To begin, a word of thanks to the Cinetrix for organizing this confabulation, and for seeing fit to include a cranky contrarian such as myself. How very appropriate to invoke Joseph L. Mankiewicz in your post -- a hero of mine, and the kind of screenwriter they seldom build anymore. (A point I will no doubt return to as we discuss some of the films listed on the left.) As I write this introductory piece, I'm reminded of another appropriate Addison DeWitt line:
While you wait you can read my column. It'll make minutes fly like hours.
The 2004 Slate Movie Club was something hotly debated and discussed in film circles both on and offline. Besides the usual arguments about the year's best/worst films, much was said about the current state of film criticism, including some disparaging remarks about film bloggers. We're viewed as young, hip, posturing word-slingers that don't know what we're talking about. (While it's very possible that I'm guilty of that last bit, I'm 0 for 3 on the other charges.) As the Cinetrix pointed out, we're proud of our amateur standing, but what we say is pure passion. Salon's Stephanie Zacharek says it best:
A critic's reasons for loving/hating something (as long as they're true gut reasons and not just a desperate grab at hipness) are where anything interesting about that critic are going to lie—as long as they're well-supported and well-argued and, again, come from the heart.
I couldn't agree more. As my own best of 2004 list shows, I championed some rather unpopular titles, but not simply to go against the grain. These were the films that spoke to me this past year, the films that challenged, moved, and grabbed me, or, in the case of the few genre films on the list, brought something fresh to the table. A dysfunctional relationship of some sort is the common thread through all of my picks, which must say more about me than I'm willing to admit. With each passing year, I grow less and less patient with films that are constructed, rather than made. Films that are pre-conceived as Oscar material. It's dangerous, and a further step towards homogenization. It bothers me that the word 'masterpiece' is tossed around with great ease, as is the fact that fame, popularity, and past successes guide critical opinion. (Not to mention aggressive marketing campaigns!) As a screenwriter who still believes in the art of the screenplay, it's appalling what has become acceptable. (I blame McKee and his acolytes more than anything else.) There were several films this year that had a lot going for them, but were ultimately ruined by weak, predictable screenplays that immediately yanked me out of the world they spent so much time introducing me to. I'll hold off on titles for the moment -- at least until the momentum builds.
I'm pleased to hear that David is mostly optimistic about the state of cinephilia -- living in Berlin might have something to do with that. Sure, the multiplexes are full of Hollywood garbage, but as I noted back in September, the city is thriving with tiny, independent theaters offering a great variety of world cinema. My own sense of optimism wavers from day to day. While discovering Korean cinema was a much-needed boost, it seems that even they are headed down the high-concept big-budget path.
As for award shows -- heck yeah, they're fun to watch -- mostly in hopes that a celeb or two will say or do something asinine. It's interesting how the Golden Globes have managed to elevate their status in the past few years, and are now perceived as an overture to the Oscars. I regret not seeing the Jayanti documentary, though Trio seems to repeat things often enough. I recently heard that an overwhelming majority of the voting scribes that make up the HFPA are white males in their mid-forties. Any truth to that?
So, who's going to be the first brave soul to toss out a title or two?