Sunday, December 28, 2008

You and Me: Let's make a resolution!

The end of the year brings year-end lists. And as you might guess, the ones I'm interested in are critic's lists of the best movies of 2008. But there's a problem out there in critic land. As newspapers fold and merge and the printed word goes the way of the abacus, good thoughtful movie critics are losing their jobs. Many of them are finding nice homes online, but the problem still remains, there are fewer and fewer men and women doing the good work of finding cinematic treasures that we'd otherwise never hear about.

Face it. The marketing campaign for most movies outweighs the entire budget for other (often better) films. Without critics, we might see Beverly Hills Chihuahua and The Dark Knight and think we've covered the spectrum of what's out there - and we would be very very wrong. So we support these pontificating film connoisseurs, learn from them and see for ourselves what we think. Many of these critics are damn fine writers and all of them have a passion for film that is unmistakable in their prose, even when that prose is lacerating a recent offering.

The food critic Anton Ego says in Ratatouille (a film you didn't need a film critic to make you aware of, but may have needed to tell you it was worth your time):

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends...

I am not a critic. I want to be on the other side. Perhaps one day, one of the critics whose opinions I value might see one of my films and rip it a new one. And I'll consider it an honor. Looking to these men and women for advice as they sift through this overwhelming landscape of media, I feel damn lucky that there are still people who care about good, solid, challenging, flickering beauty and are willing to write about it.

So, if you'd like, take a gander at what the critics say:

Andrew O'Hehir
Roger Ebert
Glenn Kenny
A.O. Scott
Matt Singer

And here's an interesting list of top 10 cities in which to make movies. (Current hometown Portland is number 8. Former hometown Los Angeles didn't make the list.)

Okay, now that you've read about some movies that might interest you, here's the resolution: See them.

Poke your head out of your whack-a-mole hole and you'll hear it: Things are bad. Economy swirling the drain. Stock market taking a big poo. Joblessness. Et cetera and so forth.

So why am I lobbying for you to periodically shell out an extra 8 to 14 bucks (double that if you take a friend) from your hard earned, and possibly shrinking, supply of cash? Now, of all times?

Call it a personal favor. But one that will ultimately benefit you. And your brain and heart. In bad times movies are a catharsis, in good times they are a complement to joy. They make us think and feel. They are art. And what, I ask, is the point of us, of humans walking around eating and talking, if not to make something grander than ourselves, to communicate and be communicated to in the thoughtful language of beauty and sorrow and joy?

And for god sakes, if people stop seeing movies, what the hell am I gonna do with my life? Seriously.

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