It's a shame that with all the year-end awards being dished out by critics, awards where groups of individuals do their best to do the cinema world proud by honoring greatness, that one can't be devised to recognize articles that make us all look bad. Case in point: Iain Blair's Wednesday article in Variety about the disconnect between audiences and film critics, particularly where Oscar is concerned. His next article on tap is supposedly entitled "Water's Wet, Sky's Blue, Women Have Secrets." Every now and then some film journalist decides to write such an article, which is basically the same as the last one only with changed titles and tries to remind us how we occasionally don't approve of a film we deem poorly made to be smattered with an embarrassment of riches. Nothing we haven't heard before. Rarely though does one of the first sentences smack of the sort of half-hearted research that makes you instantly discount everything that comes after it. Blair writes:
"Sure, Titanic grabbed a ton of Oscars and racked up the biggest box office in history. But more recent critically acclaimed best picture winners such as Shakespeare in Love, A Beautiful Mind and Chicago did middling to poor business. And Crash and The English Patient simply crashed and, well, burned at the box office."
Really Iain? This is the best you could come up with to support your thesis on the divide between critics, the Academy and the "average American." Maybe Joe the Plumber doesn't follow the box office as closely as the publication that you write for but the first three films you cite all did over $100 million at the box office.
Granted this is still $400 million (and then some) less than the highest grossing film of all time but I hardly think that the $170 million each generated by A Beautiful Mind and Chicago can be considered "middling to poor business." Crash opened in May of 2005 and saw 98% of its $54 million in the bank well before Oscar season. Not too shabby for a film budgeted at around $7 million. The English Patient's gross doubled after the nominations were released in 1997. That is not the definition of crash and burn. Blair's article is. But, please go on.
"This disparity between art and commerce seems to be accelerating, at least in terms of box office."
Excuse me, but isn't the disparity between art and commerce always measured in terms of box office? Scott Tobias of The Onion after reading Blair's piece said "I've never believed a critic's value has anything to do with box office performance, and as much as I value being an advocate for movies I feel passionately about, I don't see reviews as consumer guides, either. We're conversation starters. We put context and ideas out there and readers can process them as they will."
Using the successes of Transformers 2, The Twilight Saga: New Moon and 2012 to suggest that teen girls and geek boys would rather see stuff blow up than pay attention to their artistic merits is a bit condescending according to Matt Sheehan, the youngest member of the Chicago Film Critics Association. After recommending The Hurt Locker to a woman from his neighborhood she said she didn't like it because "too many people died," only later to go on raving about 2012. "So the 6 or so people that you've invested time and emotion into seen perish on-screen throughout an entire running time means it's a bad movie," says Sheehan, "but thousands of people careening over the edge into a cavernous void in mere seconds, somehow, makes it better?"
The age-old, but somehow new phenomenon that Blair speaks of regards certain films as being "critic-proof", a term that he gets Jeffrey Lyons to use in the article. Leonard Maltin also speaks out about this being "nothing new" and how he's "never understood the belief that critics have any power over audiences." Claudia Puig of USA Today puts the cherry on top though saying that "the dialogue, performances and overall plot is secondary and possibly even inconsequential to those fans" interested in stuff blowing up, transforming or mutating. On the flipside, Fox certainly didn't seem to mind all those positive reviews of Avatar coming out mere hours after screenings and a full week before its release after months of criticism over the trailers from those very types of fans. Did they listen to these reviews before heading out to the theater this summer though:
(X-Men Origins: Wolverine) - "Exhilarating. Wolverine is well-acted, with spectacular action and witty one-liners. Although it's a quintessential popcorn movie, Wolverine is not mindless. Director Gavin Hood and Hugh Jackman bring depth to a comic-book tale of anti-heroes with anger issues. Jackman invests his fierce character with...clear-eyed intelligence and inherent decency, compelling viewers to care about his metamorphosis." - Claudia Puig
(The Proposal) - "Laugh-out-loud funny." - Leonard Maltin
(Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian) - "A delight. One of the best family films of the year...as engaging as the original, and with one of the funniest screenplays of the year..." - Jeffrey Lyons
"That's my biggest problem with this piece," according to Steve "Capone" Prokopy from Ain't It Cool News, "These aren't critics; they're cheerleaders." Does that technically make Blair's article "critic-proof" as well? In closing, Dann Gire, President of the aforementioned Chicago Film Critics Association offers this final thought.
"If a movie blasted by critics but loved by the public is called 'critic-proof,' isn't a movie beloved by critics but shunned by the public 'critic-proof,' too? The whole notion of a movie being 'critic-proof' is silly. There are no critic-proof movies. Only critic-proof audiences."