if necessary have to adjust. But however this may look from the outside, all I can say is that from the inside, it seemed as if this was really about addressing a very practical problem…

  13. movieman says:

    I guess one upside is that some of the studios who traditionally wait until the last minute to screen (or distribute screeners of) their year-end releases may be forced to accelerate the process.

  14. Glamourboy says:

    I don’t see the studios killing themselves to show early for this group. The last thing anyone wants is to be the front runner in November. No film can ride those waves for that long.

  15. chris says:

    I do not think there’s going to be a rush to out-accolade “Tree of Life.” If anything, I’d guess some people who gushed are already trying to remember what they were gushing about. Director? Maybe. Everything else? There will be better choices (I hope).

  16. Hallick says:

    One naive question from a civilian: why not push that gala awards presentation back away from the tail end of Christmas/New Years instead of making the announcements earlier?

  17. Don R. Lewis says:

    Stephen-

    When you say “The simple truth, I think, is that studios are now increasingly holding back many hopefuls longer than they need to — so they can leak them to “friendly” critics, hold star-driven events, stage “taste-maker” screenings at the SoHo Club, and micro-strategize everything so they “peak” just right, preferably long before any outside group gets to weigh in….”

    …are you implying that the NYFCC is moving their voting up in an effort to force studios to release their films earlier in the future if they want consideration on your “best of” lists? That seems incredibly egomaniacal as well as unprofessional to me. Isn’t your job and the rest of the NYFCC to view and rate movies as presented, not when? It’s not any critics job to say “well, if I’d seen the film I might have liked it but I didn’t so, they should have screened it earlier.”

    Also- are you guys basically calling it a year and folding up the tents without (as was pointed out above) seeing the new Fincher or Spielberg? This all baffles me and I agree with DP’s assessment that the end is nigh for critics.

  18. film fanatic says:

    The idiotic thing about the NYFF’s move is that filmmakers are often already moving hell and high water to get a print ready in time for a single screen one-week qualifying run before the Dec 31st cutoff, often only locking only a few days beforehand (think Malick’s “The New World,” for instance), and now they have to have them done before the end of November or else risk being considered as “afterthoughts” in the Oscar conversation? What if a film’s not ready? Are the NYFF members going to review rough cuts with unfinished effects and color timing? Or just ignore films that come after their cutoff? It’s comparable to the “FIRST!” insanity that plagues the totally arbitrary outsized role Iowa and New Hampshire in the Presidential nominating process, except at least in the primaries the voters know who all the candidates are before they vote. Ridiculous.

  19. Don R. Lewis says:

    AICNYFF is FIRST!
    (I just thought of that. Yay me.)

  20. Zooey says:

    Actually the NYFCC is the nation’s foremost critics’ group, probably because it’s the oldest one and it presented awards in 1935, while the LAFCA didn’t start until 1975.

    Other than that being that early doesn’t mean you’ll be forgotten. In fact there was a year when the NYFCC voted first in the past – 2001. And that year it actually started a lot of trends. Helen Mirren probably wouldn’t have been a major contender if not for the NYFCC win (you’ve heard the stories) and Altman, Mulholland Drive won their first awards there.

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