By David Poland email@example.com
20W2O Special: New York First! Film Critics Circle Get Tattooed
The slippery slope is an interesting landscape indeed. In the last 20 years, we have been through two major Wall Street bubbles that exploded and caused recessions and in the latest one, almost caused a depression. (The current Republican election cycle is predicated on blaming the EMT who saved their lives because he saved them the wrong way… but this is not a political column today.) The bubbles were generated by layer after layer of individuals at all levels of economic standing, choosing to do what they knew to be wrong because they felt it would be in their own best interests… and after all, everyone else was paying the game too, especially those damned rich people or privilege.
Jump Cut To: Our own little slice of the movie universe.
Tomorrow, one of the most anticipated and last “awards” films will screen, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. It has been scheduled, as of this writing, to screen for just two groups: The National Board of Review, a group of historic irrelevance and a level of generosity spreading around awards as to make them a joke, aside from being the first award given out by more than one person (see: The Carloses) each year. The other group is the once esteemed New York Film Critics Circle, which has decided that it should be the first award of the season and has moved its date accordingly.
It’s been discussed here before, but there used to be a difference between the NYFCC and an AICN talkbacker screeching, “First!!!” There still is. NYFCC is a group of professional critics. There are no professional standards for talkbackers. NYFCC’s choice, on the other hand, is an embarrassment, going against the notion of criticism being a thoughtful, considered form. So for the moment, comparing NYFCC to AICN Talkbackers is a bit of an insult to the geeks.
I should note that Stephen Whitty, one of the few NYFCCers who were actually in the room for the vote on the move, came on The Hot Blog to comment and offered a much more administrative logic behind the move. And I respect the notion of the move being about something more than being first and Stephen’s willingness to speak. NYFCC president John Anderson chose, instead, to hide behind an alleged deadline, unable to speak to me after announcing this move… because obviously, no other media would feel compelled to report on it, so being unavailable after the announcement made a lot of sense. (Did I mention that the press release specifically offered Anderson up for interviews?)
The flip side was Lou Lumenick, who has gone from being a cranky but decent guy to a Fox News-style jackass, at least in public. He wasn’t in the room for the vote, but immediately positioned himself as the voice of the group. And he pushed forward the private discussion – the idiotic private discussion – that somehow, another film was flawed and being hidden because it isn’t being shown to this group early enough for them to be FIRST! to see it.
I have been assured that dates for screenings of Dragon Tattoo for all the other major critics groups will be announced sometime by the end of Monday night. But in the meanwhile, more than a week after the NYFCC announcement, no information has been available about any possible screenings until today’s promise of said announcements.
Some would say – and some will continue to insist – that my concerns about this are motivated by a personal wish to see the movie first or some such silliness. This is, simply, untrue. Would I prefer not to wait until December 15 if others are seeing it tomorrow? Of course. But there is an embargo on the NYFCC screening and Sony hopes to put an embargo on the other “early” screenings to come. There is no personal or individual competitive advantage to this screening choice.
Except for the NY Film Critics Circle.
My concerns about the state of film criticism and of journalism in general are broader than a screening date. This is how the standards for what is journalism and what the role of the critic is gets lower and lower and lower.
Anderson’s position on their new November date, bolstered by some other members, is that the studios could and should adjust to the new schedule of the NYFCC. After all, the studios bend over backwards for NBR and HFPA…. why not a real critics group?
But NBR and HFPA are not real critics groups. NBR doesn’t even really claim to be a critics group at all. HFPA is nothing but a well-oiled awards-giving business model that serves its 80something stockholders breathtakingly well.
“Real” critics groups should not be in the role of negotiating screenings or demanding anything from the studios of film producers. The idea of NYFCC being a proactive player in the awards season, positioning itself to be FIRST! and presuming that studios will follow is a business call, not a show call. And though many of us write about the business in the course of being critics – certainly too much these days… mea culpa – if there is any time that calls for a pure “show” mindset, it’s year-end awards.
But this year, the creeping terror came and NYFCC made their move by planning to meet and award the year’s films, essentially, a full six weeks before the end of the year, as the plan was to vote tomorrow… the first day after the Thanksgiving break… and two full weeks before LAFCA was expected to vote (on the same weekend that NYFCC would normally vote).
Thank goodness, LAFCA saw NYFCC’s folly and did not follow. The second-week-of-December awards and nomination clusterfuck continues for most groups… groups that complain about not having enough time to see and consider all the movies, but still leave weeks between their choosing and the year’s end, invariably because they choose to put on a party and want to get to the business of doing so. But what was unfortunate a decade ago has become standard. That’s how things work.
So the question was, would the studios, in fact, bend to the demands of the NYFCC, 2 weeks before their normal voting date?
The argument is as old as the existence of 2-year-olds. The child wants something… and if they don’t get it, there is the threat of a very unpleasant tantrum. This has become the Finke Standard of Entertainment Journalism.
But NYFCC has something more than the average 2-year-old. They have awards that are considered to be of value. So not only does appeasing the group and its members, each individual critics in the biggest market in the country, but you can get a prize for your willingness.
And that’s where Sony and, Team Dragon Tattoo, got caught in the crossfire behind the NYFCC date change, becoming unwitting accomplices. David Fincher’s The Social Network won most critics awards last season, including Best Director and Picture with NYFCC. So what do you do when Fincher’s next film isn’t ready for the group’s new random deadline in November?
By all indications, Sony and Team DT didn’t change anything. They felt they would be ready to screen Dragon Tattoo tomorrow and said as much to NYFCC. And as it works out, if you are the NYFCC, you move the date by a day so you can get your screening on for one of the two last films.
Does this confirm the notion that, with the exception of one film, the studios will, in fact, adjust to your earlier voting date? Was this the intention on the Team Dragon Tattooo side in the case of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo? I don’t believe so. But this is about perception, not reality.
In perception, the arrogance and short-sightedness of the NYFCC was greeted with acquiescence, aka They Won.
When the conversation is had – and it will be had – amongst other groups considering a move to an earlier voting date – will they focus on the result (NYFCC sees all but one movie, all before December) or will they focus on the process of how this came to pass? In my history, almost everyone seems to focus on the result.
This is the dynamic that is so destructive. No one will cop to being the driver or the passenger or in any way responsible for things continuing to change for the worse. But so long as the response to a person or a group moving the bar to a place that is almost universally agreed in the community of those affected to be wrongheaded is to continue to feed the needs/demands of the party making the change, all of the involved parties are complicit and carry some responsibility. And in a case like this, the behavior of a group like NYFCC has been so tainted by their aggression that any award that is the fruit of this bad behavior is, naturally, suspect.
As I wrote before, LAFCA didn’t jump. But if the answer to pushing the NYFCC voting date into November is to get a variety of competitive advantages, will LAFCA continue to hold out?
When there was talk about AMPAS moving The Oscars to the last weekend of January or the first weekend of February, there was push back about everyone else moving earlier. But there is a natural barrier for year-end awards. Or not… as NYFCC seems to suggest.
It is true that quality filmmakers are not going to deliver unfinished work in order to win awards from critics. But, indeed, all films budgeted over $40m have a release date. Deadlines are real. And if faced with the handicap of not being able to compete for all the critics’ awards, how long will it take filmmakers and distributors to adjust to the “new reality?”
In the end, in the macro view, this is all about a few weeks difference. What does it matter?
And we’re back to where I started… if it’s NBR or The Carloses or even the HFPA, who cares? These are groups that are in the game with the first goal of being players. But when it comes to critics, there are standards to be upheld… standards that are not whimsical or ethically situational.
I am not saying that the makers or distributors of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo are gaming the system. And personally, I expect the film to be a massive hit and a serious awards player. Not the point.
This is the same principle as not reviewing films from the same divisions of the companies producing or releasing the films from which you are drawing a paycheck. You are not automatically biased. And your employer is not automatically manipulating you. But you are suspect. And you should be suspect. And NYFCC and all or any legitimate critics groups should be above suspicion… as should the movies they award.
Every year, people talk about which films will get Globes nominations for the show can have this star or that star on their red carpet and on the broadcast. Critics – even serious critics – have always been a bit more penetrable than they/we care to admit. We’re all just humans. But if this linchpin film wins a NYFCC award… or doesn’t… one has to wonder about the circumstances under which the film was seen and motives for voting for or against it. It shouldn’t be that way. But I didn’t create this situation. NYFCC did.