The Movie Club

What critical consensus?

Good God, Armond—are you saying that movie polls should be regulated, like utilities? That there needs to be a standard applied so that the correct (preferably Armond-approved) title is chosen in the final tally? While I agree with you that there are a lot of young critics out there who seem to be more in thrall to the idea of being a movie critic than in putting themselves in the service of the work at hand—and while the Voice poll comments drove me so crazy I finally just had to throw the thing against the wall—I cringe at the wisdom of using the Voice poll No. 1 pick—ANY Voice poll No. 1 pick—as evidence that critics and filmgoers are, as you say, “smug about movies without being curious, honest, or imaginative.” Yeah, Before Sunset was my favorite movie of the year. (I guess that makes me a Matchstick Girl.) But even if the Voice critics had picked Sideways or Million Dollar Baby or even—shudder—Fahrenheit 9/11, all movies I found dislikable (and, in the case of Fahrenheit 9/11, verging on hateful), I’d say the same thing. (Although if Dogville had been the Voice poll No. 1—then you’d have a case.)

Anyway, I just think the mere notion of critical consensus is a big bore, and runs counter to the whole point of reading in the first place. Your argument doesn’t allow for what I think is the lifeblood of good criticism: idiosyncrasy. 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 would think a critic like you, Armond, would know this better than anyone—which is why I think you can’t see it, because it’s too damn close. Using the specific movies a critic (or a person, for that matter) responds to as a strict barometer of taste, skill, openness, or intelligence is missing the point. I’m going to wiggle-waggle the threads of the loophole in my own argument here: I don’t want to hear what anyone who doesn’t like The Lady Eve has to say about it. I don’t care how spirited a knockdown it is—it’s going to be stupid, and it’s going to be wrong. But mostly, isn’t it how a critic thinks, and not necessarily what, that makes you want to read? I’m not being smart-alecky here. That’s an honest question.

That said, if the Voice poll is any indicator of how “young” or “alternative” critics out there think (and I suspect we’re flattering some of these yobbos by attributing their stupidity to youth), then I agree, we’re in a sorry state. I saw a lot of know-it-allness masquerading as passion (a problem not just limited to young critics, unfortunately). And I saw a lot of “This is the Voice, so we can just run wild and say anything, because we’re supposed to be outrageous.” Ah, discourse! It really troubles me, because I think we all know young critics, or young, serious moviegoers (and age doesn’t necessarily matter) who aren’t like that—who seriously think about what they’re looking at and put themselves in the service of it, as opposed to just seeing how many clever jokes they can score against it. And there are just no jobs for them, because there are fewer and fewer jobs for real critics these days. We’re the ones who are going to suffer for that. Who are we going to read when we’re ensconced at the La-Z-Ass Home for Retired Critics?

That’s another problem, and a pretty terrifying indicator of what criticism has come to mean in print culture. But someone else is going to have to pick up that thread, because just thinking about it makes me want to jump out the window.

On a more general note: Where’s Tony? To take a line from The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, “Where am I, in Crazy Town?” We need somebody with some sense around here.

And remember, Armond: We’ll always have Hoboken.