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Valid points all... but a question about this one:

"While not everybody can (or should!) aim to reinvent cinema, there should be a greater effort from filmmakers, producers, and festival programmers to take chances on works that require more brainpower than it takes to simply sit and stare at the screen."

Hmm. Leaving festival programmers out of it (Question: Which films are we NOT showing at this point? Answer: The ones that won't let us screen them), the real issue behind this is that independent film (and foreign film that is distributed in the USA) is now being handled like the for-profit, studio style work to which most filmmakers and all investors aspire. Everyone wants to get paid and the more money, the better. So, no one is really risking much anymore; "It'll make you think" is probably the pull-quote of death for the American movie going audience (if they even read them anymore). Marketing has replaced criticism (with which I assume the upcoming post you reference must take umbrage) in the same way that soundbites have replaced political analysis and "message" has replaced discourse. The whole ship is headed toward the same iceberg, all of us together.

I think Benten has done a great job of finding films by filmmakers who are working with small budgets to tell lovely, intimate stories, but we agree on this; the pickings are SLIM across the board. That said, and here is my own blogging and writing come to the fore, I think that what small, quality films need more than anything else is a community that supports, champions and nurtures films of quality. I don't write about films I don't like because a) I don't have an emotional investment in films I don't like and have nothing to say about them (for the most part) and b) I don't think it does anyone any good. Do people read blogs to decide what film they're going to see? I don't. So, I would rather lend a voice of serious, thoughtful support to the overwhelming absence of a popular dialogue than to waste my own time and that of my readers spouting snark in the name of critical credibility. Maybe that means I am not a critic, and fair enough (I don't think of myself as one), but I think I have something to contribute to the conversation and I hope it is a passionate analysis of films that I love.

Great post and much to think about and discuss... Thanks Andrew!


Great post! I'm with you 100% there.
Looking back on the blindness of critics who panned L'Avventura should be an eye opener for all of us. Although they had the excuse to bump into a new era of cinema, the uncharted path of Modernity they didn't know how to handle. Today we have less excuse to be complacent about long-lived flaws everybody knows about, filmmakers, critics and audience alike. We can't repeat the errors of the past endlessly. We could be naive about new errors, when it deals with avant-garde experiments... But for familiar genres that can't possibly invent anything new, these films made today, with the experience of hundreds of masters from the past, should be nothing short of perfect. Especially when the ambition is as low as a formulaic genre. Genres can give great films, if the filmmaker adds inspiration to safeguards. But it's unforgivable to bomb it. And critics need to be a little more demanding for unapologetically commercial well-rounded movies, just like you've just demonstrated.

Btw, Il y a longtemps que je t'aime (which I haven't seen) has been panned by (serious) critics in France too (except Positif). ;)


Tom --

I can fully understand that production companies, even small ones, want to see a return on their investment, and I can see them not wanting to invest in something like, say, a Satantango, but were McCarthy and Claudel handed a mandate that their films had to be so very obvious?

A friend called me last night after she read my post and told me that I was a snob for writing this. I explained to her that I don't expect every film to be like an Antonioni film, or a Resnais, but the frustration I find myself experiencing at screenings is becoming the rule rather than the exception. Even films that I sort of liked, such as Romero's latest, Diary of the Dead, was spoiled by his beating us over the head with the social commentary.

As far as festivals go, I think yours is one of few that suitably finds a healthy balance. Sure, there was The Deal, but it seems that your program had just as many (if not more) uncompromising works. Of the films I saw that played at Sarasota, while I didn't necessarily like all of them, none were pandering, or calling-card films. That's certainly refreshing.


We can't repeat the errors of the past endlessly. We could be naive about new errors, when it deals with avant-garde experiments... But for familiar genres that can't possibly invent anything new, these films made today, with the experience of hundreds of masters from the past, should be nothing short of perfect.

Perfectly stated Harry, thanks. I often wonder how well versed in film some of these filmmakers are. While not everybody needs to have an encyclopedic knowledge (a la Scorsese) I can't help but think a lot of filmmakers would be doing themselves (and the audience) a service by clocking in a few hundred more hours of film watching.

I'm happy to hear that the Claudel film wasn't a hit with the critics.


A friend called me last night after she read my post and told me that I was a snob for writing this. I explained to her that I don't expect every film to be like an Antonioni film, or a Resnais, but the frustration I find myself experiencing at screenings is becoming the rule rather than the exception. Even films that I sort of liked, such as Romero's latest, Diary of the Dead, was spoiled by his beating us over the head with the social commentary.

This is the same frustration I find myself with when dealing the popular Hollywood movies, or at least movies easily accessible at one's local cineplex. If I don't like it, can't appreciate it on its own terms which I grant it any how even though my body just wants to run away from it in, I'm a "snob" who's lost touch with their "childhood." Or something. I'm not expecting every movie I see to be a masterpiece that will echo throughout the annals of history, but some movies are just a bore and nothing novel. In fact, a whole slew of them are. That's just the nature of this business. For every good book, for every one that can at least charm, there are thousands more to be picked up on the "For Sale" aisle in a grocery store that are terrible.


.....ok, you´re right...
no, antonioni was right...
The same thing has happened over the centuries....
And you´re part of it...in the bad side...
You´re all praising films that have this mood that has become so disgusting...that indie kind of mood....
Those kind of titles...and don´t get me wrong...
In this comment page, the titles that i´ve come across are from movies i love....

But none of you will ever praise a director like trey parker.....
You might even giggle if someone compared him with bresson....

Come on...be honest and tell me your feeling when confronted with that comparison....

That´s what i think the critics felt with l´aventura...

Sorry for my english....you get the idea....

Meanwhile mediocre scriptwriters (ok, above the average.....quite above the average) get their scripts directed by people like david gordon green.....

Love your blog though...


While I don't quite get the comparison to Bresson, I think Trey Parker is great at what he does. I didn't much care for Team America, and I think it's perhaps time to put South Park to bed, but I think Cannibal! The Musical is one of the funniest ever sendups of the American musical. For that matter, the South Park movie was also a great comedy.


Are things really that bad? Or, more to the point, were they really that good? To compare L'Avventura to The Visitor, while I like the similarity in their titles, doesn't really say anything about the state of the cinematic nation. Are you claiming that back in 1961 theaters were full of similarly enigmatic masterpieces or were they full of entertaining formulaic dross that would have tickled Bosley Crowther's fancy at the time but are forgotten today? And are you saying that there is nothing adventurous and challenging - even among foreign and independent films - being made today? I know you don't think that because your pages are full of adventurous and challenging new films that you champion. Mediocrity is the norm, even back in the glory days of Antonioni, which is why the films we love shine so brightly. Yes, there's a bit of a fallow patch on New York movie screens right now but, that said, you can see Reprise and Flight of the Red Balloon, two superb (and mature and introspective) films which are exactly the kind of films you say are missing right now (and there's also Yella which I haven't seen but which I know you love). I feel your pain when wasting time and money on shitty movies but I don't think it means we're going to hell in a handbasket. L'Avventuras and Antonionis come along once in a lifetime, but in recent years films like Syndromes and a Century and Climates and Day Night Day Night and Inland Empire (just to keep on the enigmatic tip) are surely enough to keep despair at bay.


Perhaps if I didn't see as many films as I do -- at screenings, festivals, or as screeners, I might not notice, but honestly, yeah, I think things have grown worse. I can't recall a time when films were so overwhelmingly lazy, and the experience of watching films so unbelievably passive.

Think back to the foreign films that would play at New York's various art houses in the 80s. Querelle, Mon Oncle D'Amerique, Fanny and Alexander, The Return of Martin Guerre, Nostalghia, Ballad of Narayama, etc. While not all are masterpieces, even the worst of the bunch (Martin Guerre) isn't insulting or pandering.

For the four years I've been attending the Berlinale, the quality of the films grows worse each year. In 2005 The Wayward Cloud was in competition. This year they had the aforementioned Claudel film, and Coixet's Elegy, a film so obviously tailor-made to win awards. (I've loved all of Coixet's film until now. In this one, her first American-financed film, she turns Roth's bitter, misanthropic work into a schmaltzy weepie that is strictly by the numbers.)

As I mentioned in the post, what's more troubling than the films themselves are the reactions from critics. It's not that they're praising them to the heavens, but their half-hearted "okays" come off as so defeatist.


OK then, ignore my reasons to be cheerful if you want to wallow in despair my friend. (I've never heard the '80s being upheld as the golden age of cinema but you name some great films - and don't forget The Sacrifice and Wings of Desire). So, there were a couple of bad films in competition in Berlin this year, but there was also Julia and Happy-Go-Lucky and Night and Day, all of which you loved, not to mention There Will Be Blood!


And as for critics giving The Visitor a "pass" by not raking it over the coals, maybe that's because, predictable and schmaltzy and sanctimonious though it may be (I haven't seen it, I'm just taking your word for it) perhaps it's not the worst film ever made. Sometimes a good performance in a bad movie is still reason enough for people to see it. (Sometimes predictability and schmaltz is reason enough too!) Maybe those critics are reserving their most withering disdain for Made of Honor and What Happens in Vegas..., and quite rightly so.


Well...you should try rewatching team america...
Your reply proved my point...
How would you have changed Bosley Crowther’s eyes...
This question resembles the ones that go like "if you had the oppotunity of timetravelling, how would you kill hitler?"
But still, i like to imagine myself trying to convince someone from the past that the way the cannon is going will depress him if he doesn´t kill himself in a way......

Are quizmakingfilmbuffs going to acknowledge huge levels of subtlety hidden behind loud screams, easy laughter and obvious destructive bitterness???

I was doing a lot of thinking on Werckmeister Harmoniak lately...you can see...


Of course The Visitor isn't the worst film ever made -- I never claimed it was. However, for critics to say "Jenkins was great!" without then delving into the film's failures (or even successes for that matter) is where the problem lies, in my opinion. As far as I'm aware, nobody argued that the film approached its subject matter intelligently, or with any hint of subtlety. The issue of illegal aliens, especially in a post 9/11 America, is kind of a political and social hotbed. McCarthy's totally safe and non-threatening parable has zero connection with the real world -- something I see as problematic when addressing a topical issue that is so contentious.

I agree that a single outstanding performance can transcend a second (or third) rate film, but I didn't see it in Jenkins. To my mind he was basically playing the same character he's played elsewhere. I didn't see much in the way of range, or any other factors one often finds in a truly outstanding performance. It's not that he was bad, it just wasn't anything out of the ordinary.

As for critics saving their disdain for Made of Honor Et al., what's the point? Did anybody expect What Happens in Vegas to be anything else than what it was? Isn't tearing apart these films (as fun as it may be) akin to shooting fish in a barrel? Hollywood will continue to make these sort of films, regardless of what critics say, as long as audiences continue to plop down their money for them. But for filmmakers on the other side of the fence to peer over and think, "Ooh, I want some of that" is truly worrisome.

Contrary to what you (and others) believe, I don't wish to wallow in despair. Film means so much to me, as it does to you and everybody else reading this. Maybe because of Benten I'm seeing more films this year than compared to others, but even so, I can't help but notice an increase in films that force feed me rather than making me work. Either the films are getting dumber, or I've grown smarter. (And I can assure you it's not the latter.)


Filmbrain, I'm sure that glass was half full last time I looked. But maybe you're right.


Side question: frequently when you mention a film I've never heard of (and it happens a lot), I go and look it up. Which THE DEAL are you speaking of? IMDB has about a dozen films by that title.


Steve --

The Deal is a film by Steven Schachter that stars William H. Macy and Meg Ryan. On paper it sounds like a clever satire of the movie biz, but in fact it's just a bog standard romantic comedy with the occasional chuckle or two.

Peter Nellhaus

My own thought is that what is happening with films, the audience and the "critics" is part of a general cultural shift that prefers simple minded clarity over anything ambiguous or more demanding. I recall some co-workers who were outraged over the "ending" of Jacob's Ladder as one example.

I think there is a general disinterest in history of any kind as well. In film one can see it in the polls where the voters overwhelmingly have not seen films and filmmakers most of us here would consider important. I had to browbeat a guy who said that Star Wars was his favorite film into taking the time to see Hidden Fortress.

Far from having ones intelligence insulted, too many people want to be spoon fed because it does not require thinking.


...wondering if there's a general shift in what we are finding worthwhile (despite varying requirements) from what's selected for us (and promoted to us...) in terms of foreign or independent cinema, or if there's more access to a wider variety of such films revealing an alternative often-forgotten reality that everywhere makes crap. in time when little was broadly available, and little spoken about too - re : blogging and all that - there was more of a cherry picking atmosphere. whilst this remains true, as we see companies sifting their way back through decades of potential choices, we also see that we're suddenly moving from a wishful thinking state of mind in terms of what's out there, and more towards a reality that's less to our overall or individual liking. that said, i think there's a culture of not expecting to apply individual interpretation, to not make the journey alone, which is connected to all these odd concepts about what really constitutes an interest in so-called world cinema or cult films, or whatever you call it and however you describe it.

as an example, i can see people increasingly looking (at least online) towards others even within alternative tastes - in many respects the underground is prone to as many (if not more) foibles relating to needing things putting on a plate and determined as worthwhile for the audience people often take it that those that share their thoughts online are "working for" rather than "sharing with". it's a culture of wanting things to be about the latest and greatest, despite an apparent level playing field of any nice DVD content being worthwhile, it's still ultimately far too often taken as this weeks new release and not a film of repute or potential interest from another time and place which we're to pick out from our own awareness of our criteria. it's all too often to be used as a definition of the personality you want to project to others, to be seen to be a part of, to get you from here until the next thing comes along, rather than the next stepping stone on your own interest which you then relate to others in order to attempt to see if we can each gain a little better quality of life from it all as a result.

disappointments : the lack of intentional discussion, the lack of a variety in opinions, the lack of apparent sophistication (or desire for it) when it comes to wanting to form or wrangle opinions, the inability to accept, interpret then apply other opinions against your own requirements, and the general sense there's not a collective progression within the film scene - perhaps the one overriding thing which disappoints me more than anything else. i don't want a dry, academic discussion forum where everyone seems to have seen everything, and i don't want a forum soaked in the latest novelties or extremities or even in the latest film that fits a broadly-held cliche of what constitutes art, i want a sense people can see the value of different approaches, levels of knowledge, and a sense everything's up for grabs.

Nathaniel R

This was an interesting read though I'll agree with the optimists herein that there's still good stuff that requires one's full attention. Go see REPRISE. It's so passionately made. Films that feel "alive" in that way are what renew the love of cinema... for me at least. And last year even the Oscars preferred films that required brains (for the most part) even if you didn't love the particulars.

I know there's been a lot of despair lately about criticism but everything is cyclical and things have gotten SO spoon fed (the state of what passes for entertainment coverage in general is just appalling) that I'm sure things will swing around to something else soon.

I also think PICTURES AT A REVOLUTION by Mark Harris is a great companion piece to what you're talking about here because it gives such well researched historical perspective on 60s cinema and a lot of these same issues come up about what is good for the cinema and what's not and how critics react to big shifts in the cinema.

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