Like many on this site, I imagine, I read reviews of other critics just as often as I read reviews by friends. Over the years I've come to enjoy the criticism of some, dislike a few, and have one I'm not sure about. This is by no means a definitive list, and I'm sure I'm forgetting or neglecting some-- please share your thoughts, too!
Jonathan Rosenbaum- My favorite critic right now, Rosenbaum has been a long-standing mainstay of the American field of criticism, has an impressive array of well written, well thought out reviews to his credit, and has written some superb articles about the nature of film. His blog is fantastic, too.
Mark Kermode- Lately, Kermode has become one of my favorite film critics. He's arguably the best critic in the UK and his reviews are acerbic, highly opinionated, and all of his reviews are extremely reasonable. Although I've been unable to find a site that has all his written reviews (perhaps someone can help me with this), I've checked out some of his video blogs and I imagine he is just as eloquent in print.
Richard Corliss- TIME magazine's long time critic, Corliss has a reputation for highly cogent, intelligent reviews which thoroughly encapsulate their subject matter. As an aside, it was per his reccommendation I watched MON ONCLE D'AMERIQUE for the first time (my favorite movie). Here's to you, Rich.
AO Scott- Not only does he share my initials, he writes outstanding reviews for my favorite newspaper ever, The New York Times. His reviews are something to look up to, with descriptions of details and nuances that would be lost to a lesser critic. His At the Movies show is great, too.
Armond White- This guy is an oddball, really puzzling. On a few of his reviews I agree (The Bad Sleep Well=Good, Fantastic Mr. Fox=Good), and his reviews indicate that they are written by someone of intelligence, but he also has panned a bafflingly large number of good movies. It's like I want to like his criticism, but when he writes negative reviews of movies like PRECIOUS and AN EDUCATION, I have to wonder what's going on in there.
Peter Travers- I'm not going to give this guy too much shit cause he gets enough of it already, but he has the absolute most populist, obnoxious taste in movies (like rating Troy fresh because it's a great crib notes to Homer)-- some of his reviews just seem to provoke an immediate "Oh, come on."
Victoria Alexander- Is it wrong to get so much enjoyment out of reading your least favorite critic's reviews? Because some of this lady's criticism is so apallingly bad, so retchingly devoid of taste, that it's uproariously funny. Honestly, check out her reviews, they'll make your day (Day the Earth Stood Still="far superior to the silly robot in a silver jumper B&W original). How she writes for the respected publication "Films In Review" (oldest film journal in the US, apparently) is beyond me. I'm afraid it probably involved a little bit of hanky panky behind the scenes.
Roger Ebert- A lot of you will be scratching your heads at this, and for good reason. I did a little informal survey and from 50 people who listed their favorite critics, 26 chose Ebert. That's of course, over 50%, a sizable fan club. I guess I just feel a little lukewarm about him. I often find his reviews rather smug and a tad self congragulatory, and find myself disagreeing with him on a few things (2009="a magical year for movies"? I disagree), but I must say just as often I find a few valuable insights. I need to do a little soul searching on this one, methinks.
A few days ago Stunner did a blog entry called "The Revolution of Rating" in which he announced his changing his ratings to the five star system, in which 5 (100%) is a "masterpiece," 4 (80%) is a must see, 3(60%) is a...I'm not quoting directly...worthwhile watch with a few notable flaws, 2(40%) is a bad film with a few redeeming qualities, and 1(20%) is a bad film with nothing to offer.
I'd long been troubled by the films I had at 90%, something vaguely irritating me about them, like I couldn't really decide where I stood with them. Using the new system ameliorates that concern, at least for me.
Feel free to share your thoughts about ratings below...
One of the reasons I've been spending a little less time on Rotten Tomatoes is that I've been on a big music kick lately. I got a pair of Sennheiser HD-250 headphones for christmas from the folks, and I've been enjoying listening to my favorite albums ever since. Just like you can tell a little about someone based on what kinds of movies they like, you can judge people a little based on the music they enjoy. So here's a link to my list of personal 50 Favorite Albums-- music lovers, let me know what you think!
EDIT (1/14/): As I hinted at in the comments section below I was not satisfied with my initial attempt at a list. Some albums were ranked higher, others lower, some that shouldn't have even been on there and a lot of ones I simply missed entirely. Whereas I spent a half hour cobbling together the first list, the second represents a significant amount of thought-- basically I'm committed to making the best possible representation of my music tastes. This will be the first of many edits, I hope, as I discover albums and start to branch out, genre wise. I'll update this blog whenever I do so.
"If someone were to prove to me right this minute that God, in all his luminousness, exists, it wouldn`t change a single aspect of my behavior.
"`God and Country` are an unbeatable team; they break all records for oppression and bloodshed.
"I'm still an atheist, thank God."
"Now let's get this Devil business straight, once and for all. To begin at the beginning: the notion of God, one might say, has changed aspect over the years, until it has either become so vague that it has faded away altogether or else has turned into something entirely different. For me, hell has always been a most suggestive sort of place; but I've never regarded it as being located anywhere else than on earth. Hell is created by human beings — on earth!"
"I stick to what I know. If I've objected strongly to Christianity, it has been because Christianity is deeply branded by a very virulent humiliation motif. One of its main tenets is 'I, a miserable sinner, born in sin, who have sinned all my days, etc.' Our way of living and behaving under this punishment is completely atavistic. I could go on talking about this humiliation business for ever. It's one of the big basic experiences. I react very strongly to every form of humiliation; and a person in my situation, in my position, has been exposed to whole series of real humiliations. Not to mention having humiliated others!"
"The world's religions, for all their parochialism, did supply a kind of consolation for this great ache; but as clergyman now pronounce the death of God, and, to quote Arnold again, 'the sea of faith,' recedes around the world with a 'melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,' man has no crutch left on which to lean-- and no hope, however irrational, to give purpose to his existence. This shattering recognition of our mortality is at the root of far more mental illness than I suspect even psychiatrists are aware."
"God may not play dice but he enjoys a good round of Trivial Pursuit every now and again."
"Film is a religion. You shouldn't be doing it as just a day job, to pay for your pool or pay for your house in Barbados. You should do it when it's special, when you'd die for the movie,. when the movie is your baby."
"I try to be a Christian...I don't pray really, because I don't want to bore God."
"To you, I'm an atheist. To God, I'm the loyal opposition."
"Not only is there no God, but try getting a plumber on weekends."
"I am scared easily, here is a list of my adrenaline - production: 1: small children, 2: policemen, 3: high places, 4: that my next movie will not be as good as the last one."
"The only way to get rid of my fears is to make films about them."
"I'm frightened by real tears. In fact, I don't even know that I have the right to film them."
"I'm afraid of making the same film twice."
"A paranoiac, like a poet, is born, not made."
"Frankly, despite my horror of the press, I'd love to rise from the grave every ten years or so and go buy a few newspapers."
"Every time I start a picture ... I feel the same fear, the same self-doubts . . . and I have only one source on which I can draw, because it comes from within me."
"When I was young, I was extremely scared of dying. But now I think it a very, very wise arrangement. It`s like a light that is extinguished. Not very much to make a fuss about."
"I am not afraid of death, I just don't want to be there when it happens."
Before the classics movie fans have come to love, there were student films. Sometimes bad, sometimes good, but always a fascinating insight into the mind of a young director. There are certainly more of these films than I have listed, so if you are interested look up your favorite director's wikipedia page. They almost certainly made a few student films of interest, and you can probably find them on youtube.
If you are of a mind, you can also check out the Early Works episode by The Hollywood Saloon (hollywoodsaloon.com) for a comprehensive (3 hours) look at many of the films on this blog. It's how I discovered this topic, so thanks are in order to THS.
What's A Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?
It's Not Just You, Murray! (part one)
It's Not Just You, Murray! (part two)
The Big Shave
Day of the Fight (part one)
Day of the Fight (part two)
The Flying Padre
Six Men Getting Sick (Six Times)
The Grandmother (part one)
The Grandmother (part two)
The Grandmother (part three)
The Grandmother (part four)
The Grandmother (part five)
My Best Friend's Birthday (part one)
My Best Friend’s Birthday (part two)
My Best Friend’s Birthday (part three)
My Best Friend’s Birthday (part four)
Xenogenesis (part one)
Xenogenesis (part two)
Boy and Bicycle (part one)
Boy and Bicycle (part two)
Boy and Bicycle (part three)
Last Year in Vietnam (part one)
Last Year in Vietnam (part two)
Paul Thomas Anderson
Cigarettes and Coffee
Field of Honor (part one)
Field of Honor (part two)
THX-1138 4EB (part one)
THX-1138 4EB (part two)
Winston (part one)
Winston (part two)
Criterion Collection is a name seen often by cinema buffs, and that's a bit of an understatement. At my local library where I get my movies (see blog #2) the shelves are full of these movies. I consider myself very fortunate for that, because Criterion, despite its foibles, is a symbol for quality.
Quality meaning that the films are usually good and the DVDs usually have plenty of extras, and are always good transfers. Due to the dedication of the Criterion Collection restoration team, I will never have to suffer through a grainy BRAZIL or a poorly synced NAKED KISS. Nor, with a few notable exceptions, will I have to wonder whether the film is any good- the films Criterion chooses are usually ones with legacies of critical praise. If I see a Criterion DVD on the shelf, I know it's a film that (again, ahem, with a few notable exceptions) that will both entertain and edify me.
There is a flaw with Criterion- not a caveat emptor, but a flaw- their releases are usually to highly priced for the average movie fan. A copy of SID & NANCY will put you back $40, and a box set like STAGE AND SPECTACLE: THREE FILMS BY JEAN RENOIR costs over $60.
They're a bit like those leather bound classic books- one day, in a rosy tinted future, I aspire to buy a whole lot of them.
As the title suggests, today's topic is movie podcasts. I've been a regular listener of two podcasts for a while now: the now defunct WATCHING THE DIRECTORS and THE HOLLYWOOD SALOON. These shows have hugely widened my understanding and knowledge of films, as both are hosted by very knowledgeable people. Hopefully by doing this blog I can encourage a few people to try these out. Both are ideal for dog walking and car trips, which is what I use them for.
WATCHING THE DIRECTORS
WATCHING THE DIRECTORS first premiered in 2007, long before I knew about movie podcasts. Hosted by Joe and Melissa, a husband and wife podcasting team, the two chose a director every week and did a roughly hour-length show about them. First they'd give a brief biography of the filmmaker (nothing you couldn't find on wikipedia, as they joked) and then they did Five Minute Filmography, which is exactly what it sounds like. After that they'd launch right into Essential Films, which were their choices for a director's, well, most essential films. A synopsis and their well prepared thoughts about each of them would follow, and also some lively banter about the film's merits. Finally, they would do a segment they called Ten Quizzes, which were based on ten questions about a director. For example, key collaborator, best soundtrack, remake/recast, etc. At the time of the show's airing, J&M would share their responses and their listener's responses. It was, and is, a great little podcast hosted by two people truly passionate about film.
While all of them are well done, my favorites were Scorsese, Kubrick, Bergman and QT. They also did a nice job on Hitchcock, breaking it up into three parts for comprehensive coverage of his films.
THE HOLLYWOOD SALOON
THE HOLLYWOOD SALOON is a much more eccentric movie podcast, which includes episodes from a series called Apocalypse Hollywood to discussions of directors, films, and topics such as fan edits and an entire episode about car chases (!). Episodes are hosted by John and Andy, two guys with a lot of knowledge about movies.Each episode is recorded with all the quality and dedication you'd expect, and the topics are all intriguing. Shows range from a half hour to, my favorites, four and five hour long podcasts which are great for long car trips. These are just two friends who love movies and have some great opinions about them. And there's good news: after a 1/2 year breakup/hiatus, THS is recording again. Check 'em out and dig in.
While I really enjoyed "InSide SpiKe: by any means necessary," the prize goes to "Early Works," a four hour long show that is about the student films that famous directors have made. Simply my favorite episode of any podcast ever, with directors like Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese, and James Cameron all with fascinating short films. And as an added bonus, on the website they've embedded the youtube videos for your convenience.
So to conclude this blog, check out each of these podcasts and have a listen. Both are entertaining, informative- and addicting. Also- I only have two movie podcasts that I know of here, so that means recommendations are welcomed. If you know of a good podcast, let me know below.
6. Jurassic Park
Starting with the most obvious and well heard of, I begin with Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. This is a taut, suspenseful book that I have read several times now and enjoyed each time. The best thing about the book is the critical dash of intelligence Crichton adds to his novel, an edifying aspect that lends the book some creditability. Since his breakout novel, however, Crichton (like countless other novelists) has written books that sink into a formulaic rut.
I recommend Peter Benchley’s Jaws because it is an R rated version of the famous Spielberg film. Which is interesting, to say the least. For instance, there is shark researcher Hooper’s illicit affair with Ellen Brody. And there are the descriptions of the shark attacks, which are much more, ahem, colorful than those depicted in the ‘75 film.
4. First Blood
David Morrell, author of First Blood, has become a rather staid writer these days, writing books which are the sum equivalent of his first novel. But his first novel, which created an outrage with its “carnographic” content (honestly, it’s not anything a teenager couldn’t handle) is a novel which is truly stand alone great. The famous story of Rambo begins with this first line: "His name was Rambo, and he was just some nothing kid for all anybody knew, standing by the pump of a gas station."
3. The Great Escape
There will always be a special place in my heart for Paul Brickhill’s real-life account of the Stalag escapees. As a huge fan of WW2 movies in my youth, I ate the book up. It is a great companion to the movie, giving details where there are only scenes in the movie. So if you enjoyed the film, you may very well enjoy this superbly written true story.
2. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Jack Finney’s novel, like many of the books I’ve chosen here, has become half buried in the Graveyard for Good Books. Undeservedly, of course, for this is one of the smartest political allegory novels I’ve ever read. There are a few changes from the famous movie, which makes it compelling. I won’t ruin the great plot for you, but you should order this book and read it.
1. A Clockwork Orange
Penned by the late great Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange is a novel that truly rings of genius. It has become rightly known for its inventive use of language and plot. Inventive, meaning he makes a lot of words up. While not on par with the magnificently dense Ulysses, A Clockwork Orange requires a certain type of reader, willing to wade through Burgess’s images. That reader, however, will be rewarded with a timeless, magnificent novel.
Today I’m not in the mood to rant. Despite the things that bug me occasionally, I love movies, after all. And today I want to address a topic that makes me grateful- the public library system.
I get all my movies from the library, and not because I'm on the dole and rely on the library for everything. No, I could afford to buy my movies from Blockbuster’s or Netflix. But being a bit of a miser, I’ve relied on the library for my movies; and looking back on it, I’ve decided that this is a good thing.
Because the library owns almost every Criterion collection movie, there will never be a shortage of movies that interest me. And although I may have to put Man on Wire on hold and wait for a month to see it, I can usually get any Truffaut film or any Bergman film. Braveheart gets checked in and checked out constantly. Fortunately, however, I will almost always be able to get a copy of Blow Up (or just about any foreign film, for that matter). And not to slight the non-Art House movies, either; I've been able to get a copy of just about every Hitchcock film and watch it- and for that I'm indebted (total cost of renting each one= at least $50).
I guess the best part of the whole deal is that you can take a risk on a movie, because you don’t have to pay for it. Once I get a bit more $ for non-essentials, I'll definitely buy some of my favorite films.
To conclude this rather unusual blog post: the library is an excellent way to get great movies you’d otherwise never hear about. I'd be curious to know if other countries have similar systems where you can check out books and movies too. I have no idea.
(Affects southern accent): Gawd bless the Libary Systum!